Knocking on strangers’ doors is nothing new for Las Vegas City Council candidate Bob Beers.
Doing so while wearing a jacket and tie is.
Beers, a former state legislator, is accustomed to campaigning in advance of November elections, which necessitates short sleeves and open collars to cope with the summer heat during precinct walks.
"This is the most powerful kind of campaigning there is," Beers, 52, said of face-to-face interaction with voters during a recent walk in Ward 2, where he and eight others are seeking to replace former Councilman Steve Wolfson in a special, springtime election. Wolfson gave up his council post after becoming the new Clark County district attorney.
And while the unusual timing might make for pleasant walking weather for candidates, it complicates just about everything else for their campaigns.
That’s because the campaign, which began with candidate filing on Feb. 21 and concludes March 20 on election day, is compressed into just four weeks, is the only vote on the ballot, and will likely attract only a small percentage of the about 53,000 eligible voters in the ward.
"Everybody seems to be working the same people," said Beers, who tromped past signs and fliers for candidate Ric Truesdell, 57, a city planning commissioner, during the walk and narrowly missed retired Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Bob Chinn, 53, another candidate, who was walking another neighborhood that same day.
Other candidates who have raised significant money, posted numerous signs or shown credible organization include Anthony Ruggiero, 47, an assistant to Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony, and Kristine Kuzemka, 49, a public defender who was encouraged to run through Emerge Nevada, a candidate training program for women.
"This is like a sprint," said Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada, of the compressed campaign schedule. The key is being "able to identify, roust and deliver a core of voters."
Other candidates, such as real estate investor Fayyaz Raja, 60, registered nurse Roberta Boyers, 59, public school teacher Sherese Holmes, 47, and attorney and former accountant Bruce Gale, 57, will further split the electorate, making it conceivable for a candidate to win with fewer than 2,000 votes, Peplowski said.
"Somebody could easily pull through with 30 percent of the vote," he said.
The winner will serve the remainder of Wolfson’s term, which concludes in June 2013. The position has an annual salary of $72,742.
So far Beers and Truesdell are considered the favorites in the race, with polls from both candidates showing Beers with support from about 25 percent of respondents, albeit with about half or more voters undecided.
Beers’ advantage mainly comes through name recognition.
A Republican and fiscal conservative, Beers was elected to the Legislature in 1998 and served until 2008 in both the Assembly and state Senate. He was defeated by challenger Allison Copening during the Democratic surge attributed to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The council race is Beers’ first campaign for office since the loss, and he’s looking to rev up voters who liked his conservative, and sometimes contrarian, politics.
In interviews and while talking to voters, Beers criticized the City Council for approving about $42 million for the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka, the Mob Museum, which opened Feb. 14 in the city’s downtown redevelopment district.
The museum was the pet project of former Mayor Oscar Goodman, husband of current Mayor Carolyn Goodman.
Oscar Goodman, a former defense lawyer for mob-connected clients, was an unabashed advocate for downtown spending. He and his wife are supporting Truesdell in the Ward 2 race.
The museum, a new City Hall that cost about $150 million to build and furnish, and the Goodman-Truesdell connection are talking points that resonate with likely Beers’ voters.
"I think it was ridiculous to spend that kind of money on that thing," voter Chris Denning, a retired contractor who answered the door and immediately recognized Beers said of the museum. "It was just for glorifying Oscar."
Other voters in the ward, which shows a slight Democratic registration advantage, seemed indifferent to Beers’ message, after hearing he was a Republican.
Steve Redlinger, son-in-law and campaign manager to Truesdell, said Beers’ appeal doesn’t reach beyond hard-core conservatives.
"He has a very kind of shallow universe of people that stick with him," Redlinger said.
While Beers’ strongest cachet is with conservative voters, his background as a certified public accountant, fraud examiner and budget-minded legislator has won some praise from liberals as well.
Ward 3 Councilman Bob Coffin, himself a former legislator, has said repeatedly he thinks Beers would be a good fit for City Council.
Coffin, a Democrat who for decades was among the more liberal legislators in Carson City, said he even encouraged Beers to run.
"I think (Beers) is an excellent person for this sort of job," said Coffin, who since his election to city office has sought more public scrutiny for the city budget. "We have a $500 million budget that needs constant tending."
While Beers benefited early from name recognition, Truesdell has plenty of campaign money to make his own name, drop names and take the shine off Beers’ name.
On the March 7 contribution reporting deadline, Truesdell reported $99,440 in cash and in-kind donations, the highest total in the race and far more than the $44,650 Beers reported.
Truesdell’s donations included $5,000 from Carolyn Goodman’s mayoral campaign account and big donations from several downtown casinos and developers.
