Best of The Indy: Our favorite stories from 2020

There was no part of our lives that COVID-19 did not touch this year.

It’s no surprise, then, that most of our favorite stories this year — the ones that were most meaningful to us — were in some way related to the pandemic. We told you stories about how doctors and nurses struggled inside hospitals, how the Latino community was being hit disproportionately hard by the virus and how the pandemic exacerbated long standing issues in Indian Country.

We told you about how families were coping with the adjustment to remote learning, how college students were grappling with their return on investment for a costly education minus many of the usual in-person trappings of higher education and how sex workers were frustrated as brothels remained shuttered.

We told you other stories too. We told you about this year’s historic election, and how a critical election seemingly became even more critical. We told you about why protesters took to the streets in Reno in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. We told you all about what was happening behind the scenes in Carson City this year during two special sessions of the Legislature.

We told you stories you might not have heard about otherwise, including the story about how a housing developer and a powerful water authority clashed in the desert.

We also told you some stories we hope made you occasionally smile — like the one about the 300 fire-preventing goats.

We told you a lot of stories this year — more than 2,400 by our count — with just a small but dedicated team of reporters, a whip-smart crew of interns and a couple of tireless editors.

Below, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite stories. Tweet @TheNVIndy and let us know what your favorite stories we told this year were, too.

Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake on Jan. 13, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

April 13: “Pandemic heightens, magnifies long-existing issues in Indian Country”

When the pandemic began this spring, Indian Country was already struggling. Food insecurity, underfunded health care programs and geographic isolation are challenges Native communities in Nevada have faced for decades. When COVID-19 arrived, it only exacerbated them. Reporter Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez explored in this story what tribal communities in the state did early on to prepare for COVID-19 and their efforts to fight for federal relief.

Black Lives Matter protest in Downtown Reno on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

May 31: “Protester voices: Black Lives Matter demonstrators gather in solidarity, call for change and reform”

More than a thousand people gathered in Reno on a Saturday in May to peacefully protest the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Though the rally was somewhat overshadowed by the vandalism that took place later that evening, intern Tabitha Mueller spent some time with the peaceful protesters to hear about their frustrations over police brutality and hopes for unity.

Employees at Caesars Palace disinfect casino chips at the property
Employees at Caesars Palace disinfect casino chips at the property on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

June 4: “After months of darkness, the sun rises on the Strip”

March 2020 might live in history as one of the more eerie months in Nevada’s existence. The pandemic shuttered schools, casinos and other businesses, turning the Las Vegas Stirp into a ghost town. The economic effect of the 78-day casino shutdown cannot be understated. Reopening casinos in June took great planning and carried a lot of hope, despite what has continued to be a tumultuous time for the industry. Reporter Jackie Valley documented the preparations in this story

The Anaconda Copper Mine
The Anaconda Copper Mine on Sept. 11, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

June 25: “After EPA handed over mine cleanup to the state, Nevada regulators approved ‘significant revisions’ that cut company’s responsibility”

In 2017, the EPA approved a report showing widespread groundwater contamination stemming from the former Anaconda Copper Mine near Yerington. One year later, Nevada regulators took over the process for cleaning up the mine. Over the following two years, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection let ARCO, the company liable for the mine, revise the EPA-accepted report and significantly cut its responsibility for the contaminated water, despite concerns from two Native American tribes and hydrological experts. This story, from reporter Daniel Rothberg, begins to tell what happened.

Fermin Leguen at podium
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer at the Southern Nevada Health District, at a press conference in Las Vegas about the coronavirus on March 5, 2020. (Jackie Valley/The Nevada Independent)

July 6: “County’s top health officer worked on meningitis vaccine in Cuba, AIDS response in Ethiopia”

Dr. Fermin Leguen has played a key role in Nevada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic this year as the acting chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District. But this isn’t Leguen’s first time confronting a major public health issue: In the 1980s, Leguen did a three-year stint with the World Health Organization in Ethiopia. Reporters Michelle Rindels and Luz Gray talked to Leguen for this story about his background and the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation office in Carson City on June 4, 2020.

