“I was intimidated about knocking on a door and getting a negative reaction, but almost everyone whose door I knock on is excited, informed, engaged and willing to have a dialogue, even if they disagree with me,” Las Vegas city council candidate Steve Seroka says. “The reaction has been very positive. People are happy and surprised that a candidate comes to the door. I’ve also had my wife and family with me, and that pleases them as well.”
After serving everywhere from the Pentagon to Afghanistan and working at a think tank, Seroka is running for Las Vegas City Council Ward 2. “I want to take the values that have been instilled in me to City Hall. One, public service is selfless. Two, it’s hard work and I’m not afraid of that. Three, it’s for no benefit of my own. In the military, they didn’t pay any of us enough to do what we were doing,” he explains. “We did it because we were called to serve our nation, our community, our family and our friends, and that’s exactly what I want to do in Las Vegas. That’s what we say we want in our elected officials, and that’s the opportunity we have now.”
Seroka’s opponent is incumbent Bob Beers, once a right-tilting legislator. Seroka is critical of Beers’ votes on a contract for Republic Services trash collection, among other things. The biggest issue has involved a developer seeking to build more than 2,000 condos/apartments/homes in place of the Badlands Golf Club in Queensridge. This issue isn’t, as some think, just a bunch of rich people mad at other rich people. Let’s put it this way: Some friends of mine who live there support the deal and some friends oppose it and, if they were rich, they wouldn’t hang out with history professors who write magazine columns.
Beers supported the change, arguing that the developer, if denied, might sue the city. Oddly, when people say we shouldn’t allow people to own guns because then they might have a weapon with which to commit murder, that argument resonates less with his side of the aisle. He also tends to think those who disagree with the plan seek “to sacrifice the public good for their own personal benefit.”
The irony drips from that statement. Seroka notes that Beers has received ample financial support from the developer and others who have wanted to put businesses and housing where Ward 2 residents didn’t want them. “I’m upbeat and positive. I don’t like to be negative,” Seroka says. “But unfortunately, in running, I have to talk about these things, because they need to be highlighted.”
“What happens in Las Vegas City Hall affects us, hits us close to home, so we need the voice of the people to be heard.”
Seroka continues, “First and foremost—the thing that got me into this race—I felt our incumbent was ignoring our constituents and giving all of his attention to big-dollar developers and super lobbyists. What happens in Las Vegas City Hall affects us, hits us close to home, so we need the voice of the people to be heard. I’m not beholden to any special interest or big-dollar lobbyist and I truly want to represent the people.”
In Seroka’s case, that means emphasizing accountability and the need to “protect our property through increased police presence.” But he has a special cause: his fellow veterans. “This is the most capable and untapped resource in our community,” he says.
“When I talk to officials in our city and state—elected officials, CEOs, hiring and HR people—I ask what they picture when they hear the word veteran. One is a homeless person under a bridge. Two is someone with PTSD. Three is someone who takes orders and doesn’t think,” he says. But the majority of veterans leave service with no disability and “they are ready to engage in our neighborhoods. When I say I have a lot of leadership experience, people say, ‘I don’t want military leadership.’ Beers says military leadership isn’t applicable to our community. I say, ‘You don’t want respectful, engaged leadership?’”
Seroka’s commitment includes working on a book about veterans, and he’s found some information well worth thinking about—and important to his city council race. About 12 percent of Americans “wore the uniform during World War II and we call them the Greatest Generation,” he says. We’ve been in continuous military combat since Desert Storm—25 years, four times as long as World War II,” and fewer than 2 percent have served. “My peer group is either underemployed or unemployed because of a lack of understanding of their abilities. According to Gallup, the U.S. military is the most respected institution in the country. They’ve got to be doing something right.”
Besides already being president of the Disabled Veterans Business Alliance and talking to various business and civic groups, Seroka wants to involve veterans more deeply in the community, through business, outreach, education and Jobenomics, a grassroots job creation program. “When those veterans do succeed,” he says, “that will send a message.”
Seroka hopes voters send a message during early voting and on Election Day. “The incumbent is fighting his voters. He condescends to them and he confuses them and he combats them. While he’s on the wrong side of the issue, his big-dollar developer super PAC is fighting me. What is the problem if all they want is to do what’s best for the community?”
Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.