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Diaz, Clary duel over issues in Las Vegas Ward 3 race

The day before early voting began, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin on Friday chose not to back either of the two candidates vying to be his successor in Ward 3.

Coffin, who has represented the ward since 2011, said former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz and Veterans Affairs project manager Melissa Clary are both “good people,” and he applauded Clary’s longtime neighborhood activism.

But legislative experience counts for much, he added, and “there is only one that has that.”

Still, he concluded, “I’m afraid if I endorsed one, I’d hurt them more than I’d help them.”

Diaz, a two-term state lawmaker and schoolteacher since 2002, won the April primary with one-third of the vote in a seven-candidate field. Clary finished second, behind by just 150 votes. Beyond other advantages, such as a list of backers that includes major labor and public safety unions and both U.S. senators from Nevada and having more access to cash than Clary, Diaz can tout her political pedigree.

In an interview with the Review-Journal this week, Diaz spoke about providing additional resources and allocating money for the first time to English-language learning in schools in the Hispanic-dominant ward and securing funding for roads through fuel tax increases. She later sent over a list of bills she had supported in Carson City on issues including job growth, infrastructure and education.

But Clary, 37, said she is challenging the assumption that political experience breeds the best municipal candidate, criticizing Diaz in a separate interview for not introducing one bill over eight years to assist the pervasive, cornerstone issue of the district: homelessness.

“It’s embarrassing to me,” Clary said.

With less than three weeks until the general election, Clary is seeking to flip Diaz’s experience into a point of weakness and raise questions about her effectiveness as a lawmaker to improve the ward, which partially overlaps her former Assembly district. Diaz underscored how little an outsider can understand about the effort required to attack high-expectation, broad issues affecting the state, made more difficult by recession-era budget cuts and a Republican governor.

It was a key reason she decided to run, Diaz said: to have more control over and accountability for her vision as a full-time policymaker than the much larger and complex state bureaucracy affords. She acknowledged, however, that she could have done more as a member of the Assembly.

“I guess I’ll own a little of I missed that homeless front issue in that tenure, but I am super excited that I do get to come back, get another bite at the apple in another capacity, being wiser, being more educated about the state and its workings and now eager to learn about how we as a city can be part of the solution in the area,” she said.

Neighborhood TLC

For Diaz, 40, her candidacy means the opportunity to give back hyperlocally to where she has lived for more than three decades and now raises a son. An overarching tenet of her campaign is building relationships for issues that she said have too long been addressed in a silo.

Diaz said she would like to meet with every principal of a school attended by children in the ward and use schools as a central hub for community outreach.

To reduce homelessness, she said her pre-established relationships with Clark County commissioners would provide a head start in coordinating efforts toward getting nonprofit, federal, state and local officials involved to first identify the services homeless people need before making a case for wide-ranging action.

“I just think there needs to be a more sophisticated plan,” she said.

It is one major area where Diaz and Clary agree, although Clary is less complimentary about the city’s homeless courtyard project as a starting point, particularly as the city struggles to find money. She questions whether tax dollars can continue to support it.

“There’s so many steps that have been missed as they’ve been going down this road that that’s been half the challenge,” Clary said. “There’s no solid baseline to start a plan from.”

Clary has made herself known as a historic preservationist and advocate for the Huntridge community, and she plans to care for her neighborhoods block by block.

“There are some places in our ward that look like a third-world country,” she said.

She said she wants to collaborate with police officers to raise their profile in the ward, revamp neighborhood watch training programs and incorporate so-called neighborhood pride zones, where code officers inform homeowners of violations in particularly bad areas and then help them resolve issues during cleanup days before issuing citations.

Diaz said her plans will have a positive impact on the ward. Namely, she will capitalize on opportunities for the district to carve out spaces sorely lacking for families, such as more swimming pools, after-school programs and sports activities.

She vowed to try to avoid cuts to senior citizen programs in recreation centers and embrace technology to track and reduce crime in neighborhoods while championing access to the arts to complement the Arts District.

“But I don’t see it as me being the lone soldier doing it,” she said. “I think I need everybody working shoulder to shoulder for us to get to it faster.”

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

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