At forum, Las Vegas mayor hopefuls discuss homelessness, priorities for first 100 days
At a candidate forum this week, four women aiming to win the Las Vegas mayorship in 2024 shined a light on what residents could expect from their administration if elected.
For the past 24 years, the seat has been held by the same family —- starting with Oscar Goodman from 1999 to 2011 and ending with his wife, Carolyn Goodman, from 2011 to the present. Their reign mainly focused on revitalizing and expanding downtown Las Vegas.
With Mayor Carolyn Goodman termed out, many people are throwing their hats in the ring including former Rep. Shelley Berkley, Nevada Equal Rights Commission Administrator Kara Jenkins, medical transportation expert Donna Miller and Las Vegas Councilwoman Victoria Seaman — who were panelists at a candidate forum inside of the East Las Vegas Library earlier this week.
“There's no real ringer or somebody that everybody assumes is going to win,” said Sondra Cosgrove, the executive director of the nonprofit Vote Nevada, who helped organize the Tuesday night candidate forum with the Clark County Chamber of Commerce and Battle Born News.
Among those missing from the lineup were four-year resident and political newcomer Dan Chapman, who owns a beauty manufacturing company with his wife in North Las Vegas, and Las Vegas Councilman Cedric Crear, son of the first Black doctor in Las Vegas. Crear has helped bring projects online from the HUNDRED Plan, or the Historic Urban Neighborhood Design Redevelopment Plan, which seeks to revitalize the city’s west side.
Crear’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to inquiries Wednesday about his absence.
The forum covered topics including economic development, cities sponsoring charter schools, homeless services and expanding the health care industry.
Candidates agreed that public safety and keeping police funded was important to run a “world-class city,” and that addressing homelessness is one of the city’s major concerns, with most of the speakers suggesting that people sleeping on sidewalks hurt business and tourism.
Jenkins said if she gets elected, she would launch a homeless services task force within the first 100 days that would model Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ Inside Safe initiative, which moves people out of encampments or outdoors and into homes, motels, hotels and other facilities.
She said some people will never “matriculate into society in a way that we kind of hope for them.”
“Day one, we'll create a task force,” Jenkins said. “We’ll get other thought partners in collaboration with the mayor's office … we're now seeing it everywhere. It's not just downtown.”
Jenkins is a political newcomer and Harvard Kennedy School alum who was appointed to the Equal Rights Commission in 2013 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval. She hopes her bipartisanship from serving under Republican and Democratic leaders will earn her favor in the race. Her top priorities are addressing homelessness and improving wages.
She said that while at the Equal Rights Commission for the past 10 years she’s been working tirelessly to ensure that residents are treated fairly. Jenkins said her administration, should she win the election, would be “inclusive, innovative and thriving.”
“Let's throw out the red carpet for our [residents],” she said when speaking about her economic plans. “Let's make sure they get good paying jobs, so that they can live the lives they want to, because we do it for our guests.”
Miller said homelessness is a complex situation to solve.
She said she believes that homelessness does not mean that people are hopeless and that it is a temporary situation for many people, not a status.
“It's very difficult, because if you have 50 people in a room that are homeless, there's 50 reasons why those people are in that condition,” she said.
Miller is an immigrant from Romania, critical care nurse and leader of emergency medical transportation companies. If she is elected, she said she plans to build more capacity in the health care industry, keep public safety agencies funded and diversify the job market.
This is her first campaign and she said she believes she is the only candidate with the expertise and knowledge required “to understand the Las Vegas Medical District’s potential,” referring to a neighborhood that includes University Medical Center, the UNLV medical school and other medical facilities. She said for the past 20 years her job has required her to make critical decisions that can mean life or death for her patients.
Miller heads Reinventions Professionals, which provides emergency medical care on airplanes and helicopters and responds to crises in cities and rural areas.
“I build businesses and I've worked and served this community for a long time,” Miller said. “And I did that out of passion, not because I wanted to build my resume.”
Miller said during her first 100 days, she would focus on organizing community forums to hear from constituents. She said it is very important to understand how the community sees certain issues before implementing changes and that her follow-up would include creating committees to address concerns.
When speaking about addressing homelessness, Seaman touted a “camping ban” that she supported on the city council. She said she is proud of the initiative and that the motivations were to keep people from “encroaching upon” people’s businesses.
