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Mayor confronts frustrations, goals

This is the second in a two-part story about Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, and her morning spent with features editor Sydney Ray. For the first part, read Mayoral shadow educates editor.

After listening to speeches by Swearengin and governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, our next stop was Univision, a Spanish-speaking television studio. Swearengin and I entered the studio where she was to record a 30-second video clip encouraging watchers to participate in the 2010 census. The only catch was that she had to speak Spanish.

Although she took several years of Spanish in high school and one semester in adult school, I could tell she was stuggling. She was expected to follow strict choreography and have perfect pronunciation.

After practicing for a while, Swearengin completed her taping of the video. She seemed tired from all the hard work of repeating the difficult Spanish phrases and getting her choreography just right.

As we drove back to City Hall, Swearengin and I chatted. Although she claims her interests were always in the private business line of work, she says her path was directed to becoming the mayor.

“At Fresno State, I got involved in economic development. I then worked for ten years in that area. At that point, I felt I had the skills necessary to take my career to the next level,” Swearengin said. “I do not have political ambition; I have ambition for Fresno. And I felt that becoming the mayor was a critical move in order to accomplish my vision.”

Swearengin says she does not feel overwhelmed by the tasks she must confront during her time in office.

“I do not feel overwhelmed because I am organized and focused,” Mayor Swearengin said. “I learned early in life not to consider the entirety of issues. ‘Frustration’ better describes the downside of the job.

“I am constantly dealing with competing priorities and finding the best path is very difficult, especially when good ideas compete with what is best. You have to say ‘no’ to things that are good sometimes.”

Swearengin says she is immensely grateful to her parents for their guidance.

“My parents hugely shaped me, and were very influential,” Swearengin said. “They taught me about hard work, character and ethics. My parents are very task-oriented, and I believe I am partially wired to be that way too.”

Swearengin says she has learned political strategies and mechanisms over time.

“There are definitely times when you have a short amount of time to say something critically important,” Swearengin said. “And when dealing with a political world, it does not always matter what you say, as long as you make the right gesture.

“I have learned to be aggressive, get in front of people and make the best use of time possible. But ultimately, it’s not about words — it’s about conditions changing, especially in downtown Fresno. I want that so badly that it keeps me focused. The whole focus of my administration is the revitalization of the urban core of Fresno.”

Our interview was cut short as Swearengin whisked off to yet another engagement.

After spending the morning with the mayor, I was left to reflect on the experience. Being a little interested in politics myself, I was especially impacted by Swearengin’s encouraging insight. In a world full of political mistakes, I feel great knowing that one of Fresno’s most influential leaders is using wise judgment and focusing on rebuilding a part of our city that is in need of help.

For more information, read the first portion of this feature, Mayoral shadow educates editor, or check out Swearengin’s Web site or the May 22, 2008 article, Alumna fosters mayoral dreams.

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    Alexandra BarisicJan 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Go Jessica! This is a good picture!