Autry's Impact On Fresno

December 23, 2008 9:24:44 AM PST
For eight years Fresno's bigger than life mayor dominated the political scene with his no holds barred approach to governing.From day one, Mayor Alan Autry never shied away from a challenge. He didn't win every battle but he believes his tenure brought success where it mattered most.

In order to do that he had to get elected and he won two terms with decisive turnouts in his favor. With 62 percent of the vote Alan Autry became the first Fresno mayor elected in the 21st century. In 2004 it was another landslide win at 72 percent.

He worked hard to get the job; but why did he want it in the first place? He said his past included substance abuse and alcoholism that he overcame through the help of his faith, "Well, I thought it was what I was supposed to do. I made a deal with the good Lord above that if I was ever called upon or discerned that it was his will for me to do something that I would do it." It was his faith-based calling he says to unify 'A tale of two cities', divided north to south: economically, socially and by an education system failing its poorest children. He began the job by announcing he'd ask the state legislature to authorize him to essentially take over the Fresno Unified School District by appointing its board members, "I needed to do something to really shake 'em up. Like saying', 'hey, you're not doing it, I want to take over."

Autry spent the next year appearing to joust at windmills here and in Sacramento but he says, "The plan worked out exactly like I thought it would." While working on other city issues he dogged the district and its teachers' union at every turn. In 2005 the hiring of current superintendent Michael Hansen made sense to Autry, "I have hope that the rebuilding of Fresno Unified and our schools in the southern section is going to happen."

Early in his first term the adoption of the 20-25 general plans helped to curb sprawl to the north sending it to southeast Fresno and the Fancher Creek Master Plan Community Project.

The 'no neighborhood left behind' venture brought change to poorer areas. The joint effort by Autry and council member, Henry T. Perea plowed $47 million dollars in to older parts of the city, "Now that lady, I believe her name is Mrs. Williams, in Southwest Fresno, that never had curbs and gutters sidewalks in front of her house in 50 years, she's got 'em now."

Autry cites other progress: adding more cops and bringing crime to a 43 year low. The fire department is rebuilding with better response times. At city hall a new budgeting system has department heads sharing revenue and finding cuts leading to a $17 million dollar surplus this fiscal year. The mayor credits city workers for the results but one success came from his persona alone, "I think there's certain leadership that right for certain times. The city needed a bull in a china closet at the time I think. So many years we were just a side dish that nobody ordered."

Autry leaves office with positive traction for the city with the legislature and the governor that pays real dividends, "He's (Governor Schwarzenegger) proceeded then to move forward in giving us our fair share of everything including 1 billion dollars for Highway 99. We're at the table, in Sacramento, which is huge. All in all we've accomplished so much as a community."

In the second of two parts, we'll continue our discussion with Alan Autry about his regrets as he leaves office and we'll hear his plans for life after politics.

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