In the crowded race for Las Vegas mayor, don’t judge the leading candidates by their stump speeches and overreaching ads. Judge them by what they don’t talk about.
This election isn’t about private-sector jobs and downtown redevelopment. And for heaven’s sakes, enough with the mailers about public education and taxes — the mayor and City Council have nothing to do with schools and lack the home-rule power needed to change tax rates.
The city faces a budget gap of $14.8 million for the next fiscal year. Revenue shortfalls for the duration of the next mayor’s four-year term could top $60 million. The threat of a cash grab by the Legislature still lingers. And city workers, despite making minor contract concessions over the past couple of years, remain among the highest-paid municipal employees in the country.
A dominant, publicly beloved personality on the council can certainly help attract business and reshape the downtown landscape, as outgoing, term-limited Mayor Oscar Goodman has proved. But let’s face it, no one in the race to replace Oscar is remotely like him — especially his front-running wife, Carolyn.
I like an optimistic campaign as much as anyone, but this year’s mayoral contest is about keeping the bus from going off the cliff.
City government provides services. Public safety. Parks and recreation. Sewers. Roads. The city still can’t afford many services, even after three years of cutbacks. And City Hall is now closed on Fridays.
Carolyn Goodman, County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Councilman Steve Ross are talking about everything but the city’s finances and personnel costs.
Larry Brown, the Clark County commissioner and former city councilman, has been talking about them for more than a decade.
Carolyn Goodman, a longtime Democrat turned independent, wants to avoid agitating unions and the legions of voters they can turn out. Democrats Giunchigliani and Ross, meanwhile, are bending over backward to get union support.
Brown, a Democrat as well, has a habit of annoying the union vote.
He’s no hard-line union buster. On the contrary, Brown supports collective bargaining.
But while most of his colleagues on the council and commission have gone along with fat contracts in exchange for union money and votes, Brown has calmly and deliberately gone about pointing out that when government payrolls grow faster than tax collections, that’s a problem. When most employees collected annual pay raises averaging 8 to 9 percent, Brown warned that it wasn’t sustainable.
Brown exited the council in 2008 after winning election to the County Commission, and his farewell speech to City Hall was a warning of the fiscal challenges ahead.
“The days of automatic raises, automatic this and automatic that, I think they’ll come to an end,” said Brown, who had a reputation of knowing the city’s budget line by line.
“Change is not only necessary, it’s mandatory now. … We can’t go back and change what we have done, but we can certainly start today and build that foundation for tomorrow.”
On his campaign website, Brown touts his commitment to “get a handle on public employee salaries and benefits.” No other Democrat in the nonpartisan race dares to put out such a statement.
One of Brown’s recent mailers had a large photo of a firefighter. Only it wasn’t touting an endorsement. Brown was pointing out the importance of taking action when “firefighters violate the public trust,” as well-paid county firefighters did in abusing sick leave. “We must eliminate the abuse and prosecute the abusers.”
Polls show Carolyn Goodman leading the field with early voting under way for the April 5 primary. As long as she doesn’t claim a majority of votes — an outcome that’s probably impossible with 18 candidates on the ballot — someone else will advance with Goodman to a June 7 runoff.
Contrast Brown’s positions with those of his primary rival for second place, Giunchigliani.
Her campaign has cast the former schoolteacher and assemblywoman as a consensus-building, pro-business centrist, when in fact she has been one of the state’s most shameless, far-left advocates for bigger government, higher taxes and even better salaries and benefits for the public sector.
If you own a business or have a private-sector job within the city limits, Giunchigliani’s candidacy is a nightmare. She is the worst possible candidate for mayor at the worst possible time.
She has said she would support higher, restructured city fees. City bargaining groups, biding their time until the economy and tax collections recover, know she’s their best hope for a return to the compensation culture Brown wants under control.
Recall that back in 2005, as an assemblywoman, Giunchigliani supported using surplus state revenues to give every state worker and school district employee a 10 percent pay raise over two years — on top of contracted “step” raises. Whether anyone was worthy of such a raise was irrelevant. The state couldn’t possibly afford such an irresponsible increase in spending. Imagine the kind of cutbacks that would have taken place over the past three years if that bill had passed.
I have my doubts about Brown. As mayor, he’d still be just one vote on the seven-member City Council. Can he effectively use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to bring other council members into his camp? Will the well-mannered Brown call out those who cross him?
Can he become the unquestioned leader of a city that’s been knocked down, but not knocked out?
The fact that he has always talked about subjects that strike fear in other candidates is very encouraging.
With nine days left in the primary campaign, the question is whether any of his rivals will join the discussion.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.