Las Vegas Mayor Pro Tem Michele Fiore found herself trying to explain herself this past week after reportedly making racially insensitive comments at a recent City Council meeting and the Clark County Republican Party convention.
I think she blamed it on Brooklyn.
Her convention comments, which she claimed have been misquoted and taken out of context, concerned City Councilman Cedric Crear so much that he wrote a letter to Mayor Carolyn Goodman calling for Fiore to be stripped of her junior mayor’s honor. Crear is the council’s only African American.
The mayor pro tem is a political perquisite that in Las Vegas puts the honoree just one heartbeat away from holding the scissors that cut the ribbons. So it’s not exactly like being court martialed from the Marines or impeached in office.
But Crear’s callout was a huge comedown for Fiore that not only illustrates the ongoing dysfunction inside Nevada’s Republican Party, but also further mires her gravity-defying political rise.
Most stinging is Crear’s measured and devastating letter, which nailed Fiore for remarks she made during a June 3 council meeting held while mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter racial justice demonstrations were going on in Las Vegas. At one point Fiore offered, “protesting does not give you the right of beating white people up.” Crear wrote, “Of course no person has the right to beat anyone up, yet when stated in this way, the implication is that white people are rampantly being singled out by black people and being attacked, strictly based upon the color of their skin.
“During this highly volatile time in our country, it is beyond irresponsible to make such a biased statement. It adds kerosene to an already explosive fire and serves only to divide.”
Fiore added more kerosene to her own political arson last Saturday when she descended into an anti-affirmative action rant that, as The Indy first reported, included, “If there’s a job opening and my white ass is more qualified than somebody’s black ass, then my white ass should get the job.”
Well, that’s one way of saying it.
She denied reports that she’d said, “White lives matter” during her speech, but instead said, “All lives matter.
What also matters is timing. At a moment in American history when the nation at last appears willing to seriously discuss the systemic racism that exists in police departments and public institutions, it’s probably not the best time to drag out the old white victimhood one-liners. But maybe that’s how they roll in Brooklyn.
The remarks earned Fiore a rare public rebuke from Clark County Republican Party Chairman David Sajdak, whose job description is usually defined by pompoms and pep rallies. In response, Fiore tweeted that the county chairman was a “pandering idiot” and breathlessly claimed, “My 1st Amendment rights are under attack.” She feigned an apology, admitted only that she has a “New York style” and said she was having her city staff install a “swear jar.”
Her penny whistle patriotism echoes the far right’s increasingly mainstreamed narrative about the evils of “political correctness.” As an aside, the First Amendment still allows elected officials to make racially insensitive remarks and write it all off as part of part of a tell-it-like-it-is style.
Following Crear’s bruising letter, Fiore was again explaining that style on Friday before reporters and cameras and a KLAS-TV live stream audience, but this time assuring everyone, “First and foremost, I have never been politically correct, nor do I intend to start now. I don’t pander, nor do I play. Nor do I mince my words.”
Even when attempting an apology she wasn’t exactly contrite, again alluding to being a “Brooklyn girl” despite her 28-year Southern Nevada residency. “I can get a little Brooklyn when unscripted, but I never, ever want to portray or have anyone believe that there is a racist bone in my body.” She said her language was “taken out of complete context,” then failed to correct the record.
She noted that she kissed and hugged black people, that her mother was gay, that she voted against her own party on the marijuana issue, adding, “As a Brooklyn girl, I vote for everyone“ and that after her recent dustup with the county GOP, “I really have to rethink who my friends are.”
I’m not sure what that all adds up to, but fair enough. Maybe she was channeling Spike Lee and Danny Aiello in “Do the Right Thing.” We may presume that Crear is no longer one of those “friends.”
Just when I thought Fiore might climb out of the racial rabbit hole she’d dug herself, she turned and went back down. Citing “very scary, very, very scary” “police intell” reports, she said authorities learned that two groups during the Black Lives Matter protests called for people to “bring their legal guns, bring their legal guns and kill pigs and white people. This is what I see every day with this. So how do we differentiate between who’s safe and who’s not?”
As it turns out, authorities arrested three white men with loose ties to the paramilitary “boogaloo bois,” an association of well-armed, self-styled militia types who advocate for civil war. They’re accused of bringing Molotov cocktails to the protest and now face state and federal criminal charges.
But those defendants weren’t much on Fiore’s mind.
At one point, the mayor pro tem, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board member and Republican national committeewoman, whose language has often been divisive, said of Crear’s letter, “To take an opportunity to attack me in the midst of this public divide is just very sad.”
Know what I find sad?
The GOP under President Donald Trump’s spell continues to use white nationalism as a campaign strategy. In addition to all Trump’s dog-whistle race-baiting, the most divisive president in our nation’s history had scheduled — but now has rescheduled for the 20th — his first in-person campaign rally on Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site on June 19, 1921 of one of the deadliest race riots in the nation’s history. Hey, maybe it’s a coincidence.
In Nevada, armed militia and associates of the boogaloos and “white chauvinist” Proud Boys haven’t been hard to spot with their high-powered rifles and flags at recent pro-Trump, anti-Sisolak rallies disguised as “Reopen Nevada” protests. Perhaps they were there by coincidence.
No matter her true position on race, Fiore’s tone-deaf rhetoric accurately reflects the Trump Party in action.
At this rate, the mayor pro tem will probably receive a shout-out tweet from the President.
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith