Failed stadium project looms large for Las Vegas municipal election

Image

Steve Marcus

A view of the new Las Vegas City Hall during a tour of downtown buildings in Las Vegas Monday, March 12, 2012.

Published Fri, Mar 20, 2015 (2 a.m.)

Updated Mon, Mar 23, 2015 (9:49 a.m.)

This year's municipal election in Las Vegas will largely come down to how voters feel about a single issue — failed plans for a $200 million downtown soccer stadium.

Three incumbents — Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Councilmen Ricki Barlow and Bob Coffin — running for re-election helped pass a package worth nearly $100 million in city funds and land to help build the stadium at Symphony Park.

Although those plans fell apart when Major League Soccer told Las Vegas last month it would not be receiving an expansion franchise that was a prerequisite for building the stadium, the debate about the project has lingered into campaign season.

Goodman, Barlow and Coffin insist the project is dead, a missed opportunity to boost further redevelopment in the city's rebounding urban core.

But to their opponents, the stadium debate and the public funding associated with it has provided a ready made issue to challenge the incumbents on.

But that still might not be enough to overcome the edge in fundraising and name recognition held by the incumbents.

A total of four council seats will be on the April 7 primary ballot, headlined by a showdown between Goodman, who's trying to stretch her family's hold on the mayor's office to a fifth term, and City Councilman Stavros Anthony, who has made his opposition to the stadium the central issue of his campaign.

Early voting for the Las Vegas primary election starts on Saturday and runs through April 3. The races in Ward 1 and Ward 5 will be settled in the primary because only two candidates are running. The mayoral race and Ward 3 contest might not be settled until the June 2 general election if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.

Here's a look at the mayoral and city council races:

Mayor

Throughout last year, Carolyn Goodman's had a seemingly clear path to re-election after a successful first term as mayor that saw the city rebound from the recession and a burst of redevelopment downtown that included the arrival of Zappos and the Downtown Project. She even had the support of Stavros Anthony, who told her he wouldn't challenge her for the mayoral seat.

That changed after Goodman helped push through a public funding package for the downtown soccer stadium and voted against putting the issue on the ballot for residents to weigh in on.

Anthony pounced, helping launch a successful petition drive in January to put the stadium on the ballot and building an earlier base of support among the nearly 7,000 voters who signed on to the initiative.

His entry into the race has made the mayoral contest the most competitive bout in the upcoming election, pitting two candidates with long records of public service against each other in a fight to define the city's direction for the next four years.

Goodman has attempted to move on from the stadium, calling it a "dead issue" while bemoaning the missed opportunity to catalyze hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment.

Anthony won't let the issue fade away, however, warning that Goodman will work to pursue a stadium "until her last breath."

"I thought (the stadium) was a bad deal for everybody," Anthony said. "I don't want to talk about that anymore, but that's what we'll be talking about under Carolyn Goodman."

Although his opposition to the stadium has provided a strong platform for Anthony, he's struggled to elucidate where else his vision diverges from Goodman's.

Both want to bring a UNLV medical school to Las Vegas and build out the medical district near downtown. They also promise to use the bully pulpit afforded to the mayor to promote the city and to tackle pressing issues like homelessness and increasing services for veterans.

During her first tenure, Goodman, the wife of three-term Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, has worked to connect the city's various nonprofits through monthly meetings to increase collaboration and improve their effectiveness.

She's also championed a bill at the Legislature that created a tax incentive program to bring film production to Las Vegas.

Her goal, she said, is to help turn Las Vegas into a "world class city," by continuing to develop downtown, especially Symphony Park. Doing so will require diversifying the city's offerings away from gaming, she said.

"Everybody benefits when you redevelop downtown," she said. "Gaming's gone all over the country, we have to figure out how to maintain the intrigue."

Anthony, a former Metro Police captain and member of the state Board of Regents, said he wants to continue redeveloping downtown and put in place a master plan to guide its growth. He also wants to put more attention toward the city's communities outside of downtown, with repairs to sidewalks, improvements to pedestrian safety and more parks construction.

"She will focus on the stadium, I'm going to focus on other things that are important to residents of Las Vegas."

The race includes two other challengers, both of whom are political newcomers.

Phil Cory said he wants to put more focus on specific issues the city "has turned a blind eye to," like providing resources to the city's homeless and improving pedestrian safety.

He said his business background — he founded an online business that helps connect addicts with treatment programs — distinguishes him from other candidates in the race.

Although he doesn't have the legacy of Goodman or Anthony, Cory said he brings the leadership skills needed to be successful.

"I'm the only one that's talking about more than just downtown. The only one talking about protecting home values," he said.

Abdul Shabazz said he's running so he can participate in the decisions that shape the city.

His main focus is on growing small businesses in Las Vegas to help boost the city's economy.

"(Goodman and Anthony) represent the same philosophical views in how they approach government.

