Politics & Government

Three contested Fresno City Council seats: Four Latino candidates

Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chávez won re-election to the fifth district in 2018. On Monday, May 20, 2019, he announced plans to run for mayor in 2020.
Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chávez won re-election to the fifth district in 2018. On Monday, May 20, 2019, he announced plans to run for mayor in 2020. Vida en el Valle file

The math appears to favor a Latino-majority Fresno City Council come election day.

The only question is: Which of two Latino candidates will come out on top in the highly competitive race to replace termed-out Clint Olivier in District 7?

Here is what is known less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 vote.

▪ Fresno City Council President Esmeralda Soria had no opposition in her re-election bid and will return to the council in District 1.

▪ State Center Community College District trustee Miguel Arias led a field of five candidates in District 3 to succeed Oliver Baines, and now faces Tate Hill on the ballot.

▪ Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chávez survived a three-candidate race in the primary but failed to get 50 percent plus one of the vote and will have to face runner-up Paula Yang in District 5.

▪ Fresno County Board of Education trustee Nelson Esparza and local attorney Brian Whelan could very well determine whether Fresno Mayor Lee Brand gets another council majority backing him.

Fresno had a Latino majority on the seven-member city council in the late 1990s when Henry R. Perea, Dan Ronquillo, Sal Quintero and Brad Castillo served.

District 7

The greatest interest figures to be the race between Whelan, who is endorsed by the mayor, and Esparza, who is backed by Soria.

Whelan, a Republican, is the son of a Chilean mother and speaks Spanish.

COUNCIL-ESPARZA
Nelson Esparza, a Fresno County Board of Education trustee, is seeking the Fresno City Council District 7 seat. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

Esparza, a Democrat, is half Mexican-American and half African-American “but I was raised in a Latino household.”

In the primary, Whelan held onto an 11-vote edge over Esparza, 1,826-1,815. The third candidate, Veva Islas, got 1,163 votes and has endorsed Esparza.

During a meeting with The Fresno Bee editorial board, Whelan tried to paint Esparza as an outsider.

“I’ve lived in the district going on 10 years, and I’ve experienced crime in the area,” said Whelan.

Esparza said his moving into the district “had nothing to do with politics.”

Both candidates support Measure P, and the state’s High Speed Rail project. However, Whelan said he was initially against the project but changed his mind when voters approved the measure.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea,” said Whelan. “Now, I’m on board.”

COUNCIL-WHELAN
Lawyer/businessman Brian Whelan, who is Latino through his Chilean mother, is in a runoff for the Fresno City Council District 7 seat. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

Esparza said the rail project will be an economic boon for the region.

“It’s a tree we’re planting,” said Esparza, adding the shade will come much later.

They do differ on Proposition 6, which aims to repeal the gas tax with funds earmarked for road and bridge repairs. Whelan supports the repeal; Esparza wants the gas tax kept.

Whelan said economic growth can be spurred by cutting back on red tape for small businesses.

Esparza said the city should invest in infrastructure and focus on the quality of jobs it courts.

“There are tax breaks for corporations that should trickle down to the small business side,” said Esparza, who also supports the use of EIFDs to rehabilitate blighted areas.

District 5

Chávez is finishing up his second year on the council after winning a special election in 2016 to fill the spot vacated when his former boss, Sal Quintero, was elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

Should he win next month, Chávez would be eligible to seek re-election in 2022. However, that is not something he is eying.

“I’ve run in the last four election cycles, and it has been draining on family,” said the 39-year-old Chávez, who has twin daughters at Fresno State.

His focus will be on bringing a college campus to southeast Fresno, building a regional park in the area, and, transforming the Kings Canyon-Ventura corridor.

“After that, I will go back to the classroom,” said Chávez. “I will probably not run in 2022.”

District 3

Arias and Hill have maintained a friendly relationship on the campaign trail.

COUNCIL-ARIAS
Miguel Arias is seeking to represent District 3 on the Fresno City Council. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com

In a seven-candidate primary, Arias led the field with 1,478 votes to advance to the general election. Meanwhile, Hill had to wait until the final votes were counted to advance with a 6-vote lead (768-762) over Daren Miller. Former councilmember Craig Scharton was fourth with 720 votes.

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