Las Vegas Sun

June 24, 2021

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Public administrator: Little known, heavily sought

With a high profile office such as Clark County sheriff, it's no surprise when an incumbent's decision not to seek re-election results in a flood of eager candidates at the election office.

What is surprising is that the second-most crowded race in the county is for public administrator, a bureaucratic office with the primary mission of administering the estates of the deceased when there is no one else to do so.

While dealing with the dead might not top most lists of employment openings, many seem to view the public administrator's office as a good place for political resurrection.

Hopefuls include former legislators, unsuccessful city council and constable candidates and a retired judge.

There's Lou Toomin, a former assemblyman who served from 1993 to 1994 and has lost eight subsequent runs for state Senate or Assembly.

There's former Assemblywoman Merle Berman, who started off the election season running for secretary of state, switched to the state controller race, and, as of Friday's filing deadline, had settled for public administrator.

Then there's Christine Milburn, a Republican lobbyist who was appointed to the Boulder City Council but lost her attempt to hold onto the seat, and who was appointed state senator in 2001, but decided against facing voters at the next election.

Even the current public administrator, Dan Ahlstrom, is a former Las Vegas justice of the peace who pleaded guilty in 1996 to buying cacti stolen from public lands, forcing him to surrender his robes after 18 years on the bench. Despite the scandal, he bounced back and landed in the public administrator's office in 2002 - a living testament that arranging funerals and warehousing the possessions of the dead can provide new political life.

"Life makes beginners out of all of us. I'll just start over as a beginner," Ahlstrom said after pleading guilty.

That seems to be the hope his exit - he is not seeking re-election - holds out to those running.

"It's a pretty low-profile office, so people who have been unsuccessful running for other offices might think they stand a better chance there," said David Damore, a UNLV political science professor.

Twelve people have filed to run for the position, a field outnumbered only by the jam-packed sheriff's race, which has attracted 19 candidates now that Sheriff Bill Young has dropped out .

The sheriff oversees the largest police force in the state.

The office of public administrator, on the other hand, is so obscure many county residents don't even know it exists.

Several candidates are devoting large portions of their campaign Web sites to explaining what the public administrator does.

Of course, most of the candidates don't consider their runs for public administrator to be a last-ditch effort to turn around their political fortunes.

Democratic candidate John Cahill, a former manager of probation services for Clark County who lost a bid for Henderson constable in 2002, currently works in the public administrator's office as an investigator. So do two other candidates, though none have done so for more than 10 months.

"It's a job and it has a good salary with it," Cahill said. "That's why people are interested in it."

The public administrator earns $91,138 annually.

For some, though, it's a chance to make a point.

"I've committed $100,000 to my campaign just to prove a point that the person with the most money can win the race," said Toomin, who said he learned that lesson from his failed attempts at the Legislature in the past.

Other candidates are criticizing the former politicos for office hunting.

Steve "Devil Dog" Sanson, a Republican activist and former unsuccessful Las Vegas City Council contender, said, "They just want to have control over something and that's all it is."

As a chaplain for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Sanson said he knows how to arrange funerals.

"I don't think they know what they are dealing with," he said of the other candidates. "I think they are just coming into this because the incumbent isn't running."

Paula Walsh, a Republican candidate and District Court employee who lost to Ahlstrom in 2002, said most seeking the post view it as a cushy elective office.

"I don't think they realize what it entails when you handle the estate of someone," she said.

Other candidates include attorney Adrian Mendoza, who lost to Ahlstrom in the 2002 Democratic primary; Linda Howard, a university regent who would have faced a tough re-election bid against Cedric Crear, the former Station Casinos' marketing director who placed ahead of her during a state Senate primary in 2004; former administrative judge John Harney; Democrat Shelly Scherer; Republican Rudolpho "Rudy" Lamas Amadeus; and Independent American candidate Anthony Blanque.

Blanque didn't hide the fact that he planned to use the public administrator's office as a stepping stone to higher office.

"I'm going to be president," said the 35-year-old, who would not disclose his profession.

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