Mayoral Candidates Debate

September 24, 2008 12:43:09 AM PDT
The latest Fresno Mayoral debate, sponsored by KMJ radio brought candidates Ashley Swearengin and Henry T. Perea together at the Tower theatre.Both candidates were on same page on many issues, like Downtown development. Perea said:" I think the number one priority should be downtown Fresno, downtown." While Swearengin made this pledge:" I'll appoint a senior person to my administration that will be the downtown czar who will be solely responsible for moving all downtown things forward."

Both praised outgoing Mayor Alan Autry, and both said they planned to keep Jerry Dyer as police chief. Both applauded his effort to crack down on gang violence in the city. Their key disagreement remains over hiring an auditor to have some oversight over the department. Perea opposes the idea. Swearengin supports it.

Perea explained his position this way:" While we need to make sure the public feels safe when our police officers are out patrolling we also need to make sure we are not handcuffing our police officers when they have to make split second decisions."

Swearengin maintains she wants an auditor, saying:" To me, because of the investment of money and incredible authority we have given to our local law enforcement agency from a policy standpoint it just makes good sense, it bears the extra scrutiny that an independent police auditor would provide."

It's been a touchy issue in Fresno for several years. Current Mayor Alan Autry says he supports hiring an auditor, but the city council has repeatedly refused to endorse it. It's an issue opposed by the Fresno Police Officers Association, which is a major contributor to local political campaigns.

Both candidates are in a close race. The latest Action News Poll Conducted by SurveyUSA shows Swearengin leading Perea 48 to 45 per cent. But with a four point margin of error, it's basically a tie. Compared to the last Poll in mid August, Swearengin gained 4 points among male voters while Perea was up 9 points with women.

While they share similar points of view, both say their backgrounds should make the difference. Perea's six years on the city council, versus Swearengin 's experience as director of an agency called the Regional Jobs Initiative. Perea believes his role as an elected official outweighs Swearengin's background. He says:" So I think what the voters have to keep in mind is what's different. What's different in this election comes down to experience I have a proven track record over the last six years."

Swearengin's responce:"Well he talks about all of his experience on the council yet there are many, many, things left undone frankly that he should have been leading on when he was part of the city council.

During the debate, Swearengin challenged Perea to sign a pledge to denounce any negative campaign advertising financed by independent groups. She asked Perea:"Will you join me tonight to denounce all negative independent expenditures in this election cycle ... And immediately and publicly hold a news conference condemning any independent expenditure that attacks an opponent."

Perea didn't hesitate, responding:" Oh, you bet. That's an easy one. I wish you would have done the same for me in the primary."

Swearengin says her request comes amidst rumors that independent groups funded by out of town business interests are about to launch an ad campaign against her. Such groups can be exempt from campaign contribution limits. Perea signed the pledge, but added he thought it was somewhat "disingenuous" of Swearengin since he felt he was targeted by attack ads from her supporters during the primary.

On other matters when asked their preference in the Presidential race, Perea said he supports Obama, and Swearengin said she supports John McCain. Swearengin added she felt she had a lot in common with McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

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