July 8: “We all love someone who’s not working’: Crush of unemployment claims take toll on DETR staff”

It’s no secret that glitches and backlogs in Nevada’s swamped unemployment system have been a source of exasperation and often desperation for claimants. We’ve featured many of their heartbreaking stories over the past year and tracked the progress of the situation. But what does it feel like to be on the other end of the phone at DETR? A claims adjudicator shared with reporter Michelle Rindels the mental and emotional toll of holding Nevadans’ livelihoods in her hands.

Trucks at mine site.
A truck loads rock into a hauler at a Northern Nevada mine in April 2017. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

July 16: “How is mining taxed in Nevada?”

Long before Nevada was even a state, the mining industry was a force to be reckoned with. It was so key, that the framers of the state’s constitution went so far as to enshrine a favorable taxation structure for the industry in the Nevada Constitution. In this story and accompanying video, videographer Joey Lovato and reporter Michelle Rindels took a deep dive into how Nevada taxes mining and how progressive groups would like to see that tax structure changed.

Members of the Assembly applaud the end of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Aug. 6: “Elections, mining taxes, and civil liability; everything that’s passed in the Legislature’s special session”

In a six-day special session in August, lawmakers enshrined an expansion of mail-in voting, expanded anti-lawsuit protections to businesses and laid the groundwork for a potential tax increase on mining companies. They also took steps to address issues facing the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation and implemented political reforms. In this story, reporters Riley Snyder, Michelle Rindels and Megan Messerly broke down all the legislation that was passed during the session.

Blanca Pena, senior pharmacist tech of control substances and state vaccines at University Medical Center, demonstrates the fingerprint scan to unlock a safe that contains controlled substances in the pharmacy on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Sept. 6: “With opioid-related overdoses on the rise, health care providers try preparing everyday Nevadans to respond to a crisis”

From January to May, Nevada saw 23 percent more opioid-related overdose deaths than in the same period in 2019. Intern Kristyn Leonard explored in this story what prevention organizations in Nevada did this year to try to stave off overdoses in the time of coronavirus.

A speed limit sign at Coyote Springs. (Daniel Rothberg/The Nevada Independent)

Sept. 15: “Below and Above Ground”

A housing developer and a powerful water authority clash in the desert. It’s all about where the water goes. Not long ago, Coyote Springs had backing from Las Vegas politicians. But in recent years, county officials have backed away from the project as water, science and politics collide, reporter Daniel Rothberg explored in this three-part series.

The marquee in front of the Pioneer Center for The Performing Arts in Downtown Reno on Saturday, May 9, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sept. 20: “Six months into pandemic, hospital workers recovery from ‘hopelessness’ of the COVID-19 surge this summer, set their sights on fall”

Hospital workers have had a front-row seat to the coronavirus pandemic this year. Some say their hospitals have handled the situation well, using their time during the spring to secure personal protective equipment and ramp up their testing capacity. Others feel that while their hospitals have taken steps in the right direction, they haven’t done enough. More than half a dozen health care workers shared with reporter Megan Messerly what life has been like inside Nevada’s hospitals this year.

Joshua Mike helps his son, 7-year-old Cameron, stay on track during distance learning on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Sept. 27: “Families navigate complicated schedules, student frustration amid remote learning”

First the school closure was for a few weeks starting in mid-March. Then it turned into the entire fourth quarter. And, as August rolled around, the Clark County School District decided to continue remote learning amid a new rise in COVID-19 cases. The Mike family allowed reporter Jackie Valley to observe the daily challenges of learning from home.

