Criminal cases cloud candidacy in Assembly District 3 race

Six Democrats are vying to represent the residents of Assembly District 3, including a candidate facing criminal charges.

Nakia Woodson, 39, was charged last year with eight felonies, including theft, public assistance fraud and unlawful acts concerning food stamps.

The newcomer to Nevada politics was accused of taking $5,441 from several government-funded programs: food stamps, child care benefits, Medicaid and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Woodson didn’t disclose she was receiving $912 per month in rent from a property she controlled, according to a police report. The alleged fraud occurred in 2010 and 2011.

The ongoing case isn’t her first. In 1995 Woodson pleaded guilty to welfare fraud in Los Angeles, according to records obtained by the Review-Journal.

Woodson denied receiving benefits in the Nevada case, and she wouldn’t answer questions about the California case, saying it “wasn’t in her best interest” to discuss it before putting her spokeswoman on the phone.

Five other candidates are hoping to replace Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, who died in October.

The youngest candidate in the race, Nelson Araujo, 26, said he is running because of his passion for education and working-class families.

Araujo was born and raised in Las Vegas to a single mother who has worked as a housekeeper at the Flamingo for 28 years, he said.

“That’s relevant to the story of working-class families in District 3. It resonates,” he said.

Araujo said he began working for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s office in 2007 and is currently the senior director of United Way of Southern Nevada’s Las Vegas Healthy Communities Coalition.

His job is to increase school attendance, high school graduation rates and job opportunities for Nevada’s youth, he said.

“That’s what I do for a living. It’s my passion. I’m a product of the public education system here,” he said. “This community has given me a lot, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Opponent Felipe Rodriguez, 56, is a Cuban immigrant whose family moved to New York in 1967.

He has lived in Las Vegas for 16 years, working as a finance manager, and recently was inspired to run for political office. He lost to Republican Cresent Hardy in the general election for Assembly District 19 in 2012.

“I learned some lessons from that race that were priceless,” he said. “It seems to me, every election cycle the same issues are being recycled. Taxation, education, it’s the same issues coming up. I want to run a campaign based on real results and at the next Legislature I hope to get things done.”

Rodriguez said he supports raising taxes on the Nevada mining industry and diversifying the economy.

“Gaming has been a great industry for the state, but we need to understand that to stay competitive at every level, we need to get our children ready to take on big challenges and compete in a global market economy. Not just teach our children to be a barback at a casino,” he said.

Matthew Tramp, 42, is a 12-year Las Vegas resident who works in food and beverage at casinos.

He is running because he believes Nevada needs legislators from different backgrounds. His priorities are education and broadening the state’s tax base.

Tramp supports the margins tax and, like Rodriguez, wants to strip the mining industry of its tax protection.

“Nevada relies too much on gaming and tourism,” Tramp said.

He ran for Pierce’s seat in 2012 but lost in the primary.

Chris Barry and Danny Alires, who works for the Las Vegas Township constable, are also running. Neither returned a phone call from the Review-Journal.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at Follow @blasky on Twitter.

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