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Grizzlies’ Ocasio-Cortez video controversy won’t die. Councilman disagrees with apology

Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld this week sharply criticized two colleagues for spending taxpayer money for a trip to Washington, D.C., where they apologized to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the 75th anniversary of D-Day – and he doesn’t believe their explanation.

Councilmembers Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria spent about $2,400 total from their council budgets on the trip, but they said the visit with Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t the purpose of the trip. They went to D.C. to advocate for Congress to pass the Dream Act and for safe drinking water infrastructure.

“Quite honestly, I don’t believe the trip would’ve happened except for their desire to meet with this socialist congresswoman,” Bredefeld said in an interview on Tuesday with The Bee.

He stopped short of calling the councilmembers dishonest. “People can judge for themselves whether their trip was necessary and whether it was appropriate.”

Bredefeld said the timing of the trip was what he took issue with the most. “Our military heroes on D-Day fought for our freedoms,” he said. “This socialist congresswoman works against those very freedoms.”

The Fresno Grizzlies made national headlines and lost several big-name sponsorships after playing a video during a Memorial Day game that depicted Ocasio-Cortez alongside dictators Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-Un. The team apologized and says it reprimanded the employee responsible for the mistake, and Ocasio-Cortez addressed the issue on Twitter saying such incidents put her safety at risk.

Bredefeld agrees the video was inappropriate but rejects the New York congresswoman’s socialist ideology.

Arias and Soria last week met up with Ocasio-Cortez after a congressional vote, apologizing to her in person and giving her Grizzlies gear.

Although the two councilmembers asked Rep. TJ Cox to help arrange a meeting with Ocasio-Cortez, the informal meeting wasn’t confirmed until after they arrived in D.C. and ran into the freshman congresswoman by happenstance, they said.

The trip was a follow-up to the Fresno Council of Governments’ “One Voice” trip in early May, which Councilmembers Paul Caprioglio and Luis Chavez attended, Arias and Soria said.

“The sole purpose of the trip was not for that visit, it was a combination,” Soria said in an interview with The Bee. “It happened to be that we had the opportunity to do all of the work we did, plus meet with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. At the end of the day, as elected officials and leaders, we have to make ourselves available to go to our state and federal representative so they know what we need and the needs of our constituents.”

Bredefeld said he believes the One Voice trip was different from the more recent trip.

Soria said such trips are not unusual, noting she travels to Sacramento and D.C. often with groups like the League of California Cities Latino Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

“It’s sad this became so politicized because Congresswoman AOC’s ideology doesn’t align with the folks who are being critical of our visit,” she said.

Arias said it’s important the city does what it can to help the Grizzlies be successful since the city is on the hook for the Chukchansi Park debt. “If the organization continues to lose revenue, city taxpayers will be responsible to rescue that operation,” he said.

“It was the right thing to do given the risk to Fresno taxpayers.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.