Goats from High Desert Graziers of Smith Valley, Nev. are used by NV Energy and the Nevada Division of Forestry to clear brush and minimize wildfire fuel in an extreme risk area on a hillside north of Highway 50 in the Clear Creek watershed near Carson City on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sept. 30: “To help with wildfire mitigation, the state looks to new tactic: 300 goats”

Big fire trucks, protective gear, hoses, chainsaws and heavy machinery — this is the stuff of normal firefighting endeavors. But goats? In this story, and accompanying video, reporter Riley Snyder and videographer Joey Lovato took a look at how the Nevada Division of Forestry and NV Energy set loose a herd of 300 goats this fall as a fire prevention measure.

A row of homes as seen in Henderson on Sept. 3, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Oct. 25: “How changing suburbs are defining the race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District”

For decades, the suburban voters in Congressional District 3 reliably voted to send Republicans to Washington, D.C. to represent them. Now, Republicans have struggled to win elections there, even when President Donald Trump carried the district in 2016. In this story, reporter Jacob Solis explored Nevada’s swingiest congressional district and whether the suburbs have given Democrats a new edge.

Photo of the interior of the Mustang Ranch
The World Famous Mustang Ranch outside Reno as seen on Aug. 22, 2019. (Andrea Laue/The Nevada Independent)

Oct. 26: “As Nevada’s legal brothels remain closed, sex workers think bias is at play”

Hundreds of legal sex workers in Nevada lost their major source of income when brothels shut down in March. While most other industries have been able to resume some level of operations, brothels remain shuttered. In this story, intern Kristyn Leonard talked to sex workers about how they’re faring amid the ongoing pandemic.

Diana Thomas, center, with Culinary Union Local 226 canvasses on behalf of the Biden-Harris Democratic presidential ticket in east Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nov. 1: “From East Las Vegas to Summerlin, a divided Nevada shows its stripes before Election Day”

In November, voters were presented two radically different pictures of what the country might look like over the next four years: One, focused on lower taxes and regulations for businesses, law and order and secure borders. Another, focused on expanding access to health care, climate change and criminal justice reform. But, for many in Nevada, the stakes felt even greater this year in light of the ongoing pandemic, reporter Megan Messerly found while shadowing Republican and Democratic operatives ahead of Election Day.

Dia de Los Muertos altars on display at the Boulevard Mall on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nov. 1: “Facing higher death tolls, Latinos dedicate this Día de los Muertos to the COVID-19 pandemic”

Latinos have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic — overrepresented in both infection and mortality rates across the country as a result of historical health disparities, more limited access to health care and high representation in the essential workforce. Using Día de los Muertos as a lens, reporter Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez explored the impact of COVID-19 in Nevada’s Latino community in this story. 

Community organizer, KaPreace Young on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 at the University of Nevada, Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Nov. 2.: “Black voters weigh in on candidates’ outreach, Black Lives Matter movement on eve of election”

Black voters have been a strong and consistent voting bloc for the Democratic Party. But those involved with mobilizing the Black community in Nevada say that that strong and consistent support has led to Democratic campaigns devoting the least amount of outreach to Black voters. Intern Savanna Strott spent time ahead of the November election talking to Black voters about the importance of voting and the failures and achievements of the Republican and Democratic campaigns.

A statue of former Gov. Richard Bryan on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno dons a surgical mask on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Nov. 10: “Amid coronavirus restrictions, some Nevada college students see diminishing returns on tuition and fees”

As much of the college experience turned mostly virtual amid the ongoing pandemic, students were promised that many staples of the higher education experience, including dorms, gyms, campus resources and even some in-person instruction, would still be a part of their academic experience this fall. But when UNR President Brian Sandoval announced the university was ending in-person instruction early, sending students home at the conclusion of the fall break, tensions bubbled up anew. Reporter Jacob Solis explored frustrations among college students over a system that has consistently delivered less while charging as much — or even more.

A street in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on July 5, 2015. (Michelle Rindels/The Nevada Independent)

Nov. 12: “American election — and surrounding drama — captures imaginations half a world away”

The twists and turns of America’s never-ending election season are not just the purview of Americans. The drama has captured the imaginations of millions who live a half a world away, Michelle Rindels and Joey Lovato found when reporting out this off the beaten path election story. Among them: Kirsten Verdel, who breaks down important developments for her many Twitter followers in Dutch, even down to individual court rulings and county results, undeterred by the inconvenience of a nine-hour time difference.

