I love it when a politician proves his critics right.
Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen won re-election Tuesday night in a low-turnout municipal primary and immediately resorted to the insular, amateur maneuvers that have come to define his council service: He refused to talk to a Review-Journal news reporter, and he refused to allow a Review-Journal photographer into his victory party at the Henderson Convention Center.
Hafen was so angry about being criticized for his small-time behavior that he ... displayed more small-time behavior. Think about it: The mayor of the state’s second-largest city didn’t want to take election-night questions from the state’s largest newspaper — the dominant source of news for his constituents — and he didn’t want his photograph taken at the city’s publicly owned convention center.
Welcome to Hooterville.
“I’m not talking to the Review-Journal,” he told a reporter over the phone. “I’m just done with the editorial board.”
Fine. But he wasn’t dealing with the editorial board that night. He was dealing with people who cover the news. Even the elected members of the Basic High School Student Council know the difference.
I get why Hafen is no fan of this newspaper’s editorial page. On March 15, the Review-Journal’s editorial board endorsed one of his six challengers, Rick Workman, the accreditation manager for the Henderson Police Department. The editorial was highly critical of Hafen, citing the favor he granted to Sen. Harry Reid in hiring the majority leader’s son Josh as city attorney despite his lack of qualifications; the city’s disturbing lack of due diligence in brokering a far-fetched stadium deal with a developer already facing a fraud judgment; and other management mishaps.
Just as important in the newspaper’s decision to endorse Hafen’s ouster was his stubborn refusal to face any of the tough questions a mayor is obligated to answer when his municipality mishandles hirings, firings and routine business to the point that it costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Especially in an election year, the one person who represents every Henderson resident should have some accountability and accessibility.
“Mr. Hafen has revealed himself to be an arrogant, small-time leader who hires his friends, doesn’t do his homework and prefers to keep his door closed,” the newspaper wrote March 15. “Forrest Gump would do better — at least he could be counted on to do the right thing.”
We were being kind.
Was anyone in Henderson surprised to read Saturday’s Review-Journal report about Workman’s run-in with the city attorney’s office? Workman said Assistant City Attorney David Hintzman called him twice in January to warn that he was barred from running for mayor and had to withdraw from the race or face an ethics violation. Workman said Hintzman also expressed his concern that Workman’s candidacy would “divide the city.”
Fred Horvath, human resources director for the city, investigated the matter last month at Workman’s request, calling it “difference of opinion.” City spokesman Bud Cranor denied that Workman was told to pull out of the race and described the issue as “a misunderstanding.”
Of course. And I’m sure Hafen had nothing to do with that “misunderstanding.”
The main reason Hafen can get away with all this, of course, is the God-awful voter turnout in this valley’s municipal elections (see related editorial today). Even with a government mired in controversy and embarrassment, most Henderson residents still didn’t care enough to trouble themselves to vote. Yes, Hafen got 55 percent of the vote, but that means 45 percent was split among his challengers, none of whom enjoyed any name recognition, and some of whom had no business running for office at all (Workman took second with 37 percent). That’s hardly a resounding statement of support for an incumbent.
So Hafen, after giving the press more than enough reasons to scrutinize him and his city, has doubled down on his defiance. King Andy doesn’t deal with journalists? Helpful tip for Hafen: Don’t antagonize the press. If you give reporters more reasons to poke around City Hall, they’ll gladly take you up on it. It was part of the Politics 101 class he probably skipped.
When he first ran for mayor, did Hafen really think no one would ever say anything bad about him? It’s part of the job description when you spend other people’s money.
So keep hanging up the phone and hiding in public buildings, Mr. Mayor. Put a sweater on — wouldn’t want that thin skin to get chilly. And keep your petty grudge against folks who have nothing to do with perfectly valid criticisms of you. It will just show we’ve been right about you all along.
Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall,” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.