The funding advantage is helping Truesdell bombard the ward with glossy mailers touting his record as a successful real estate broker, one of the creators, along with Goodman, of the private Meadows School, and cultural development advocate as a member of the Lied Children’s Discovery Museum board of trustees.
"Our data shows a well-funded candidate with the right profile of being a small-business owner … would be very difficult for Mr. Beers to maintain his lead against," Redlinger said.
Truesdell also heavily emphasizes his connections with both Goodmans, campaigning Friday with Oscar Goodman and touting a close relationship with Carolyn Goodman as well.
And even though Beers and other candidates have run against the Mob Museum and other Goodman-backed projects, Peplowski said the Goodman name is still gold with many voters.
Look no further than Carolyn Goodman’s campaign for mayor, during which she trounced well-organized Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani in a race to succeed Oscar Goodman after 12 years in office.
"She obviously showed just being Oscar’s wife was enough to be elected mayor, and by a huge margin," Peplowski said of the Goodman family name. "It will carry a little bit of weight."
With his fundraising success, Truesdell also has the luxury of loudly criticizing Beers, a polarizing political figure for many during his legislative career.
Truesdell, who levels most of his harshest attacks through Redlinger, criticized Beers for his role as a gubernatorial appointee on the board for the bankrupt Las Vegas Monorail Company, for introducing a colleague at his former company, Payroll Solutions, to key legislators when the Legislature was considering changes to insurance laws that could benefit the company, and for making statements about children of casino workers that were considered offensive by some.
"Mr. Beers’ problem is that, like I said, he carries significant baggage," Redlinger said. "He hasn’t been on the ballot for four years and that lets people forget some of the harder parts of the résumé."
CHINN BRINGS ENERGY
While Beers and Truesdell have drawn much of the attention in the race, mostly as they campaign against each other, Chinn is working hard to make inroads with voters.
He has hired former Goodman confidant Jim Ferrence as a consultant and racked up hundreds of volunteer hours from a network of friends made during his decades on the police force.
Chinn and his friends are walking precincts full time, which gives the candidate lots of face-to-face interaction with voters while his buddies map routes, update charts of likely voters and keep a log of issues residents say are important.
Like Beers, Chinn often leads with criticism of the Mob Museum and City Hall. But he’s also quick to segue to public safety and emphasize his law enforcement credentials.
During a recent walk through a working-class neighborhood in Ward 2, Chinn spoke at length with resident Nancy George, who bemoaned what she perceived as increasing crime and decreasing civic pride since the economy unraveled in 2008 and drove many people out of their homes, leaving the houses unoccupied or filled with renters she said don’t make as good of neighbors as homeowners.
"It is very discouraging," George said of empty homes, property crimes and a general sense of foreboding she feels in the area. "I think people see (criminal activity) but they don’t want to get involved."
Chinn offered to connect George with community liaisons at the Police Department he says can help neighbors organize to prevent crime.
Chinn said the long days of precinct walking, particularly in less affluent parts of the ward, have educated him on concerns of everyday residents, like a nearby convenience store that just received approval from the City Council to sell single-serve containers of alcohol. Chinn said he would have opposed the proposal.
"This is a lot different than Summerlin," Chinn said of the wealthy, master-planned community that makes up much of western Las Vegas. "A lot of people think Ward 2 is just Summerlin and it is not."
Whether the Ward 2 winner is Truesdell, Beers or one of the seven other contenders pounding the pavement and posting signs in the western suburbs, Peplowski said the race signals a time for change on the City Council.
After 12 years with the often charismatic, sometimes bellicose, and always colorful Oscar Goodman to ride herd over the others on the council, members are showing more willingness to display their independence from the new mayor, Peplowski said.
He said Beers, Kuzemka and some of the other non-Truesdell candidates would accelerate the process and added that even Truesdell is more likely to vote independently of Carolyn Goodman than he would have were Oscar Goodman still in office.
"Carolyn is not the mayor her husband was, you are going to have six other voices on that council who won’t be afraid to be heard," he said. "I think you are going to see more individuality coming out of that council."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org.CITY COUNCIL WARD 2 VOTING INFORMATION
■ EARLY VOTING: Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Leisure Center, 101 North Pavilion Center Drive; Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara Ave.; Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Vons, Boca Park, 820 S. Rampart Blvd.
■ ELECTION DAY VOTING: March 20 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Leisure Center, Sahara West Library, Vons, Boca Park.
■ VOTING BY MAIL OR ABSENTEE BALLOT: The last day to request a mail/absentee ballot will be Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the city clerk’s office, 495 S. Main St., second floor, or the Clark County Election Department, 965 Trade Drive, Suite A, North Las Vegas.
■ VOTER ELIGIBILITY: Only voters registered in Ward 2 on or before March 3 are eligible to vote.
■ MAP OF WARD 2: lasvegasnevada.gov
SOURCE: Clark County Elections Department