Enrique González, who was recently evicted from his home, poses for a photograph in a Las Vegas neighborhood on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Nov. 17: “Federal moratorium isn’t enough to prevent some evictions in Nevada”

When a statewide eviction moratorium lapsed in mid-October, Gov. Steve Sisolak said that a federal moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should help families stay in their homes. But, in this story, reporters Luz Gray and Michelle Rindels found that many evictions happened anyway, amid a difference in opinion between courts and tenant advocates about how broadly the federal moratorium should be applied.

View of Reno's Ward 1 on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Dec. 1: “Reno council race decided by 82 votes as ward becomes central to questions of preservation, development”

Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus won her re-election to represent Ward 1 on the Reno City Council by a thin, 82-vote margin. The ward encompasses diverse neighborhoods and identities, including both old and new Reno, historic neighborhoods and a modernizing business district, new residents and long-time residents. In this deep dive, intern Tabitha Muller explores the dynamics in play in the Ward 1 race and what it means for the future of Reno.

Nichole Dastmalchi, right, and John Smuda, field organizer for the Nevada Republican Party, canvasses for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in Desert Shores community in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Dec. 13: “Why Trump’s lawsuit seeking to overturn Nevada’s presidential race sputtered in court”

Almost all of the legal challenges in Nevada from President Donald Trump’s campaign failed in court this year, with the sole exception of a petition to keep certain in-person polling places in Las Vegas open for a few extra hours on Election Day. Reporter Riley Snyder took a look at the campaign’s eyebrow-raising accounts of voter fraud and why they ultimately failed to gain any ground in court through multiple lawsuits.

The historic West Las Vegas neighborhood is located north of downtown Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Dec. 20: “Decades of segregation and mistrust complicate efforts to rekindle vibrant history of Las Vegas' Historic Westside”

There are two efforts underway to revitalize the Historic Westside, one led by community organizers and the other by the city of Las Vegas. They’re running concurrently, sometimes aligning, sometimes colliding. Both groups are aiming to incorporate the neighborhood in their work, but a history of racism and tension between the city and the Historic Westside has made community members skeptical of the city's intentions and wary of their plans, intern Savanna Strott reports in this deep dive.

Reno council race decided by 82 votes as ward becomes central to questions of preservation, development

Adam Buehler, 25, moved to Reno’s Ward 1 in the summer of 2018 to take a job in Northern Nevada’s burgeoning tech industry. He chose his home based on its proximity to Midtown and its location within walking distance of The Eddy, a beer garden and outdoor space near the Riverwalk District.

“When I moved here, my personal goal was to be able to walk to The Eddy, so this fit,” the former Ohioan said with a laugh.

The ward encompasses diverse neighborhoods and identities — old and new Reno, historic neighborhoods and a modernizing business district, new residents like Buehler seeking unique recreational opportunities and long-time citizens hoping to maintain the character of a city they love. 

Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus poses for a photo near Ward 1's Riverside Walk (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The tight race in this diverse ward was decided in favor of the incumbent, Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, by just 82 votes — one that residents, scholars and policymakers say was defined by contrasts in leadership styles and differing perspectives on developers’ roles in local governance.

During the primary election campaigns, Buehler said he heard about Brekhus’ reputation as someone who was sometimes difficult to work with and cast his ballot for Britton Griffith, vice president of her family’s development firm, Reno Engineering Corporation, whose policies he said he appreciated.

After Griffith did not make it past the primary, though, Buehler said he started receiving an overwhelming number of mailings from both Brekhus and her challenger, real estate agent J.D. Drakulich, with an average of one to two a day during the height of the campaign.

