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EDITORIAL: Ricki Barlow and the embedded culture of cronyism

Updated June 3, 2019 - 10:49 pm

Las Vegas may not be in Chicago’s league when it comes to public corruption, but it’s filled an impressive rogue’s gallery over the years of disgraced politicians who played fast and loose with the public trust.

Since 2003, Las Vegas has endured political scandals involving strip club bribery, the misuse of campaign funds, sick time and payroll fraud and political kickbacks. Ensnared officials include former Clark County commissioners, powerful ex-state lawmakers representing Las Vegas and erstwhile members of the Las Vegas City Council.

Once tainted with the stain of deceit, most of these disgraced pols did their time and faded into oblivion. And then there’s Ricki Barlow.

In January 2018, Mr. Barlow resigned from the City Council under the shadow of a federal indictment involving consulting kickbacks and the misuse of campaign funds. Mr. Barlow told his Ward 5 constituents that he took full responsibility for his actions and was plagued with “dark and abiding” shame.

He’s obviously had a speedy and complete recovery.

After serving a one-year sentence — one month behind bars, three months in a halfway house and eight months of home detention — Mr. Barlow is back like a bad rash, forming a new company to lobby the City Council. Even the name of his endeavor — LV Access LLC — oozes arrogance.

“He showed up at a planning commission meeting the other day acting like he’s a rock star,” a political consultant told the Review-Journal. Another long-time local strategist described Mr. Barlow’s foray into influence peddling as “ridiculous. I think somebody convicted of such a crime should not be allowed to continue to lobby.”

The disgust is understandable. Yet there would be obvious legal issues with a statute preventing Mr. Barlow from earning a living. Mr. Barlow deserves the brickbats, but so do the ethically challenged clients who would hire his firm. And let’s not ignore the council members eager to welcome their old colleague back into the cozy fold.

“For me, my door is always open to those who need to talk with the city leadership about their issues,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said. Outgoing Councilman Bob Coffin was even more supportive. “He’s never tried to strong-arm me to get a vote,” he said. “There’s a difference in political circles between robbing your own political account and taking a bribe … “

Why not just set him up with an office? By all rights, Mr. Barlow — and even his shady clients — should be a pariah at City Hall. Instead, he’s just one of the guys who really didn’t do anything so bad.

Mr. Barlow may have little capacity for shame. But the embedded culture of cronyism embodied in the indifferent tolerance of Mayor Goodman and Mr. Coffin speaks volumes. And that’s why the local rogue’s gallery of corruption will only continue to grow.

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