Updated May 6, 2020 - 6:06 pm
The majority of members on the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday pushed for businesses to reopen immediately, unifying behind an embattled mayor as Councilwoman Michele Fiore lamented how people were being “controlled” by fear.
“Fear is a great way to control people, and make no mistake, if you are staying home for Nevada without underlying (health) conditions, you are in fear and you are being controlled,” Fiore said in prepared remarks during the council meeting.
A majority of city lawmakers, including Councilman Stavros Anthony and Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, said that the time had come for the statewide shutdown to end, saying it could be done safely.
“There is absolutely no reason why a retail store or restaurant cannot open up today,” Anthony said. “We’re not stupid. We’re Americans.”
The councilman said business owners and customers were capable of implementing and adhering to safety measures that would protect them against spread of the coronavirus.
“And if you don’t want to, you can stay home,” he added, noting that vulnerable populations should in fact remain sheltered. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The meeting served in many respects as the counter to criticism that Mayor Carolyn Goodman has received for appearances on national television, where she has suggested using Las Vegas as a control group to test whether social distancing measures were working and sidestepped responsibility for expanding testing and contact tracing.
A crowd of supporters, many with identical pro-Goodman signs and one waving an American flag, cheered every hard note in favor of reopening now that city lawmakers struck.
There was also a seven-minute video played at the beginning of the meeting, featuring brief messages from a slew of business owners and constituents thanking the mayor for standing up for businesses and workers, which on Wednesday she vowed to continue to do.
The city did not pay for or produce the signs held by supporters and the video was provided by Fiore’s Ward 6 office, according to city spokesman Jace Radke. It was unclear who produced the video and Fiore did not respond to a message seeking comment.
“I recognize there is fear about opening too soon, but the question many are asking is when is too soon too late?” Goodman said in a prepared address.
Sentiment not unanimous
Urgent calls to reopen the state by most council members were met with caution by others, a dynamic that has been present throughout the crisis but perhaps most starkly on display Wednesday.
“We are moving forward with the opening of the state,” Councilman Cedric Crear said, adding that the pandemic would dictate the timeline. “Maybe it’s not going at the pace that some want. I definitely want it to get open as soon as possible, but I want it to get open as responsibly as possible.”
And Councilwoman Olivia Diaz said she understood the pain caused by the public health emergency, pointing to the constituents in her Ward 3 who work in the hospitality industry, how her father was a casino porter and, how as a teacher and mother, she knew about the uncertainty over where children are supposed to go.
“However this isn’t about the virus versus the economy,” she said. “It’s about making sure our community is healthy, making sure that when we are ready to reopen responsibly that we are offering a safe environment to our tourists.”
And with questions still lingering, “even if we wanted to open today, who would come?”
A spokesperson for Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has said his plans are guided by public health experts, did not respond to a message inquiring whether his office wished to respond to the calls to reopen.
‘Time for shutdown … is over’
But council members who say that Las Vegas is ready to get back to business right now expressed frustration over the strain on workers and the lack of a hard timeline in the governor’s multi-phase road map to reopening Nevada, which Fiore castigated as “28 pages of nothing.”
Goodman urged the state to redirect employees to fix a backlogged unemployment system, reading messages from constituents who have found themselves unable to get through to file claims.
The mayor noted “the depth of despair permeating an enormous and growing segment of this community: the unemployed,” adding that “the fear of imminent utter poverty is every bit as real as the fear of the virus.”
Heather Korbulic, the newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation, said in a statement that “while we’ve been able to file historic numbers of claims during this pandemic, we at DETR share the frustration many Nevadans are feeling.”
“My team and I continue to work tirelessly to connect Nevadans to their benefits during this unprecedented time,” she continued.
Fiore painted the most dire picture of the shutdown, blaming “propaganda” for spurring people to judge and “hate” one another and suggesting that it was important to speak out despite so-called attacks by the liberal media.
“Now we hear from some elected officials and other elites that we just need to hunker down for longer,” she said. “These leaders do not offer any hope, any light and certainly not any solutions for the future.”
“The time for shutdown and panic is over,” she said.