Real estate agent J.D. Drakulich stands for a portrait near his home in Ward 1 (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

A majority of the mail pieces Buehler received came from Drakulich. Some were attack pieces with one containing a checklist documenting instances when Brekhus was combative during a meeting, made it difficult to get through an agenda item because she kept asking follow up questions, or increased tension on the council.

One mailing that stood out to Buehler was one about Drakulich’s stance on Reno’s homeless crisis. Buehler said the pamphlet was the reason he almost voted for Drakulich, but when he began looking into the candidate’s campaign funding, he noticed that Drakulich had received many campaign donations from real estate developers, some of which came from out of state.

Buehler said he saw a disconnect between a candidate claiming he was trying to reduce local homelessness and taking money from high-end real estate developers.

“I thought it was important for this, particularly because Reno's housing market is expanding incredibly quickly and there's obviously a lot of money to be made,” Buehler said. “Having a City Council member who's obviously going to benefit from high-end housing policies I don't think is a good situation for Reno to be in.”

Drakulich’s intention to keep working as a real estate agent while holding a City Council position was another reason Buehler decided to cast his ballot for Brekhus, even though he still had qualms about her.

“At the end of the day, their jobs are to get things done in the community so if they're being hard to work with, less is going to get done,” Buehler said. “And I think that is also not good for the community.”

Maintaining checks and balances

Buehler’s dilemma about who to vote for illustrates the nail-biting nature of a race that was only called after Washoe County commissioners canvassed the votes. It's an outcome supporters heralded as a victory for independence and accountability on a council they say often acts in concert with special interests, but one that critics bemoaned as maintaining a combative presence on the council that could hinder needed development and growth.

“I think that that [the Ward 1] race came down a great deal to differing perceptions of the level of power and influence being exerted by real estate developers and their associates over local politics and development,” said Alicia Barber, a historian and scholar whose work focuses on the cultural geography of Nevada and the American West.

Scenes from Ward 1's Riverside neighborhood and parks. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Barber pointed out that Ward 1 contains some of oldest, most historic neighborhoods in the city, both commercial and residential, making the ward center-stage in battles over space and how the city will or will not shift to accommodate new industries and residents.

Everyone who was watching the Ward 1 race knew it would be close, said Mike Kazmierski, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), an organization focused on attracting and retaining thriving businesses and quality jobs in the Reno-Sparks area.

Brekhus’ pointed inquiries and sometimes critical perspectives draw some public support but also tend to make it difficult for developers to get a project approved without very detailed work, he said.

“[Drakulich] is more of a, we need housing, the community needs housing … so we want to be as a community, working with our developers in a more positive way,” Kazmierski said. “[Brekhus] has been known to be the lone no vote on many, many of the votes that tend to occur, even after many hours, oftentimes of answering and getting her feedback and questions, which has caused the council to be less positive."  

Images of Idlewild park and community within Reno's Ward 1 boundary. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Drakulich said he ran because he believed he had a better feel for the pulse of the ward than Brekhus, and he hoped to help make Reno the type of town in which his seven-year-old son would eventually want to raise a family.

The 38-year-old real estate agent who has deep ties to the town and graduated from Reno High School ran his first campaign on a platform geared toward addressing homelessness, an issue he says he cares about after serving for four years as a board member of the Eddy House, a center providing assistance to homeless people, runaway foster kids and other at-risk youth ages 12-24 in Northern Nevada.

Drakulich included his family in his campaign, emphasized the importance of community interactions and said that Brekhus’ antagonism hurt her relationships with other council members and by extension, Ward 1 voters.

“I believe she wasn't collaborative enough. And that's not only with her fellow elected officials, but other people in the community,” he said. “Business owners in West Midtown were very clear: They felt like they didn't have a relationship with her or that they were being heard. And that comes, once again, to the collaboration and teamwork attitude.”

Scenes of Ward 1's weekly motels. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Though Barber said she has heard criticism from some local business owners that Brekhus is “negative for the sake of being negative,” she does not believe that is a fair characterization of the councilwoman.

