Leaders of Fresno’s black community on Thursday publicly criticized city councilman Steve Brandau’s comparison of extra gas tax road repair funding for the city’s southern districts to slavery reparations.
After they spoke out during the council meeting — and some of his own colleagues suggested that apologize — Brandau only admitted to a wrong choice of words. He never said he was sorry.
“There’s really nothing that can be said. So, but what I will say, it was not my intent to hurt anybody,” Brandau said after listening to the criticism.
Speaking to Gene Haagenson of ABC 30 on Monday, Brandau said: “Is it right for us, the citizens of north Fresno, to pay for the sins of the past? You know, it kind of reminds me of the whole reparations argument.”
Brandau showed up at a news conference held by his colleagues denouncing Mayor Lee Brand’s spending plan for SB 1 gas tax money on city roads.
Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias, and Luis Chavez said that funds should not be divided roughly equally among the seven districts. Instead, they said, funds should be directed to more neglected roads in their districts, encompassing south and central Fresno.
Black Leaders Speak Up
“I was taken aback by his comments. It was mentioned to him that he should apologize. At no point, did he say he apologized. That was disconcerting to me given the gravity of the situation.” — Bob Mitchell
“You comparing that proposal to the government paying for reparations to African-Americans for slavery is an insult. It is an insult,” longtime west Fresno resident Bob Mitchell told Brandau.
Debbie Darden, chair of the Golden Westside Planning Committee, also found offense in Brandau’s comments that south Fresno was “stealing” gas tax funds from the north.
“You represent what a racist is,” Darden said. “Does he really believe that the thousands and thousands of African-Americans who lost their lives during slavery, the repayment would be only to add sidewalks?”
Darden concluded with biting words.
“There will be a silver lining when the District 2 city council seat is available. That’s a silver lining because you will no longer be sitting there. The sad part is … (a) dark cloud will now be sitting with the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.”
Criner Spoke With Brandau on Wednesday Night
Pastor D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church called for healing in this time of division.
“To bring up reparations is probably the most foolish things that could be done. Especially in the racial divide we are sitting in,” Criner said.
The pastor said he had a phone conversation with Brandau on Wednesday night.
Clips of the community’s comments can be seen in the video above.
Although he did not say he was sorry, Brandau admitted making a mistake.
“I knew I had chosen a real bad analogy. I don’t know why,” Brandau said. “It was just that, maybe it was because two weeks ago I had read an article that discussed this nationally. It didn’t apply to the city of Fresno.”
He added, his voice quivering: “I acknowledge it was a real terrible analogy. It won’t happen again.”
Brandau’s words did not satisfy his critics.
“I was taken aback by his comments. It was mentioned to him that he should apologize. At no point, did he say he apologized. That was disconcerting to me given the gravity of the situation,” Bob Mitchell said afterward.
Council Colleagues React
Other councilmembers expressed disappointment over Brandau’s statement but also said that they appreciated that he acknowledged his mistake.
“But, I do believe in moments like this, the community deserves a simple and clear apology so there is no doubt left that was a significant mistake. So, if you were to do that today, that would go a long way for the rest of us, too.” — Councilman Miguel Arias
Nelson Esparza, who separately came out against Brand’s original spending plan, noted he’s spoken one-on-one with Brandau about sensitive issues in the past.
“Although I do not believe you to be a racist person based on the character I’ve seen from you, it’s comments, it’s actions, it’s votes, that perpetuate the institutional racism that has plagued communities, and our community in particular, for decades,” Esparza said.
Soria reminded Brandau of his past behavior.
“This isn’t the first time that you’ve hurt people,” Soria said. “You’ve called people ‘poverty pimps’ and have, you know, said other comments that have not been the highlights of the time you have been here. I think that when there are statements that are reoccurring, that to some degree, people feel that they are being attacked because they are poor or they are a minority, it becomes an issue.”
Paul Caprioglio said he believed Brandau made the statements in the heat of the moment.