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7 Dems seek to replace Lawrence Weekly on county commission

Seven Democratic candidates are running for the Clark County Commission in District D, the seat held since 2007 by term-limited Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, a former Las Vegas city councilman.

The district covers downtown and east Las Vegas, the Historic Westside and portions of North Las Vegas. The winner of the Democratic primary June 9 will advance to the general election in November.

With no Republican candidate on the ticket, three independent hopefuls will be waiting for the Democratic challenger: Nonprofit director Henry Thorns, former Las Vegas Fire Chief David Washington and Stanley Washington.

The Democratic field features three experienced politicians in state Sen. Mo Denis, Assemblyman William McCurdy II and North Las Vegas Councilman Isaac Barron.

They are joined by Clark County public information administrator Tanya Flanagan, business consultant Dillard Scott, patent attorney Deepen Kothari and Clark County Public Works employee Jesus Carlos Moreno.

County Public Works employee Jesus Carlos Moreno did not respond to requests for an interview about his candidacy by deadline.

Isaac Barron

Age: 50

Background: North Las Vegas City Councilman, Rancho High School teacher

Why run and why now?

“We have to build for the future. We can’t be relying on the same old models again, again and again,” Barron said, adding that he sees the seat as an opportunity to diversify the district’s economy and apply the lessons he learned in helping rescue North Las Vegas from a financial crisis.

Response to coronavirus crisis:

On the North Las Vegas City Council, Barron supported the city’s decision to fine landlords violating the statewide eviction moratorium and he underscored that “it’s going to take a lot of creative short-term planning to make ends meet” during the pandemic.

But recalling how the city could not cut its way out of a budget hole during the Great Recession, he instead advocates for investing in new business and infrastructure to draw long-term jobs and growth in the district.

Pitch to voters:

Barron said it’s a point of pride to have resided most of his life in the district, the son of a dishwasher and maid, and he is banking on his experience helping North Las Vegas emerge from a financial emergency less than a decade ago to show he can repeat it in the district.

He said the city was able to achieve a turnaround by things such as speeding up development applications and inspections, clamping down on graffiti and revitalizing neighborhood parks.

District C has not grown like other areas of the unincorporated county and needs more access to wealth and amenities, including prioritizing green space and a plan to develop the Historic Westside.

Economic investments, even in times of turmoil, can make the district less reliant on the gaming industry, according to Barron. He said the current crisis is proof that the most recent economic boom did not reach everyone, notably the people forced to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Barron called District D “the epicenter” for all the major issues resonating throughout the Las Vegas Valley — including job creation, affordable housing and homelessness — but he said he believes he can be the leader to represent its people because “I’m from them.”

Mo Denis

Age: 58

Background: Nevada senator, former Nevada assemblyman

Why run and why now?

Denis said he ran for the state Legislature to affect policy on important issues, particularly on education, and “now I feel like I need to focus more on local issues, one being homelessness.”

Response to coronavirus crisis:

Having served as the Senate majority leader during a period when the state was still recovering from the Great Recession, “I understand that it’s not going to be easy,” Denis said. “First of all, nobody could have envisioned where we are today.”

He said it is important for leaders to bring the right people together to meet community needs and have an economic plan in place, while also ensuring the county is better prepared for the next crisis.

Pitch to voters:

“I think if you look when I talk about what I’m going to do on the county commission, anyone can look up what I’ve done in the Legislature, the things I’ve accomplished,” Denis said, adding that while his opponents had bright futures ahead of them, “our district can’t afford for someone to step in who’s going to take a while to get going.”

Denis has served as president for the Nevada PTA and chaired the Las Vegas/Clark County Library District and Las Vegas Community Development Block Grant Committee, where he said he helped nonprofits in at-risk areas receive funding.

He said he wants to use relationships he has built as the most tenured legislator in the race to diversify the economy, ensure equal access to jobs, training and education, and confront homelessness with an emphasis on housing, health care and treatment for the mentally ill.

“I think the biggest issue with homelessness is we all don’t have one plan that we’re working for,” he said. “I think that needs to happen and that needs to happen right away.”

He said the next commissioner has an opportunity to help improve zoning where appropriate and ensure the culturally diverse district lures the same type of quality projects as other districts: “I think that the person who represents this district has a huge responsibility to make sure that they can help the whole community.”

Tanya Flanagan

Age: 49

Background: Clark County public information administrator, acting executive director of Susan G. Komen Nevada, former Review-Journal reporter; former North Las Vegas City Council candidate

Why run and why now?

“The call to action kept pulling on me,” Flanagan said, naming access to quality health care as the key issue of her platform. “I’ve always done the work. It’s an opportunity to do the work in a new capacity.”

Response to coronavirus crisis:

Flanagan said she is in two briefings daily about county efforts to set up alternative care centers to supplement hospitals in the event of overcrowding and to feed people in need: “I think we are doing everything we can and trying to look at what more can we do.”

The response is ultimately multi-faceted, she said, requiring the county ensure basic services are available to residents, care for the homeless, and collaborate with other agencies while also planning a long-term budget.

Pitch to voters:

Flanagan said she has been entrenched in the community for more than 20 years, first as a reporter for the Review-Journal and later an employee for the county. She said she has been a commission liaison to District D and involved with nonprofits and police and gaming advisory councils, while also instrumental to opening the Pearson Community Center.

“It’s given me a chance to help a lot of different types of people and I think that’s what the county is about: A lot of different types of people and a lot of different types of needs,” she said.

