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Originally published Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 1:49 PM

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Whitman's Fresno-Detroit comparison draws heat

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's comparison of Fresno and Detroit has drawn criticism from the Motor City mayor's office, with his spokeswoman calling on the billionaire GOP candidate to focus on investing in communities hit hardest by the financial meltdown.

Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —

California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's comparison of Fresno and Detroit has drawn criticism from the Motor City mayor's office, with his spokeswoman calling on the billionaire GOP candidate to focus on investing in communities hit hardest by the financial meltdown.

Whitman's comparison came in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News editorial board Tuesday when she said, "Fresno looks like Detroit. It's awful." The newspaper reported her statement the next day.

The city of Fresno, population 500,000, had an unemployment rate in August of 14.5 percent, 2 percentage points higher than the statewide rate.

In Detroit, population 900,000, the metro area had an official unemployment rate of 14.4 percent in August, down from 15.2 percent in July, although estimates indicate that about one in three adults are actually jobless.

"Fresno, like Detroit, shares the reality of being an urban city that continue(s) to bear the burden of a Wall Street meltdown," Karen Dumas, a spokeswoman for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, said in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press. "Perhaps Ms. Whitman is better served in making investments in communities like Detroit and Fresno rather than profiting at their expense."

Whitman, appearing on a Fresno talk-radio show Thursday, said she was talking about the tough economy, which has hit some communities especially hard. The former chief executive officer of eBay, Whitman once served on the board of investment firm Goldman Sachs.

"What I was trying to communicate was Fresno, the Central Valley, has been very hard hit. As hard hit as places like Detroit. So that's what I was trying to communicate," she said.

"Listen, I want people to really understand that what is so heartbreaking is the high unemployment rate in Fresno. Fresno is a great town, I love the Central Valley."

The Central Valley has been crucial to Whitman's campaign strategy in the race against Democrat Jerry Brown. The inland stretches of California lean Republican compared with the more populated coastal regions.

In addition to rallying conservatives in the Central Valley, Whitman has been targeting more conservative Democrats and independents in the region, hoping her pitch about job creation will resonate.

She has a Friday fundraiser in Fresno with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and is scheduled to debate Brown Oct. 2 at California State University, Fresno.

Whitman's comments also drew a rebuke from Mike Thompson, the Detroit Free Press editorial cartoonist. He called the remarks "galling" in a blog posted Thursday to the paper's website.

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He said as a titan of the corporate world and a member of the Goldman Sachs board, Whitman helped create the conditions that led to the economic meltdown. Before heading eBay, Whitman was an executive at a number of blue-chip companies, including Procter & Gamble, Hasbro and Walt Disney.

"Two big reason(s) for the decline of the city that she insulted are Wall Street bamboozling and outsourcing - two things that the billionaire Republican Whitman has excelled at in the past," he wrote.

Whitman's comment also drew criticism from state Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat from the Central Valley town of Shafter.

"I don't think Ms. Whitman recognizes how her comments stigmatize Fresno and the folks who live here," Florez said in a statement.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican who has endorsed Whitman, came to her defense.

She called Whitman "a strong friend of Fresno and the Central Valley ... I know for a fact that Meg does not think Fresno is 'awful,' but she does think Fresno's unemployment rate is 'awful.'"

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Associated Press Writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

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