Las Vegas Sun

December 4, 2016

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Nevada Wonk

Candidates for Las Vegas mayor debate behind closed doors

Larry Brown

Larry Brown

They weren’t allowed into the event, but that didn’t stop 15 Larry Brown supporters from campaigning outside a board room of the El Cortez on Wednesday evening to show support for their favorite Las Vegas mayoral candidate.

Brown was at the El Cortez with six other mayoral hopefuls to participate in a debate hosted by several downtown business groups. The other candidates were Chris Giunchigliani, Steve Ross, Carolyn Goodman, Victor Chaltiel, George Harris and Katie Duncan.

The Brown supporters wore campaign shirts, held signs and cheered as their candidate entered the room. Brown was the only candidate with fans outside.

A select 60 or so people affiliated with the business groups sat in on the debate. The candidates also were each allowed to bring one or two guests.

But neither the general public nor the media were allowed inside.

A group of seniors who traveled from Sun City Summerlin were not pleased.

“Why aren’t we allowed in?” one woman asked. “Who do we have to know? This is ridiculous.”

The debate’s hosts — the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance, Downtown Business

Operators Council, Fremont Street Experience, Fremont East Board and 18 B Las Vegas Arts District — defended the decision to keep the event private, arguing that the debate was “an informative tool for the member organizations, not a persuasive one.”

“If all candidates wish to engage in a televised debate, we’re sure there are many forums available for that and encourage it. This event is not such a forum,” group leaders wrote in a letter to participants.

The business groups don’t endorse candidates, but organizers compared the debate to the endorsement interviews interest groups typically hold before an election. Those meetings are generally closed to the public and press.

Organizers also used a limited food and beverage budget as a reason to exclude the public.

Giunchigliani complained openly about the closed format. Several other candidates grumbled privately.

“I strongly believe in transparency and while I understand there is limited space, I don’t believe debates among public candidates should be private,” Giunchigliani said.

All of the groups hosting the debate benefit from public money paid for by the very taxpayers kept away.

Several candidates said they expected the debate questions to focus on economic development and downtown revitalization, projects that will almost certainly use public money in the future.

The city of Las Vegas already has pumped millions of dollars into downtown to make it a more attractive place to live, visit and do business.

City dollars have paid for development of the Mob Museum and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Taxpayers have funded, at least in part, street repaving, sidewalk widening and landscaping downtown. And Las Vegas, using tax dollars, reimburses area businesses for neon signs and facade improvements.

“Are they going to let you in?” a hopeful Brown asked as he made his way into the room.

“No,” the supporters responded in unison.

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