Wagner wins North Las Vegas city council seat in photo finish

It’s impossible to know for sure who cast the winning vote in Tuesday’s tightest race.

But Wade Wagner has a pretty good guess: his neighbor.

Ten minutes before the polls closed, Wagner, who was monitoring election results from his North Las Vegas home, saw a neighbor drive up.

Wagner asked him, "Have you gone and voted?"

The neighbor had not. So, at Wagner’s urging, he high-tailed it to Findlay Middle School and cast his vote at 6:57 p.m.

The polls closed at 7 p.m., and Wagner won the City Council’s Ward 4 seat by a single vote.

"It was unbelievable," said Wagner, 48. "Every single vote does count."

The neighbor then "came over and had a soda pop," Wagner said.

After every vote — including absentee ballots — was counted, Wagner had defeated incumbent North Las Vegas City Councilman Richard Cherchio 1,831 votes to 1,830.

Cherchio, 64, said he would seek a recount and would not yet concede.

"There’s never really been a perfectly run election," he said late Tuesday. "I have an obligation to all the people who supported me to make sure all their votes counted."

It was North Las Vegas’ second nail-biter this election season. In the primary for the Ward 2 council seat, two candidates tied for second place with 328 votes each. Linda Meisenheimer, 49, later won a card draw and advanced to the general election, where she faced Pamela Goynes-Brown.

Meisenheimer’s luck ran out Tuesday, when Goynes-Brown, 48, handily defeated her for the seat.

Wagner, a dentist who grew up in Southern Nevada, won the Ward 4 seat after a bruising race that was overshadowed by the war between Cherchio and the city’s public safety unions. The police and fire unions campaigned aggressively against Cherchio, even going door-to-door, because the councilman voted in favor of cuts to public safety in the cash-strapped city.

The unions also donated heavily to Wagner’s campaign, leaving him to defend against charges that he was their puppet. Wagner said he was proud to have the unions’ support but would be beholden to no one but North Las Vegas taxpayers.

On Tuesday he said he’s ready to put the negativity behind him.

"I ran a positive campaign, and I’m not worried about what everyone else did," he said.

Cherchio was appointed to the seat in 2009. He led in fundraising throughout the race, according to campaign reports, raising $157,849 this year, compared with Wagner’s $109,270.

Things weren’t nearly as close in the Ward 2 race, where Goynes-Brown took 59 percent of the vote, compared with Meisenheimer’s 41 percent.

"I feel wonderful but tired," Goynes-Brown said late Tuesday, adding that she was out campaigning until the polls closed. "It’s a good tired."

The assistant principal is the daughter of Theron Goynes, who spent 20 years on the council. She has said her father’s legacy influenced her to run for the seat held by term-limited Councilman William Robinson.

The newly elected council members start July 1.

Both join the council at a difficult time for the city, which in recent years has undergone several rounds of budget cuts, service reductions and layoffs. The city in May adopted a budget that includes slashing 258 positions across city departments, including those of 40 firefighters and 18 police officers, to bridge a $30.3 million shortfall in its 2011-12 budget.

North Las Vegas City Council members serve four-year terms and earn $41,827 a year.

Municipal election turnout is notoriously slow in North Las Vegas, and this election was no exception. Only 7,933 people cast votes Tuesday, 10.9 percent of the city’s registered active voters.

Because council members in the city are not elected at-large, only residents of the specific wards up for election can vote for their representatives. That suppressed turnout in the city’s two council races even more.

In Ward 4, 3,661 votes were cast. In Ward 2, the number was 1,799 votes.

About 225,000 people live in North Las Vegas.

Election workers at Cheyenne High School had seen just 113 voters by 4 p.m. Several said they chose their candidates based on personal relationships, proving that North Las Vegas is still a small town in many ways.

"My mom would have killed me if I didn’t" vote for Goynes-Brown, one woman said, adding that her mother had attended church with Goynes-Brown’s parents.

Another woman said she chose Meisenheimer because "Linda stopped by the house. She seemed real honest, and I liked what she had to say."

Review-Journal writer Henry Brean contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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