Friday, June 27, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The race for Clark County sheriff will show who really holds political power in the state’s biggest county.
Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo is the favorite. He won the June primary. He raised nearly $1 million in campaign funding and an endorsement from the outgoing, two-term Sheriff Doug Gillespie.
Retired Capt. Larry Burns is the underdog. He finished second in the primary election and raised about 60 percent less than Lombardo. Although he doesn’t have the blessing of the Metro brass, Burns has strong support from one crucial group: Metro’s biggest union. The Las Vegas Police Protective Association voted 96 percent to back Burns. Their endorsement means campaign funding, and it also could deliver thousands of officers to help mobilize voters.
In the most blunt terms, the race will pit the candidate backed by the Metro brass against the candidate backed by the rank-and-file officers. This is the first sheriff’s race in decades in which the police union’s top candidate is not the one supported by the outgoing sheriff. And no union-backed candidate has ever lost the race for sheriff.
“I believe that you have two different styles,” said Chris Collins, executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association. “Larry is a friendly, touchy guy who will quickly bring morale back to the department, and Joe is a little more a harder guy who is kind of in the model of the sheriffs we’ve had.”
But to some, being the union’s top candidate is a liability for the leader of a public agency.
“I wouldn’t want the union on my side, and you can quote me,” said former Sheriff Bill Young, a Lombardo supporter.
Lombardo, 52, is the son of an Air Force veteran. He was born in Japan, then moved to Las Vegas in 1976 and graduated from Rancho High School.
He earned two degrees from UNLV, one in civil engineering and a master’s degree in crisis management. He graduated from the FBI National Academy and joined the Army, serving in the National Guard and the Army Reserve. He’s been with Metro for 25 years.
In forums and at press conferences, Lombardo seems less comfortable than Burns as a speaker. Those who know him say Lombardo is more interested in results than niceties. They also say he’s a research and policy wonk.
Burns, 56, retired last year as a captain and is known for his careful handling of a crime-ridden areas of downtown Las Vegas. His father was in the Air Force and he was born in London. He graduated from high school in Maine and moved to Las Vegas in 1980.
He attended Brigham Young University for two years but didn’t earn a degree. After a two-year missionary stint in Ecuador, he turned to construction work in Las Vegas before joining the police department. He worked at Metro for 27 years.
Police say his biggest asset may be his personality and his ability to lead.