Every vote counts.

That is the takeaway in Fresno City Council District 3, where just 14 votes separate three contenders for a ticket to the run-off against top vote-getter Miguel Arias.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director/Columnist Bill McEwen

Bill McEwen

News Analysis

Seven candidates entered the race to select termed-out Oliver Baines’ successor in the seat that encompasses parts of downtown, the Tower District, the Edison High School neighborhood, and neighborhoods west of Highway 99 in the Central Unified School District.

Arias, a Fresno Unified spokesman and State Center Community College District trustee, captured 865 votes, or about 30% of the total Tuesday night.

But you can throw a blanket over the next three finishers. Educator Daren Miller is second with 420 votes. He is followed by businessman Tate Hill, who was backed by Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and has 411 votes. Former Fresno City Councilman Craig Scharton, a longtime downtown advocate, has 406 votes.

The coming days will be a roller-coaster ride for Miller, Hill and Scharton.

That’s because the Fresno County clerk’s office still must count vote-by-mail and provisional ballots turned in Tuesday, as well as ballots sent through the mail postmarked on or before Tuesday. Any that arrive after Friday, however, won’t count.

Clerk Brandi Orth said there were about 47,300 countywide ballots left to count on Wednesday, but she had no way of knowing how many included the Fresno council races.

Voter turnout in the district was 11.2% as of Wednesday morning.

Whelan and Esparza Move On in District 7

Nelson Esparza pinned a big part of his hopes on winning over voters with a door-to-door walking campaign. And it paid off for the part-time Fresno City College instructor who is a trustee on the Fresno County Board of Education.

Esparza is running a strong second to Fresno attorney Brian Whelan, a former congressional candidate who is backed by the city’s conservative elite, including Mayor Lee Brand and Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. Whelan has 1,126 votes, or 39% of the total cast. Esparza stands just 10 votes behind and has 38% of the total.

Nelson Esparza

It’s conceivable given the strong union support covering the district with volunteers at doorsteps in recent weeks that Esparza finishes on top when the clerk finalizes the vote.

Esparza pitched himself to voters as the moderate choice between the conservative Whelan and liberal third-place finisher Veva Islas. In addition, Whelan’s campaigned focused more on Islas, challenging her residency and calling her “Veva Islas-Hooker,” a reference to her hyphenated legal name, which includes her husband’s name.

Whether those tactics pushed down Islas’ vote tally is anybody’s guess. It could be that voters in District 7, which runs south-north through the heart of the city, simply found her positions too liberal for their tastes.

Mayor Brand wants to continue the relationship he enjoys with a council that leans to the right despite a 4-3 Democratic majority. And Democrats desperately want to win back a seat that has been held for two terms by Clint Olivier, a Republican with a libertarian worldview.

What is certain: Whelan, a Republican, failed in his quest to win the seat outright in the Democratic district. Now he must do battle with Esparza, who is a Democrat in the mold of past District 7 city councilmen Henry T. Perea and Henry R. Perea.

“Last night’s results show a very strong debate ahead for Fresno’s future,” Whelan campaign spokesman Alex Tavlian said in a statement. “We are very excited to move on to November and engage in the issues that matter most to the residents of Fresno’s District 7.”

Said Esparza: “It feels good to see all of our hard work for the primary pay off. We didn’t do any radio or TV (advertising) but we got our message out through mailers and face-to-face.”

Clearly, there is an opportunity for both camps to gain new voters in November. District voter turnout for the primary stood at 11.9% as of Wednesday morning.

Whatever the final outcome, expect a bruising battle and ample fundraising.

Mayor Brand wants to continue the relationship he enjoys with a council that leans to the right despite a 4-3 Democratic majority. And Democrats desperately want to win back a seat that has been held for two terms by Clint Olivier, a Republican with a libertarian worldview.

Yang Forces Run-off Against Incumbent Chavez

District 5 incumbent Luis Chavez knows his neighborhoods like the back of his hand. After all, he is a former aide to Sal Quintero, who served four terms over two different stints as southeast Fresno’s council representative. In addition, Chavez previously represented the area as a Fresno Unified School District trustee.

Luis Chavez, a moderate Democrat who has focused on business issues, led the way with 41%, but now must work hard to fend off Paula Yang’s challenge.

The expectation among many political observers was that he would reach the majority threshold in the primary to avoid a run-off.

It didn’t happen.

Hmong television anchor and community activist Paula Yang pulled in 36% of the vote and longtime southeast Fresno economic development specialist Jose Barraza attracted 17% to force the run-off.

Chavez, a moderate Democrat who has focused on business issues, led the way with 41%, but now must work hard to fend off Yang’s challenge.

The councilman theorized that Yang benefited from Bobby Bliatout’s run in the CA-22 congressional race, which boosted voter turnout among Asian Americans.

Chavez also rued the low overall voter turnout in the district (13.1%), noting that as of Wednesday morning, he was just 290 votes short of reaching a majority.

“We’re still in good shape for November,” Chavez said. “That’s when Democratic Latino turnout goes up.”

Soria’s Easy Night

Incumbent Esmeralda Soria’s combination of voter satisfaction, fundraising clout and media visibility snuffed out all competition in District 1, allowing her a walkover win for a second term.

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