The major and the minor among candidates for mayor

The following message showed up on some telephones, including that of a Vegas Seven blogger who doesn’t even live in the city of Las Vegas:

“I didn’t know who Victor Chaltiel was until he decided to run for mayor, so I did some research and found out he gave money to Shelley Berkley, Dina Titus, and Harry Reid.  But that’s not all folks.  He gave money to Charlie Rangel, maxing out on donations to all of them.  

“No wonder why I never heard of Victor Chaltiel.  He’s a liberal in Republican’s clothes.  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting awfully tired of these liberals claiming to be Republicans just for the sake of winning an election.  I’m supporting George Harris.  Now that’s a name I know.  George is former chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, former state finance chair, he started a group called ‘Axe the Tax’ when the governor raised money unnecessarily.  George doesn’t have to say he’s a conservative.  His record speaks loud and clear.  This message is proudly paid for by Tony Dane, longtime conservative activist.”

A fascinating message, missing a few things:

  • Chaltiel also has donated to a lot of Republicans, including Nevadans Joe Heck (who beat Dina Titus) and Sue Lowden (who might have been Reid’s general election opponent if she hadn’t chickened out), the Nevada Republican State Central Committee and such non-Nevadans as George W. Bush, John McCain, and Eric Cantor.  None of them is known for liberalism.
  • The “Axe the Tax” campaign that Harris started was aimed at a governor named Kenny Guinn.  At the time of his death, Guinn was still a registered Republican, despite the things his fellow Republicans had said about him.  Whether Dane made the recording before knowing that Guinn’s widow would endorse Carolyn Goodman for mayor is another matter entirely.
  • Dane’s “longtime” activism includes almost constantly campaigning against State Sen. David Parks, who stated for the record years ago that he happens to be gay. Dane ran against him, helped his father, Philip Dane’s, campaign against him, and supported a primary challenger named David Parks despite denying that he knew the second Parks or had helped him.

A few things make this especially striking:

  • Neither Chaltiel nor Harris has a snowball’s chance in Las Vegas in July (or, with climate change, April) of winning or even finishing second in a runoff.  So, if Harris wants to win or even make a name for himself or his restaurant, Mundo, why attack Chaltiel, whose major contribution to the campaign has been holding up a “V for Victor” in such a way that the person making the motion is actually telling voters to stick their ballots where the sun doesn’t shine?
  • Chaltiel’s contributions suggest that if he has moved between both parties — as businesspeople who want to support winners are wont to do (backing Berkley when she is unbeatable isn’t exactly dim-witted) — he is no liberal.  That calls Dane’s honesty into question, and Harris’ if he is involved with Dane’s dial-a-voter effort.
  • Harris is a Republican, and it makes for an oddity or two.  Municipal elections happen to be non-partisan.  In such elections, candidates either play up or play down their party registration.  For example, Chris Giunchigliani’s website requires careful study to figure out that she is an ardent Democrat.  Now, a knowledgeable voter would know that; she never has hidden it.  But it doesn’t exactly help her in more Republican and conservative Summerlin, any more than it would help Harris or Chaltiel in Giunchigliani’s old Assembly district, which is heavily Democratic.
  • Las Vegas tends to vote Democratic — note Berkley’s district — and the mayor’s office may be the proof.  Since 1975, each mayor has been a Democrat:  Bill Briare, a former assemblyman and county commissioner (1975-87); Ron Lurie, a longtime city councilman (1987-91); Jan Jones, twice a candidate for governor and now an executive with Caesars Entertainment (1991-99); and Carolyn Goodman’s shrinking violet of a husband, elected in 1999 and since reregistered as an independent.  Before them, the longest-tenured mayor, Oran Gragson (1959-75) was a Republican in a Democratic town, and since he was a fine mayor, nobody cared.

That, indeed, is the point here.  Las Vegans don’t much care which party their mayor belongs to as long as he does a good job.  And Las Vegans probably don’t much care about Chaltiel or Harris.  But they should, because this kind of politics is exactly what the system doesn’t need.

Michael Green professor of history at CSN.