Sunday, March 31, 2013 | 2 a.m.
When Andy Hafen first ran for Henderson City Council in 1987, he and his family hand painted campaign signs and printed mailers on plain paper. He won, and he’s been on the City Council ever since.
Now facing his eighth election, the incumbent mayor’s campaign operations have grown significantly in size and sophistication.
In pursuit of a second term, Mayor Hafen, a retired Metro Police employee, has spent more than $134,000, 10 times that of the next closest candidate, according to campaign finance reports.
The money has paid for television ads, billboards, phone banking and mailers that have saturated the city in the run up to Tuesday’s primary election.
Hafen justifies the expenses as necessary to run a complete campaign.
“I’m serious about winning this race,” he said. “I think the city is heading in the right direction. Hopefully I can convince the electorate that I’m still the person that should be mayor for this city.”
But to the crowded field of Hafen’s challengers, none of whom has any experience in public office, the incumbent’s spending is seen as an attempt to win the election outright during the primary by gathering more than 50 percent of the vote, foregoing a general election and any debate or discussion on his performance as mayor.
“Andy Hafen’s a good man, but he won’t have to debate the issues if he gets 51 percent of the votes. My purpose (in running) is, frankly, to get Andy to debate the issues,” said candidate Jerry Sakura.
While donations have flowed into Hafen’s campaign, his six challengers – including Sakura, 73; Eddie Hamilton, 70; Joe Scala, 54; Rick Workman, 56; Kyler Robinson, 28, and Clayton Simmons, 43 – have raised only a few thousand dollars, with several reporting spending only a few hundred dollars on their campaigning.
The best-funded challenger is Workman, who is spending $11,000 of his own money to buy signs, postage and supplies.
Like many candidates, Workman, who works in the Henderson Police Department’s crime lab, takes issue with Hafen’s handling of the city’s budget, especially the use of buyouts and not filling vacant positions in order to reduce deficits.
“It’s a short-term gain for balancing the budget,” Workman said. “But as they’re doing that, what they’re forgetting is we have invested millions of dollars and years to get a lot of these veteran employees trained, educated and experienced.”
Scala, a retired architect and homebuilder, said he’s knocked on thousands of doors around Henderson while campaigning. Scala criticized the city’s employee salaries and said he’d review the pay scale and institute quarterly checkups to ensure productivity.
“I can’t change what’s in place, I can only change the future,” Scala said. “From Day One, I will personally review these salaries. They will be adjusted according to demographic, community and national averages.”
The city’s handling of large-scale development deals like the failed stadium project with Chris Milam has also raised concerns, with candidates saying they would stop behind-the-scenes dealing.
“They’re giving away millions of dollars,” said Hamilton, who specifically referenced the stadium and the recent sale of a city-owned building downtown at a steep loss. “Everything is in secret so you never find out. Everything is behind closed doors.”
For his part, Hafen deflects the criticisms and sticks to the positives. He said the recession and the steep budget cuts it required were unprecedented in the history of the city, requiring tough decisions.
He maintains that things are getting better and that he’s the best person to continue leading.
“I think we’ve proven that the city is heading in the right direction,” Hafen said. “(We need to) keep steering the ship in the right direction and make sure we’re doing everything we can to get out of this recession while spending our citizens’ tax dollars wisely.”