"Their record speaks for itself," said Shabazz, who owns a denture repair company. "I want to see more participation, more inclusiveness and other parties participating in government."

The race will likely come down to Goodman and Anthony, who hold massive advantages in fundraising and name recognition over their opponents. But if Cory or Shabazz can garner enough support to split votes away from the two main contenders, it could prevent either from winning outright in the primary and force the need for a general election.

Ward 1

Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian was the only incumbent up for re-election who opposed the stadium, shielding her from criticism on the subject.

After serving 10 years on the council Tarkanian has one major goal she'd still like to accomplish in a third term — bringing a UNLV medical school to her ward to help catalyze the planned medical district on Charleston Boulevard just west of Interstate 15.

"It's so important for jobs, better health and the economy," she said of the medical school, which is projected to have economic impact of over a billion dollars if built. "We have to strike now."

A former schoolteacher and principal who previously served on the Clark County School District board of trustees, Tarkanian has been involved with planning for the medical school for years and plans to start lobbying legislators who will decide whether the project gets the funding needed to get off the ground.

Tarkanian said she's also proud of the work she's done to protect the character of neighborhoods in her older ward, while working to make improvements to parks and roadways.

She points to her experience and long history in the ward as key reasons why voters should re-elect her to office.

"I know this ward very well," she said. "I have the contacts from meeting with people, talking with them and them knowing that I'll work with them."

Her opponent, Raymond Fletcher, has only lived in the ward for two years after relocating from Indiana, but he's already identified things he'd like to improve in his ward.

Fletcher said he decided to enter the race after Tarkanian voted against bringing voter-approved medical marijuana businesses into the city.

"I saw my own representative going against the will of the people, so I decided to run," said Fletcher, who's been involved in leading the Wellness Education Cannabis Advocates of Nevada group.

He argues the ward is no better off than when Tarkanian took office 10 years ago and that he'd offer a "fresh perspective" on the council.

He lists his top priority as public safety, especially for pedestrians.

Although he supports bringing a medical school to the area, he said Tarkanian is focusing too much on that at the expense of things like improving streets and sidewalks that impact the community's quality of life.

"We have too many transients, too many rental homes and not enough people putting stakes down in our community," he said. "Until we improve the quality of life and the way the ward looks, no businesses are going to want to invest here, nobody's going to want to raise their family here."

Fletcher knows he faces an uphill battle against Tarkanian's widespread name recognition — she's the wife of late UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. She also has a massive fundraising lead, having raised $77,000 compared to Fletcher's $500.

"So many people complain about quality of elected representatives, but not enough do people get up off the couch and try to do something about it," Fletcher said. "I'm trying to improve my quality of life and that of my neighbors."

Ward 3

Councilman Bob Coffin was skeptical of the soccer stadium proposal for months until a change in the financing terms lowered the city's risk and guaranteed $25 million in funding for parks in older neighborhoods that comprise his ward, which covers most of the east side of Las Vegas north of Sahara Avenue, including parts of downtown.

He cast the deciding vote that led to the approval of public funding for the stadium and in the process sparked an upswell of opposition that led five challengers to enter the race against him.

After serving nearly three decades in the Legislature and four more years on the city council, Coffin is no stranger to election battles.

He also understands that progress is often slow when it comes to government and that "unfinished business" is why he's seeking a second term on the council.

"I need to finish my work on pedestrian safety and redoing our parks. We're trying to plan some space for some new, small ones," Coffin said. "It's kind of discouraging that it takes so long, but things do get done. We've already got one new park and a couple of parks rehabbed."

He said he's worked to reduce speed limits in neighborhoods and add sidewalks to improve walkability.

He's worked to engage and reinvigorate the 40 or so neighborhood associations that make up his ward, which has been hit hard by foreclosures.

He's also trying to address a vagrancy problem that has plagued the neighborhood.

"This is all brought on by the recession, which caused a huge jump in the homeless population. We've still got people sleeping in parks and using the neighborhood as their toilet."

He points to successes revitalizing the city's downtown by putting city redevelopment dollars into small businesses to make it easier to renovate older buildings.

"We've made it easier to do business in downtown. I think we've prevented another Detroit with our efforts to infuse money beautifying things and trying to make it easier for people to invest," he said. "The majority of the growth is because we stimulated it."

But Coffin's opponents maintain that much of the growth downtown has come at the expense of other parts of the ward.

"We have neighborhoods with no sidewalks. We have graffiti. We have trash problems. We have sewer problems," said real estate agent Megan Heryet, who's putting up one of the strongest campaigns challenging Coffin.

Heryet was incensed at the notion of putting money previously used for parks toward the stadium project while many of her ward's parks are in disrepair and lack basic amenities like bathrooms.

She lists code enforcement as her top priority and criticizes Coffin for not being responsive enough to complaints and concerns from residents.

"I believe that Coffin has not made the ward his priority and I don't think he's been listening to the people," Heryet said. "I have the energy and desire to get things done."

