On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the six months of hard work that the members of Youth Leadership Institute’s Fresno Youth Platform (FYP) endured finally paid off. Hosted at Fresno City College’s Old Administration Building, the first-ever youth-led Mayoral Candidates Forum took place.
Fresno’s seven mayoral candidates were all invited to attend the forum and answer questions about six different topics that most concern the youth of Fresno.
To determine what six topics would be included, FYP members conducted a survey of over 400 Fresno youth. After collecting that data, they determined that the following were most impacting the young people of Fresno:
1. Parks & Green Spaces
2. Youth Jobs
3. Urbanization & Industrialization
4. Renter’s Protections & Rights
5. Community Policing & Police Reform
6. Immigrant Fund & Rights
Three candidates attended the event: Andrew Janz, Nickolas Wildstar and Richard B. Renteria, and the Floyd Harris Jr. campaign provided written answers as Harris was sick with pneumonia and could not attend. Also not in attendance were candidates Bill Gates, Brian Jefferson, and former Police Chief Jerry Dyer. The Fresno Youth Platform extended multiple invites to each of these candidates but did not hear back from any of them.
The forum itself was moderated by FYP member Zofia Trexler, 17, who set a brisk and often hilarious pace throughout the evening. The program of the evening was simple, Trexler would introduce youth speakers from the FYP and wider community who would introduce an issue from the platform, often with personal experiences regarding it, and then ask the candidates a question created by the FYP. Each candidate was then given 60 seconds to respond and, although absent, candidate Harris provided statements on each of the platform issues that were then read out by Trexler.
The answers to each of the platform’s questions varied in specificity and political leanings, but a few things remained consistent. Harris and Janz remained progressive, supporting policies around sanctuary cities and legal assistance to educate renters on their rights. Wildstar remained a strong libertarian, touting support for both free enterprise parks and gun rights – he also plugged his website at the end of every answer which was followed by a mix of laughs and groans in the audience.
Renteria focused on his past as a resident of Calwa and his own experiences with the Fresno mayoral election process.
The only other constant was Janz and his focus on the not present Dyer, the establishment and other similar figures. He commented that he is “terrified” of the idea of a Dyer mayorship and how slumlords have “dumped $50,000 in this race to defeat [him].”
When it came to the issue of policing, arguably the most important of the night, the candidates all had answers that resonated with audience members:
“The most important decision the next mayor will face is picking the next police chief,” said Janz.
“If you pull a gun on one of our citizens, you will face a judge just like anyone else, and be suspended without pay,” said Renteria.
“One of the things that inspired me to run for mayor was 17-year-old Isaiah Murrieta Golding being shot in the back of the head by the Fresno Police Force,” expressed Wildstar.
“If money was put back into social programs that build our families, we would see a reduction in crime and the over-policing of our communities of color,” said Trexler as she read the answer provided by the Harris campaign.
A few other key moments stood out from the night:
Janz touted his endorsement by Planned Parenthood
Wildstar provided one of the most intriguing proposals of the night: 3-D printed homes that can be built in just 24 hours to help with homelessness
Renteria cracked jokes about our former mayors and their inability to lead Fresno, “We had that woman from Houston, or wherever she’s from, and an actor before that,” referencing Fort Worth, TX native Ashley Swearengin and actor Alan Autry.
Host Zofia Trexler thanked each candidate for coming while simultaneously remarking on their inability to stay within the 60 second time limits.
The night ended with each candidate answering questions from the audience, which ranged from questions around racial profiling to concern about the alarming rate of HIV cases in Fresno.
All in all, the biggest loser of the night was the establishment. Each candidate made it a point to focus on the flaws in our current system and emphasize that voters are the ones with the power to bring real change.
And the biggest winner of the night was Fresno youth. They were able to come together to and demand that they be heard – and see who cared enough to show up and listen.
Community member Susan Xiong summed it up perfectly:
“Older people say our children are our future. I would like it to be a reality, not just a philosophy.”
Photos courtesy of Brian Gutierrez, Eric Escareno, and Jarrett Ramones.