She said she went into flood control tunnels under Las Vegas where people live and that there are some people who don’t want help. She points to addiction and mental health issues as the root cause of the homelessness crisis.
“We cannot afford to end up like other cities like Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where we put a Band-Aid on the problem.”
Seaman, a Republican former assemblywoman who won a city council special election in 2019 and won re-election in 2022, said in her first 100 days she would focus on government transparency and settling the Badlands golf course lawsuit. She said the legal battle has reached $240 million.
The dispute started in 2018 when a developer sought to build luxury homes on a Summerlin golf course near the upscale Queensridge high-rise complex. The developer’s plans were stalled by city officials after residents of the exclusive neighborhood raised concerns that high-density housing could bring down property values.
“The difference between my colleagues here and me is that I'm already working on all these issues and I'm going to continue to work on them,” she said.
She said over the past four years, her team has resolved nearly 3,000 constituent complaints.
Her number one issue is public safety and keeping neighborhoods safe, she said, adding that she also wants to expand the economy with the tennis industry by increasing tournaments, and considering ways to build housing upwards.
“I think back to when I was in the Legislature and I had the Raiders stadium in front of me,” she said. “I went back and forth and I'm so proud today that I voted for that stadium because it brought in so much economic diversity. And I am constantly meeting with folks to try to expand our tennis [industry].”
Berkley leaned on a plan to build a mental health and addiction services facility to address homelessness after mentioning that $100 million of the state’s budget is expected to go toward a homelessness program.
She said the answer is not simply a job opportunity or a home because of people’s serious mental health issues and opioid addiction.
“This is a federal issue, a state issue, a county issue and a municipal issue,” Berkley said. “And if all of the entities in this community and this state along with the feds … aren’t working together, we will never be able to solve this problem.”
Berkley, whose lengthy career included time in the Legislature, on the Board of Regents and in Congress and also scrutiny over a leaked call with her former boss Sheldon Adelson in 1996 and an ethics investigation 2012, voluntarily left her role as CEO and senior provost of Touro University as she seeks the top seat in Las Vegas City Hall. It marks a return to campaigning after she lost a nationally watched U.S. Senate race in 2012 to Republican Dean Heller.
She said the next 10 years are “going to be explosive” and that increasing the number of physicians in Las Vegas, expanding the sports and technology industry and improving transportation will take the city to the next level.
Berkley said it’s crucial to elect someone who will have a “steady hand at the helm” of Las Vegas’ growth, pointing to her long history in elected office.
“There is nothing that is happening in the city of Las Vegas that I'm not intimately familiar with,” she said.
Berkley said her experience and knowledge will allow her to set the tone for the next four years within the first 100 days if she wins the election.
She said she will “hit the ground running” by speaking with every group that works in city government, including Henderson and North Las Vegas officials.
“And that's important,” Berkley said, “to make sure we're all on the same team.”
Thoughts from attendees
Two UNLV political science students who are members of the Young Democrats club attended the forum to learn more about each candidate.
Victoria Vance, 21, who lives in North Las Vegas, said she wished candidates would have spent more time talking about housing. She said she came out to stay informed even though she can’t vote for Las Vegas mayor, but found herself somewhat underwhelmed by the candidates’ responses when it comes to wraparound services.
“Even if the candidates don't support [public housing] — I would just like to hear more on how they view that,” she said.
Her friend, Mack Gledhill, 22, said Jenkins stood out to them because she was young and promotes equality. Gledhill said they might vote for Jenkins but it depends on how she addresses homelessness because her comments on the matter reminded them of right-wing positions.
“I would say that those concerns need to be addressed for me,” Gledhill said. “But she's still definitely a viable candidate for me to vote for.”
Andrew Spinney, 31, who works in technology support and sales, said Seaman stood out as the best candidate to him because she aligned the most with his Republican politics. He also thought she spoke most confidently.
“Kara Jenkins was just a little bit too focused on women and inclusivity,” he said. “That was just a little bit too much for me. And Shelley [Berkley], I just feel like that’s like voting for Nancy Pelosi.”
Updated at 12:50 p.m. on 10/19/23 to clarify nature of 1996 Berkley controversy.
Updated at 3:06 p.m. on 10/19/23 to reflect that Victoria Seaman won a special election in 2019 and to correct where Donna Miller works.
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