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Holecheck new mayor of Mesquite

While crickets chirped and tumbleweeds tumbled at polling stations in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, nearly 60 percent of Mesquite voters turned out to elect a new mayor and city councilman.

Incumbent Mayor Bill Nicholes weathered an FBI probe and some nasty attack ads in the primary, but his luck ran out on Tuesday as City Councilwoman Susan Holecheck grabbed more than 52 percent of the vote to pull the upset.

“I’m a little numb right now. I’m in a state of shock,” said Holecheck, who moved to Mesquite from Las Vegas just four years ago. “I’m humbled by this.”

Nicholes vowed to support Holecheck and the city anyway he can.

“The people have spoken. We must move on toward tomorrow,” he said.

In the race for City Council, retired school administrator Randy Ence captured 58 percent of the vote in a rout of real estate agent W.G. “Geno” Withelder, who edged Ence by just 10 votes during the primary election.

Incumbent Councilman Dave Bennett won his second term outright in the primary by capturing about 60 percent of the ballots cast.

About 57 percent of Mesquite’s 5,833 registered voters took part in Tuesday’s general election.

For Nicholes, the defeat represented a significant reversal from the primary, when he finished first out of three mayoral candidates. That result came just days after he called a news conference to acknowledge that he was the subject of a wide-ranging FBI probe.

During the news conference, he denied all of the allegations against him and accused his political enemies of trying to smear him with a series of anonymous attack ads.

The campaign quieted down significantly after that, though Nicholes said he continued to be targeted by the owners of Mesquite’s three biggest casinos.

“There’s been a lot of money poured in (to the races) by Black Gaming,” he said.

Holecheck’s campaign and expense reports don’t seem to bear that out, but Ence raised a few eyebrows in Mesquite when he filed an amended financial disclosure late last month showing almost $20,000 in in-kind contributions from the three casinos. That’s more than twice as much money as Withelder reported spending on his entire campaign.

Nicholes said Black Gaming officials want him out of office because of his support for a $250 million hotel-casino and mixed-use project proposed for Mesquite by Barcelona Partners LLC, a Las Vegas company with ties to the North Las Vegas casino Jerry’s Nugget.

“They’re going to try to teach me a lesson,” he said.

In November 2005, City Council members voted unanimously to entertain Barcelona’s unsolicited proposal. Two months later, the council voted 3-2 to sell the developer 132 acres of city land for less than $13.7 million.

The Barcelona deal is one of several transactions reportedly being looked at by the FBI.

Holecheck said she sought to distance herself from all of that during the campaign. “There’s been some negativity. I’ve tried to stay focused on the issues,” she said.

Holecheck’s victory leaves an opening on the City Council. Someone will have be appointed to complete the last two years of her current term.

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