Fresno Labor Day breakfast serves up plenty of political fodder

Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria, who is challenging incumbent Congressman Jim Costa, joined other candidates at the 2019 Labor Day Festival organized by the Madera Democratic Club.
Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria, who is challenging incumbent Congressman Jim Costa, joined other candidates at the 2019 Labor Day Festival organized by the Madera Democratic Club.

There was more than scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit and pancakes served up at the 33rd annual Labor Day Festival organized by the Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings Central Labor Council Monday morning at the Fresno fairgrounds.

Attendees were able to rub elbows – and chat – with elected officials and candidates in what is traditionally billed as the start of the campaign season.

The breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit and pancakes was hosted by the Madera Democratic Club.

The political spotlight in the San Joaquín Valley has been on two key races: A primary showdown between incumbent Jim Costa and Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria in the 16th Congressional District; and, the Fresno mayoral race between soon-to-be-retired police chief Jerry Dyer and Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz.

“We started a few months ago,” said Soria about her bid to unseat a fellow Democrat, Costa, who has been in state and national office since before Soria was born 37 years ago. “This is the first primary that is in March ... so we started working earlier before Labor Day.”

Costa – who faces Soria and two other challengers in the primary – points to his endorsements by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Kamala Harris, among others.

“There’s a show horse and there’s a workhorse,” said Costa, 67, in a brief interview after serving pancakes at the breakfast that included union members from Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. “I’m a workhorse.

“I’ve always have been able to get things done,” said Costa, who has been in Congress since 2005. “I just keep my head down and I keep working for the people.”

Soria, who was elected to the council in 2014 and re-elected last year, downplays Costa’s endorsements in a district that is 58 percent Latino and 43.41 percent Democrat.

“It’s expected because he’s part of the establishment,” said Soria, 37. “I wasn’t expecting anything different.”

Soria is banking on backing from “a new wave of leaders” in the Valley.

“They have come out early to endorse me and say, ‘You know what? We do need change because we are seeing the positive changes that are coming out of the changes that have occurred her locally,’” said Soria. “So, we want that same change to be translated into the federal and state levels.”

Congressmember Jim Costa, D-Fresno, attended the 2019 Labor Day Festival organized by the Madera Democratic Club. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Soria, the daughter of Mexican farmworkers, said the Valley needs a stronger representative in Washington, D.C.

“It’s time that we have a leader that has the courage and is bold enough to take some tough stances on behalf of working families in the Valley,” she said. “It’s been way too long since we’ve had that, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Costa, who said he takes “every race seriously,” noted he has gotten federal dollars for highway construction and improvements, the Old Administration Building at Fresno City College, and other projects.

“I always put my faith and trust in the borders of this Valley,” he said. “That what my contract is with, and so I’m trying to get my contract renegotiated because I still have work to do.”

Costa said he wants to work on fixing the country’s immigration system, getting a medical school for the Valley, ensuring more water for agriculture and clean drinking water for residents, and, getting an infrastructure bill that will include funds for high-speed rail.

Soria, who said she will soon release a list of endorsements, said momentum is building for her campaign “because people want change.”

“We can continue doing the same and expect different results,” she said. “We’re making sure that the future generation is able to go to college, and that we fix our immigration system.”

The way to do that, said Soria, is by “pushing a lot harder” for policies to be changed.

Soria and Costa both saluted the efforts of organized labor, and the need to recognize their contributions.

“If we go back in history, we can credit labor unions for having a 2-day weekend, holidays off, disability pay and all these benefits that many of us don’t even know where they came from,” said Soria. “It was because labor unions fought hard for better working conditions.”

Costa said the Labor Day breakfast “reflects the heart of our Valley.”

“Our country is the greatest country in the world because of working men and women,” he said. “The union movement has been the foundation of ensuring that you have a minimum wage, health standards, working safety standards, prevailing wage standards.”


If Dyer and Janz remain the only mayoral candidates, Fresno could know the successor to Mayor Lee Brand in March.

That means their campaigns will probably heat up by fall.

Fresno Police Chief and mayoral candidate Jerry Dyer served pancakes at the 2019 Labor Day Festival organized by the Madera Democratic Club. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

“It’s going to be hard-fought all the way through,” said Dyer, who will officially retire as police chief on Oct. 16.

He expects to have a campaign war chest of about $850,000 to help his effort.

Dyer said the homelessness and public safety are issues that have risen to the top among residents he has spoken with, regardless of what part of the city they live in.

“They want to make sure their children are able to walk to and from school without the fear of being abducted or get caught up in a drive-by shooting,” said Dyer.

He also noted that people want jobs with livable wages and cleaner streets.

Fresno mayoral candidate Andrew Janz speaks with a participant at the 2019 Labor Day Festival at the Fresno fairgrounds. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Janz, who ran unsuccessfully last fall against Congressmember Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, said his mayoral campaign is “hitting it into high gear now.”

“We’re out there every single day knocking on doors making sure the people understand the importance of voting, and making sure they go out there and get educated on which candidate actually supports organized labor.

“The clear choice is obvious. I am the candidate endorsed by organized labor and dozens of local unions here in the Central Valley,” he said. “I’m going to be out there fighting for working families and all the labor unions here.”

This story was updated at 8:14 p.m. to correctly identify the Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings Central Labor Council as the organizers of the breakfast. The Madera Democratic Club hosted the event.