The quote came from a meeting with the editorial board at the San Jose Mercury News, as Whitman talked about Fresno's economy and the water crisis. According the latest figures, Fresno County's unemployment rate was at 15.4 percent in August. The rate for the Detroit metropolitan area was 14.1 percent.
Fresno council members Lee Brand and Andreas Borgeas said Fresno has its challenges and may be tied to agriculture like Detroit is to the auto industry. But awful? "I think comparing us to Detroit might be a little extreme... Detroit's challenges, in my opinion, are much, much more severe than the city of Fresno," said Brand.
"I think a strong analogy can be made, even though I think it's a little sensational ... We've all heard the phrase, 'Appalachia of the West'. We all know what that means, our work is cut out for us," said Borgeas.
Whitman's campaign stands by the analogy. Campaign co-chair and former Secretary of State Bill Jones said the statement shows Meg Whitman understands the valley should not be left behind. "What is the number one issue today? It's the economy. What is the number one issue is related to the economy? It's jobs. So I think it is about important that we raise the visibility for our benefit," said Jones.
ABC 30 Political Analyst Tony Capozzi believes Whitman made a poor choice of words, even if the analogy has some truth to it. "To say it in those terms, when you're running for office and you want votes from Fresno, from the residents of Fresno, I wouldn't be saying Fresno is awful. I'd be talking in more economic terms," said Capozzi.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin didn't take offense. She is in Washington, D.C., but issued a statement, calling Whitman a friend of Fresno. "I know for a fact that Meg does not think Fresno is 'awful', but she does think Fresno's unemployment rate is 'awful.' She recognizes our region has been just as hard hit by water shortages and the recession as Detroit has been impacted by the auto sector," said Swearengin.