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Ruben Kihuen stands by apology, defends Las Vegas City Council run

Updated January 21, 2019 - 11:48 pm

Facing renewed criticism for his planned Las Vegas City Council campaign, former U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who was sanctioned by a House committee in November for misconduct toward two women, on Monday stood by his apology.

“I issued a sincere, unequivocal apology last year and received a ‘reproval,’ the lightest form of action by Congress,” Kihuen said in a statement to the Review-Journal.

Kihuen has drawn ire after announcing last week that he would run in Ward 3. Candidate filing for the Boulder City, Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas municipal elections opens Tuesday and runs through Feb. 1.

The House Ethics Committee found that he violated the congressional code of conduct by making unwanted verbal and physical advances toward the women during his campaign for Congress. After the release of the report in November, Kihuen denied the claims but said he never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable or disrespected.

“It saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence,” he said in a statement at the time. “I extend my sincere apologies to each of these women.”

The sexual harassment allegations, including from a third woman — a Nevada lobbyist — were deemed credible by the committee and have followed Kihuen into his council campaign, threatening to offer opponents a relentless point of attack.

Since his announcement, Kihuen was condemned by a women’s organization and has spurred an opposition campaign and several parody Twitter accounts. Each has underscored that the former Democratic federal and state lawmaker is unfit for public service, suggesting he has not genuinely atoned for his behavior.

“We don’t see learning or contrition in two months’ time,” Democratic Assemblywoman Heidi Swank said. “There are a lot of ways that Mr. Kihuen can come back from this, and we just haven’t seen that demonstrated yet.”

Swank is a major backer of “No Means No, Ruben,” a campaign solely focused on preventing Kihuen from winning the council race.

Even organizations that have affixed their support to another candidate have concentrated on derailing Kihuen’s bid.

The Nevada Chapter of the National Organization for Women endorsed Melissa Clary, a Veterans Affairs project manager, two days after Kihuen announced his candidacy. In her statement, Nevada NOW President Jeri Burton asserted her rejection of Kihuen before mentioning her backing of Clary.

“We were frankly shocked that he was trying to run again,” Burton said by phone on Monday, adding that she has been underwhelmed by Kihuen’s show of remorse. “I’ve seen no sign of it.” Both Swank and Burton say they plan to be consistent with opposition messaging throughout the election cycle.

“This won’t be going away easily for Mr. Kihuen,” Swank said.

The primary election is April 2. The general election is June 11.

Dominating the conversation

Kihuen was once a rising star in the Assembly and Congress, and his profile looms large in Southern Nevada and the mostly Hispanic downtown district he seeks to represent.

“Unfortunately, when we knock on their doors, one of the biggest topics is Ruben Kihuen,” said David Lopez, a former Las Vegas parks commissioner who is vying for the seat.

But even as Lopez acknowledged that Kihuen’s past is “a valid point of discussion,” he and other candidates say they plan to run positive campaigns and leave it to voters to decide.

“I’ll let those organizations speak out on that issue because I’d really like to keep it focused on my credentials,” Clary said.

Similarly, former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz said she will use her campaign to amplify her platform, and political newcomer Shawn Mooneyham vowed to “keep plugging away, doing what I’m doing.”

It’s the issue-based, boots-on-the-ground plan that Kihuen suggested Monday also galvanized him to run, as he talked of working full time to earn the trust of voters to tackle “the enormous problems of homelessness, graffiti and crime that impact areas throughout the ward.”

Only time will tell if the election, in which voters will select a replacement for Councilman Bob Coffin, stays issue-based . But special education teacher Aaron Bautista, like the others, also pledged to keep his campaign on that track — unless Kihuen attacks first.

“If he does,” Bautista said, “there’s a lot of ammo that can be thrown back at him.”

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

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