Challenger Eric Krattiger was also spurred to enter the race over his opposition to the stadium project and the decision by the council not to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

A financial adviser, Krattiger wants to bring his facility with numbers to the city's budget to look for new ways to be more efficient and save money.

"A lot of people are content with what's going on in the city, but when you press them, they have safety issues, homeless issues and concerns about how the money is being spent on the city level."

Krattiger lists public safety as a top priority and said he'd like the city to do more to help its homeless population.

"No one is going to want to visit Las Vegas or live in Las Vegas or work in Las Vegas if they don't feel safe," he said.

Hart Fleischhauer said his main focus will be to keep the neighborhoods clean and safe, starting with working with Metro Police responsiveness to complaints from the area.

"We've had problems over the years with Metro not responding to calls when we report suspicious activity or a homeless person in the bushes," Fleischhauer said.

He wants to city be more proactive about addressing the homeless population, while also fixing sidewalks and removing graffiti.

Fleischhauer, who has a background in information technology and Internet marketing, said he'd also like to see more attention paid to redeveloping a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard between Sahara Avenue and Charleston Boulevard, similar to what's been accomplished downtown.

Also running in Ward 3 is Alicia Herrera, a translator and interpreter, who said her experience running a small business and 11 years working for the city of North Las Vegas gives her a unique combination of skills.

“I’m balanced,” she said. “I have a good understanding of how local government affects residents. I think I’ll be able to find solutions.”

Herrera said she wants to make sure the city’s community-oriented programs are having the impact intended.

She also wants to add services to help children, families and the elderly, while tackling problems such as homelessness, graffiti and road safety in her older ward.

“What is being done? What are the available resources?” she said. “It’s not something that’s going to be solved overnight, but it’s something we can continue to make progress on.”

Frequent political candidate Carlo Poliak is also running for the Ward 3 seat and could not be reached for comment.

The crowded field could split the vote enough ways to prevent Coffin from winning the race outright in the primary election, forcing a June runoff that would give an opponent more time to campaign against him.

But with a sizable fundraising lead and decades of experience, Coffin still holds an edge in the race.

"I'm the only one with the drive and the political experience to make things happen. None of the others have ever cast a vote and some of them, I think, have never attended a city council meeting," he said. "I don't believe they measure up."

Ward 5

City Councilman Ricki Barlow said that over the course of his second term he's been building momentum to redevelop his ward which includes much of downtown and the historic West Las Vegas neighborhood.

"A lot of development came out of of the ground and there's a slew of other developments in the works that I'd like to see through," he said.

His work has included millions of dollars in renovations to the Historic Westside School and tens of millions of dollars more spent to transform Lorenzi Park.

He's also focused on the little things, like adding new crosswalks and bike lanes while pushing the city to be more proactive about cleaning up graffiti.

"There's more work to be done, specifically with going into older neighborhoods and bringing them to a pristine level that helps improve home values," said Barlow, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan who served as a Las Vegas City Council liaison before being elected to the board in 2007. "If Ward 5 looks bad, the city of Las Vegas looks bad."

Businesses like the Buylow Supermarket, Dollar General and El Pollo Loco have opened their doors, with a Starbucks slated to open soon on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

But the failure of the city's $200 million downtown soccer stadium could haunt Barlow, who was an ardent supporter of the project that was located in his ward.

"(That was) a prime opportunity to really bring in a market that currently doesn't exist here," he said. "It was an opportunity to bring more people, residents and tourists alike, into downtown and keep them downtown."

He justified putting public funds toward the project because of the hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment it would spur.

But to challenger Randy Voyard, Barlow's support of the stadium was a sign of "indiscretion" in his spending priorities.

"I know there's been a lot of development downtown and that's great, but I'm looking at the areas around me that seem to be ignored," Voyard said. "I think it's wrong for the notion to cross their minds to take money out of parks budget to pay for a stadium."

Voyard was particularly put off by Barlow's opposition to putting the stadium issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

Voyard points to empty buildings and deteriorating streets as signs that Barlow and the city haven't done enough to promote new businesses and job growth in the ward, especially in the parts outside of downtown.

"The broken windows, the vacant properties that are spraypainted on, the garbage — to me it's a depressing thing. That's what your city government is supposed to do," said Voyard, a physical therapist assistant who ran for the Ward 5 seat in 2011 and lost with 8 percent of the primary vote. "I'm here because I know how the average person lives. I think sometimes people lose touch with the community they're supposed to be representing."

Voyard is confident the stadium issue will galvanize voters to support him as an alternative to the incumbent, something he'll have to rely on to overcome the Barlow's $280,000 fundraising edge.

For his part, Barlow said his tenure on the council shouldn't be defined solely by his stadium support.

"You have to look at the entire picture of all the things that I've done," Barlow said. "Just because you have a faction of people who disagree with someone on one item doesn't mean you kick them out."

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