Las Vegas mayoral candidate Victor Chaltiel likes to say he’s a businessman, not a politician. He also reminds voters he’s a graduate of the Harvard Business School.
From a campaign theme standpoint, he’s all business. From employment creation to economic revitalization, he’s confident he’s the candidate with the best skills to accomplish the difficult task of helping get Las Vegas back on its feet. He’s so confident, in fact, he’s been willing to self-fund his campaign.
His campaign stresses his business acumen, but like many successful entrepreneurs, his rise has not been without controversy. Even a cursory backgrounder on Chaltiel generates substantial press related to his operation of Total Renal Care Inc., which he built into one of the nation’s largest chains of dialysis clinics.
After a well-timed and seemingly successful public offering, while Chaltiel was president, Total Renal Care Inc. was hit with a lawsuit that claimed company officials “deliberately misled investors in order to raise $345 million in the stock market,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Feb. 24, 1999.
On Aug. 23, 1999, the Los Angeles Business Journal reported the precipitous decline in Total Renal Care stock in an article that asked the question, “How does Total Renal Care go from darling to dunce in a single quarter?”
The company was described as the nation’s second-largest provider of dialysis services when its second-quarter profits plummeted and CEO Chaltiel stepped down.
From the International Directory of Company Histories, which described Chaltiel’s aggressive expansion plans and influence on Total Renal:
“Chaltiel, intent on overtaking his competitors, commented on the acquisition in a November 27, 1997, interview with Modern Healthcare. ‘We will now have the critical mass necessary to ensure our position as the leading independent provider of dialysis services in the United States and the resources to rapidly expand.’ His confidence soon faded, however. The acquisition that vaulted Total Renal Care into the industry elite nearly led to the company’s collapse, bringing the Chaltiel era to a disastrous conclusion.”
I can’t blame him for leaving these stories out of his catchy campaign ads. Political races are all about accentuating the positive. Trouble is, Google makes eliminating the negative pretty difficult.
So I asked Chaltiel what happened, and he explained Wall Street was an unforgiving master. His push for rapid expansion of the company was praised when business was booming; but when Total Renal missed its quarterly projections, confidence in the management team waned.
And so he left the company to spend more time with his young family in Las Vegas, where he has since expanded his business interests and his personal fortune.
“At that time, I already had a couple of kids, and I was starting to think that after such a fantastic run, maybe it was time for me to keep moving. …” Chaltiel said. “It was time for me to take a break.”
The ups and downs of business are easy to lampoon, but you have to appreciate Chaltiel’s tenacity. He’s a bit like Las Vegas in that way. He’s certainly no quitter, and that unabashed enthusiasm for America and just about everything else comes through when he speaks.
“I have lived 38 years in America,” he said in his heavy French accent. “It has given me education, freedom, everything.”
The latest Review-Journal poll doesn’t give him much of a chance to climb over better-known opponents in an 18-candidate field, but Chaltiel displays an energy and optimism reminiscent of the current mayor. If his odds of winning office are slim, Chaltiel at least has added a splash of character to the race.
He can call himself a businessman. You can call him a politician. But what is the business of politics worth if it isn’t entertaining?
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.