As a three-time breast cancer survivor, Flanagan says access to health care is the central theme of her campaign. That entails providing additional resources to women and disadvantaged people, expanding education programs and medical research, diversifying the job market, adding and retaining more doctors and nurses and creating more green space, she said.

Elsewhere, Flanagan said she wants to see the county address blighted areas with development that will increase job opportunities and improve environmental consciousness. She said it is also important to build out affordable housing, reduce pollution and traffic congestion and explore transportation alternatives such as light rail.

Deepen Kothari

Age: 37

Background: patent attorney, former teacher

Why run and why now?

A self-described “super active” community and event organizer, Kothari said his motivation to run — to make inroads on issues under the county purview such as homelessness — was based in a reality since changed by the coronavirus pandemic. “Now we’re really talking about a whole different game: Who’s in leadership to best transform that future as best as possible?”

Response to coronavirus crisis:

As much as Kothari said he believed “yesterday is never coming back,” he added that the changes made in response to the coronavirus could be an opportunity to re-think how things are done. He pointed to how implementing more online education in schools could make school zoning obsolete so that affluent and economically disadvantaged students may learn together and choose the teachers they prefer.

Pitch to voters:

As a patent attorney helping people on the cutting edge, although only licensed to practice law in Virginia, Kothari is touting his work experience as a perfect fit for a county trying to remake itself in a crisis.

While there are “10,000 issues” the county is responsible for, he said he wants to know the hyperlocal ones and is interested in LGBTQ matters, veterans organizations and strengthening nonprofit relationships with the government.

Most people he has spoken with, he said, were not talking about the economy or education as concerns, but instead were worried about security: People jumping a wall into their neighborhood, stealing license plates and tagging buildings with graffiti.

Kothari said that a police-constituent partnership could be a solution, where officers engage with neighbors and perhaps ask them to buy surveillance cameras with the vow to review and act upon anything criminal caught on video: “Cops have, at best, an image problem right now. There’s a lot of people who will find fault with police, for good reason.”

With an analytical chemistry and biochemistry educational background, Kothari said he likes to experiment and collect data, and if voters are “willing to learn about me, I feel fairly confident in being able to get their vote because I think I take a fairly reasoned approach to things.”

William McCurdy II

Age: 32

Background: Nevada assemblyman, state Democratic Party chairman

Why run and why now?

“I see this as a vehicle where I can continue to provide public service to the community that I grew up in and that I love,” McCurdy said, adding that he was ready to pivot from creating policies at the state level every other year to regularly affecting District D.

Response to coronavirus crisis:

McCurdy said he is actively responding to the emergency by working to provide relief to families so they can return to their feet once the pandemic is over and making sure that systems such as unemployment are working; public utilities are responsive to economic hardships; and that people have food, child care and won’t be evicted.

“Taking care of the community, for me, that has not changed just because there is a pandemic going on,” he said. “That is actually more of a call to leadership, more of a call to see how you can help your fellow person.”

Pitch to voters:

McCurdy said that obstacles he overcame as a young man — he dropped out of high school — prove that he can demonstrate leadership in good and bad times, and he vowed to bring a fresh perspective with the ability to mobilize young people and lean on the wisdom of elders.

“I think the issue of quality of life is at the forefront of people’s minds,” he said. “I think people want the security to know that they are going to be able to take care of their families.”

He said he wants to increase economic development in lower income communities across the district, noting that social situations cannot improve without better economic conditions. In the Assembly, he said he created a policy to prioritize economic development in lower-income census tracts.

He said expanding the Medical District is important because of the lack of health care in District D.

He said his two priorities will be helping families recover from the coronavirus crisis and keeping county government solvent — things he said he’s already been doing without waiting to be elected to a new job.

Dillard Scott 

Age: 44

Background: business consultant, criminologist

Why run and why now?

“I think in order for our particular district to transform and be the best that it can be, we need to look at it with fresh eyes,” Scott said. “I am those fresh eyes.”

Response to coronavirus crisis:

Scott said he would reassure constituents that its local government is as much behind them as the federal government, and that the top priority would be to return people to work.

He also said African Americans were disproportionately affected by the coronavirus across the U.S. and in Nevada — he said he has tracked cases locally based on ties in the church community — because of underlying health problems caused by lacking access to health care and nutritious food in largely black communities.

Pitch to voters:

Scott said that he comes from a long line of community activists and politicians in Nevada, including his cousin, the late Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson. His grandparents arrived in Nevada from Fordyce, Arkansas, as many other black families did in search of work during World War II.

As a third-generation Nevadan, he said that it is second-nature in his family to feed the homeless and give back to the disenfranchised parts of the community, following the public service efforts of his father, a Teamsters Union steward, and his mother who worked for the county manager’s office.

“I will not take one penny from Clark County until we have a grocery store and family health clinic,” Scott said, promising to forego his salary until his signature campaign issue is resolved. He added later: “I will not allow another fast food restaurant to come in and saturate our community.”

He said that discretionary funds, which have “enriched politicians,” could instead be parlayed into luring a grocery store, and that District D did not look like affluent communities in the Las Vegas Valley because lawmakers have become “stagnant.”

He vowed to be involved with the Clark County School District, noting the Historic Westside does not have a high school, which he said affects attendance when students must take buses outside their community. And he said he would create a youth advisory board to focus on building parks, adding that infrastructure was sorely lacking in the district.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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