Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of stories about the five leading candidates in the Las Vegas mayor’s race.
Steve Ross, Las Vegas councilman and candidate for mayor, was sweating.
As part of his campaign this week, he joined Darlene Pickett, a room attendant at the Four Queens, to clean rooms on the fourth floor. The job requires a fair amount of hustling, and Ross had to pause between hauling dirty linens and vigorously cleaning mirrors to mop his brow.
It was a good photo op for a candidate who has made jobs the theme of his campaign. But the scene represents his campaign, too. Ross has reason to sweat. In the latest Las Vegas Review-Journal/8NewsNow poll, he stood at 6 percent, one point ahead of a previously unknown businessman and two points ahead of "one of the other candidates."
His campaign has taken on a slightly belligerent tone, expressed mostly in Twitterbombs aimed at the current mayor, Oscar Goodman, and his wife, Carolyn, who is running to replace him and so far leading the race.
It doesn’t stop Ross from projecting optimism even though he said the polls are most likely accurate.
"If I didn’t have the traction, I wouldn’t be working so hard," he said. "We did a poll, too, and our opponents’ polls are looking the same way. What really counts is when you step inside that booth and push the button."
In a campaign where many candidates sound similar on issues such as job growth, Ross’ campaign has been trying to push buttons via social media with sometimes head-scratching results.
In an interview, for example, he criticized Carolyn Goodman for talking so much about education, saying she should be running for school board, not mayor: "The mayor has nothing to do with setting the policies of the Clark County School District," Ross said. "Nothing."
But in a tweet labeled "Goodman to Goodman: Your education record sucks," Ross quoted Carolyn Goodman’s comment that local schools are the "absolute worst" and laid the blame at her husband’s feet: "Oscar Goodman’s administration has dropped the ball on public education," a Ross campaign release said.
Perhaps his most well-known Tweet is the mop incident: "Is Carolyn good with a mop? With 50,000 Las Vegans out of a job … Oscar is leaving a big mess to clean up."
Ross often votes with current mayor
Ross has been on the City Council since 2005 and has almost always voted with Mayor Goodman, including projects such as the new city hall and the Mob Museum, which employ people.
The approach is disingenuous, but it says as much about an under-informed electorate as it does any candidate, said Martin Dean Dupalo, a neighborhood activist and ex-political science instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Carolyn Goodman’s name recognition put her in front, he said, and many voters won’t consider that cities don’t govern schools or that the mayor has little power over the job market.
"How do you combat name recognition? You bring up well-known issues," Dupalo said. "It’s basically a campaign manager suggesting that they go with a well-known issue as opposed to a minor issue and hoping the public will go along," Dupalo said. "You’re combating ignorance with ignorance."
Ross said the jabs come from him being frustrated about the economy.
"The mayor is sunsetting. He’s not thinking about, ‘What I am supposed to be doing right now as the mayor,’ " Ross said. "This is part of campaigning. To get attention to what’s important to me — and that’s putting people to work — if that’s what I have to do, throw a couple of rocks, because I’m sure they’re going to throw them at me. And there’s plenty of them to throw at me."
In 2009, the Nevada Ethics Commission found fault with two of Ross’ council votes on the new city hall project.
At the time, he was secretary-treasurer of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, which promotes union tradesmen. The council pursued a labor deal with the city hall’s developer. There was disagreement over when those negotiations started, but the commission said Ross should have abstained from those votes because of the potential conflict of interest.
"I fully expect my opposition to bring it up one day," Ross said. "I think the Ethics Commission was wrong. I followed my attorney’s advice to the letter, like I’m supposed to as a public servant."
He also went back on a 2007 promise not to accept a roughly $20,000 City Council salary raise that took effect after he was re-elected in 2009.
Ross is no longer with the trades council, having moved to a job with the District Council 15 Labor Management Cooperative Committee, which oversees a trust for member unions.
Longtime resident of Las vegas
He was born in Reno and moved with his family to Las Vegas when he was young, eventually attending UNLV with a goal of becoming a police officer and going to law school. He found himself 30 credits shy of graduation with his first child on the way, so he became an electrician.
Ross worked at the Nevada Test Site for three years and moved on to casinos and other projects, including work on Laughlin’s Edgewater Hotel and at Treasure Island and the Bellagio on the Strip. He started a contracting company with his wife that they recently closed after 10 years, citing the bad economy.
Like the other candidates in the race, Ross talks a lot about that economy, as well as the need to improve city services for business and ramp up economic development practices.
Las Vegas was officially dinged for its development and permitting process in a city-commissioned 2010 report that found it was easier to develop outside the city than within it. Candidates have picked up on that theme in the mayor’s race, and Ross said his wife provided a perfect example — getting a permit for his campaign signs took her three hours.
"The culture’s got to change in the city internally to be a little more customer oriented," Ross said. "That’s part of that cutting the red tape."
ross touts his union credentials
He was part of a City Council that successfully negotiated concessions and pay cuts from the city’s four bargaining units, and Ross presents his union background as a plus that earns trust with organized employees, even though he says he’s not afraid to deliver bad news if the city has to cut costs or personnel. He voted for the cuts but was especially relieved to see city marshal jobs preserved.
Ross says he wants to offer tax credits to encourage businesses, even though the city has limited control over taxes. When asked for details, he cited things that already exist: incentives offered through the city’s redevelopment area and the suspension of liquor license fees in two downtown entertainment districts.
"That needs to grow," he said, and the economic development activities of the cities, Clark County and the state need to be coordinated.
"They’re all living in silos. That has got to change in this economy," Ross said. He’s part of the chorus that opposes tax incentives for any new sports arena.
He’s aware that the tone of his campaign might change his relationship with his opponents. If he loses, he’ll still be on the council, perhaps working with Carolyn Goodman in the mayor’s chair.
"I don’t think anybody should even be in this business if they’re going to have hurt feelings after a campaign," he said.
"I’m used to fights. I’m used to winning them."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@review journal.com or 702-229-6435.Steve Ross
Occupation: labor-management relations
(Municipal elections are nonpartisan)
THE ELECTION, THE JOB
Early voting in this year’s Las Vegas municipal elections starts Saturday. The primary is April 5, and in races in which no candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers move on to the June 7 general election. Being mayor will be a full-time position, meaning whoever holds the seat cannot hold outside employment. The salary hasn’t been officially set because it’s measured against the Clark County Commission salary and subject to the Consumer Price Index. The salary will be around $130,000 a year.