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Clark County DA Steve Wolfson drops out of candidate forum

A virtual forum scheduled for Thursday night for Clark County district attorney candidates will be missing one participant after incumbent Steve Wolfson dropped out.

“Wolfson dropped out of the event this week with his campaign team stating that all questions needed to be submitted in advance and that ‘questions from the virtual audience is out of the question,’ although this was previously agreed to by Mr. Wolfson,” according to a joint statement released Wednesday by the Clark County Black Caucus and the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP.

Following a request from Wolfson, the forum was changed from an in-person event to a livestream of the candidates, who were set to meet at a “secure, virtual location,” according to the statement.

In a statement released Wednesday night, Wolfson said he dropped out of the event due to safety concerns.

He pointed to recent incidents of Gov. Steve Sisolak and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo being accosted in videos posted to social media, and protests that Wolfson said have disrupted previous campaign events.

“I have tremendous respect for the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Black Caucus,” Wolfson said. “However, I do not have the same respect for my opponent who has continued to profess lies and falsities about myself, my family, and my office.”

The forum will still occur at 6 p.m. on Thursday over Facebook and Youtube. Candidates Ozzie Fumo, a former Nevada assemblyman, and attorney Timothy Treffinger are set to participate.

In an emailed statement sent Wednesday evening, Fumo said he had “reluctantly agreed” to Wolfson’s request for a virtual audience and pre-submitted questions. He said Wolfson is dropping out of the event because “he doesn’t want the virtual audience to be able to ask questions.”

“Maybe it’s because this morning, Steve decided to drop a felony battery charge against a heavyweight UFC fighter who punched a woman in the face for no apparent reason,” Fumo said. “Maybe Steve is afraid of looking a voter in the eye and explaining why he lets billionaires and celebrities get away with violent crimes in our community. Maybe Steve can’t stomach the idea that he’s making our community less safe, so he’d rather hide in his ivory tower than face the voters of Clark County.”

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors reduced charges filed against former UFC fighter Chael Sonnen, including dropping a felony charge of battery by strangulation. Sonnen is accused of attacking multiple people in a Las Vegas hotel hallway in December, including a California couple who have filed a lawsuit against him.

Meanwhile, Wolfson said he had safety concerns after protesters have intimidated his supporters “and created an uncomfortable and dangerous environment at previous events.”

His campaign manager, Tom Letizia, said at least two of Wolfson’s fundraising events have been attended by a group of about 20 protesters. The police were called to both events, but no arrests were made, Letizia said.

The Clark County Black Caucus chair, Yvette Williams, and NAACP Las Vegas President Roxann McCoy both stated that Wolfson backing out of the forum was “disrespectful” to their organizations, according to their joint press release.

“I personally find it disrespectful that he doesn’t feel he should engage with the Black community and suggests he feels unsafe,” McCoy said. “He should judge a person by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. We’ve gone out of our way to accommodate him and meet his requests.”

Jagada Chambers, the rights restoration coordinator for Silver State Voices, said he had planned a watch party for formerly incarcerated people to watch the forum. He said Wolfson’s decision not to participate is “disheartening” for a population that usually has lower rates of political engagement.

“I just thought it was a great opportunity to almost be humanistic and talk and just be real,” Chambers said in a phone interview with the Review-Journal. “And not just be that signature that sends so many of our people to incarceration in this community.”

ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said in a statement that it was “disappointing” for Wolfson to back out of the forum after the organizations “accommodated some really absurd requests.”

“I am mostly confused as to why someone would be seeking public office if they want to avoid the public entirely,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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