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Mayor handing over his gavel

At a contentious Boulder City Council meeting that would stretch toward midnight, the Mayor Bob moment came just after the pledge of allegiance.

The City Council was presenting a local high-school standout with a $1,000 scholarship, and Bob Ferraro took the microphone to deliver one of his trademark, off-the-cuff tributes.

Unlike other elected officials, though, when this mayor tells you the whole town is proud of you, he just might know that for a fact.

Ferraro has served on the Boulder City Council for 31 years, including six separate stints as mayor.

He announced last year that he would not seek re-election, and June 12 marked his last full meeting as a council member.

Ferraro will preside over the start of the June 26 meeting, then hand the gavel over to his successor. After that, the 71-year-old said he plans to “stay right here and have fun.”

“It’s amazing he lasted 31 years,” said mayor-elect Roger Tobler, a member of the council since 2003. “I believe he began with a Tobler in office and he’s ending with another Tobler in office.”

Ferraro served alongside Heber Tobler, Roger’s father, who was mayor in the late 1970s.

When Ferraro’s current term is up, it could mark the end of the longest run by a city councilman in Nevada history.

Without a doubt he served longer than any other council member since Boulder City was incorporated in 1959.

State Archivist Guy Rocha said there is no master list of the state’s longest-serving elected officials, but he knows of only a handful who have lasted more than three decades.

“Certainly, 31 years puts Bob Ferraro in the top rank of public servants,” Rocha said. “He’s not alone, but he’s in elite company.”

The record holder in the Nevada Assembly is long-time Speaker Joe Dini, from Lyon County, who wrapped up a 36-year run in 2002. Majority Leader Bill Raggio of Reno is tops in the Senate with 35 years and counting.

The all-time leader for legislative longevity was Douglas County’s Lawrence Jacobsen, who racked up 40 years, 16 of them in the Assembly and 24 in the Senate. He left the Legislature in 2002 and died last year at age 85.

Ferraro was appointed to the Boulder City Council in 1976. “I was one of eight people to apply, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

He served as mayor from 1979-81, 1983-87 and 1997-99, back when the council picked its leader instead of leaving it up to the voters.

In 1999, he became the city’s first elected mayor. All told, he stood for election eight times, not counting the recall vote he comfortably survived in 2004.

“He’s been a great ambassador for Boulder City,” Tobler said. “He knows everybody. We were in Washington, D.C., and people knew him there.”

Gentty Etcheverry spent 12 years as mayor of Ely and another 16 years as executive director of the Nevada League of Cities. Etcheverry said only Paul Vesco, the former mayor of Winnemucca, has a record of service that compares with Ferraro’s.

But even Vesco comes up about four years short, and his 27 years as a mayor and councilman are not consecutive.

Closer to home, the only elected city servant who appears to come close is North Las Vegas City Councilman William Robinson, who is about to begin his 25th year of service.

Ferraro is a Nevada native, born into a family of ranchers in Winnemucca on July 30, 1935. He grew up in the tiny town of Paradise Valley, about 40 miles north of Winnemucca, where he was educated in a three-room schoolhouse and was all by himself in grades 2-6.

He worked for the agriculture department at the University of Nevada, Reno until January 1970. Then he headed south to go to work as a chemical engineer at the American Pacific plant in Henderson.

Ferraro said there were only three houses for sale in Boulder City at the time, so he bought one of them. He still lives in the house with Connie, his wife of 13 years.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., described Ferraro as a “walking encyclopedia” of Nevada history and a “stabilizing influence” on the council.

“I think the fact that he was there so long was a credit to the community,” Porter said. “I hope he doesn’t totally retire. I hope he stays involved.”

Porter spent 10 years on the Boulder City Council himself, including four years as mayor.

Ferraro happily takes credit for that. “I was responsible for bringing Jon Porter into city government,” the lifelong Democrat said.

“I credit Bob for encouraging me. I hesitated and he was there, literally right up until the last five minutes of candidate filing, to convince me to run,” Porter said. “His approach was never partisan.”

About 4,500 people called Boulder City home when Ferraro moved there. In the almost 40 years since, the community has added fewer than 12,000 new residents, a far cry from the explosive growth seen just over the River Mountains in the Las Vegas Valley.

Boulder City has managed to block large-scale development with a strict growth control ordinance that requires voters to approve the sale of an acre or more of city-owned land. The ordinance also caps growth citywide at 120 new homes a year and bars individual developers from building more than 30 new homes a year.

Ferraro said he supported the growth restrictions when they came before the council in 1979, “much to the disappointment of some of my friends.”

“It was very contentious,” he said. “One (friend) in particular never forgave me up until the day he passed away.”

Ferraro also presided over the 1995 acquisition of 200 square miles of vacant federal land south and west of the Boulder City Airport. The purchase for $12 an acre made Boulder City the largest incorporated city in Nevada and one of the 50 largest cities in the nation in terms of land area.

Ferraro retired from American Pacific in 2000. He has now served on the City Council as long as he has done anything else in his professional life.

His tenure has not been without controversy, however.

Ferraro has weathered several ethics complaints, including one accusing him of a conflict of interest for voting on a project worked on by his son, Greg Ferraro, a prominent lobbyist and political consultant in Nevada.

The mayor and other council members also have been criticized for pushing the construction of Boulder Creek, a second municipal golf course that has lost millions since it opened in 2003.

“Obviously, the golf course has been a catastrophe for the city,” said Sherman Rattner, an outspoken regular at City Council meetings.

But Rattner and other frequent critics of Ferraro had little negative to say about the man himself as he prepares to step down.

Rattner called Ferraro a “gentleman” and “consummate politician.”

“It’s almost like he’s straight out of central casting to play the role of mayor. He played that role perfectly; there’s no two ways about it.”

Bill Smith, who lost to Ferraro by 18 votes during the 2003 mayoral election and lost to him again during a failed 2004 recall, said he is content to let his old nemesis leave office in peace.

“As you well know, I have not agreed with him in many ways but he must have something going for him to be re-elected so many times,” Smith said in an e-mail. “If he was running for re-election, my answer would be very different.”

Ferraro figures he spent 30 to 40 hours a week being mayor over the years. For all that work, he earned “about 60 cents an hour,” he said.

Asked why he would bother, Ferraro said, “It’s pure dedication and the desire to serve the people.”

“You can put as much into it as you want or as little time as the voters will let you get away with,” he said. “I have no regrets.”

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