Brekhus, an urban planner by trade, often advocates for maintaining checks and balances. When she asks tough questions or votes against a project, she is usually pointing to issues that need to be addressed on behalf of citizens, Barber said.

In a small town like Reno, having a dissenting opinion can be seen as a negative, especially when it comes from a strong-willed female leader, but over-simplifying and streamlining council processes can sometimes remove much-needed public and expert review, Barber said.

“I mean, the thing about [Brekhus] is that you’re never unclear about her justifications for voting for something,” Barber said. “I think she pretty much always explains why she’s voting a certain way.”

Photos of Ward 1 around Swope Middle School in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Brekhus’ interest in city planning and municipal government stemmed from her father’s work as a mayor and council member of Ross, her hometown in Marin County, California. 

Brekhus, 53, remembers tagging along with her father to visit various properties and being surrounded by discussions about variances and city codes, which prompted her to pursue a professional degree in city planning.

After graduate school, she worked for three cities. Then, starting in 2011, after she had watched  a slew of city council meetings in Reno, where she moved in 1998, she realized she wanted to use her knowledge in a different capacity.

“One day, it just clicked: ‘well, I know more about cities than these people who are City Council members,’” Brekhus said.

She was first elected in 2012 with the goal of restoring the city’s fiscal well-being and developing a master plan to guide Reno’s growth and investment.

Brekhus acknowledged that in her time on the council she has been a fiscal conservative and says when she’s approaching issues, she’s always looking to the longevity of the city and the needs of her ward.

“I'm not always right, and I don't get satisfaction from [dissenting],” Brekhus said. “But there's very few of those votes that I would take back.”

Outreach to voters

In a campaign season shaped by a global pandemic, Brekhus and Drakulich had to resort to alternative campaign outreach strategies in a ward where residents are used to being courted with door knocks and in-depth conversations.

Drakulich and Brekhus said they worried that the reliance upon flyers and pamphlets meant voters did not have the opportunity to ask questions or share thoughts.

Drakulich, who hails from a high-profile Reno family, mounted a well-funded campaign during a time when City Council members were facing criticism for their handling of the coronavirus and of race-related tensions as well as a host of other issues.

But incumbency has a staying power that can be difficult to overcome, especially if residents are unfamiliar with the challenger — and in this case, most could not speak with Drakulich in-person because of his adherence to COVID-19 restrictions.

Image of a couple walking along the Truckee River in Ward 1. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Brekhus, who has historically relied upon door-knocking and face-to-face contact to share information about her platform and hear from voters, said she began dropping campaign literature at different houses, but it was a poor replacement for in-person conversations.

“You could cover about five times as much territory, as many doors, in one outing, but you talked to fewer people,” Brekhus said. “You weren't having as many contacts but you were covering more doors, but I think at the end it wasn't as effective.”

Drakulich echoed a similar sentiment. He began knocking on doors last November and noted that while he visited almost 2,000 homes before COVID-19 restrictions shut down opportunities for in-person contact, the lack of in-person connection hurt his campaign.

“[Communicating with voters], you earn the right to actually represent these people because you've heard them, you've asked them. It’s not about them seeing me on social media, but it's about them being face to face with me, telling them what's important and listening,” Drakulich said.

On Election Day, both candidates visited voting sites in Reno, waving signs and chatting with constituents.

Scenes from Election Day at Reno High School, within Ward 1 on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

As for campaign funding, Kazmierski said nearly every candidate will receive funding support from developers, although that doesn't mean the candidate will enact every developer's whim.

“I don't know any that have not taken money from developers. I mean, you have to have funding to do your campaigning. Developers are part of that,” he said.

Heading into the race, Brekhus knew Drakulich would be difficult to beat, Adam Czajkowski, Brekhus’ campaign manager and a political consultant in Reno, said. If Drakulich had run in a different ward against a different opponent, the outcome would likely have been in his favor, Czajkowski posited.

However, Brekhus’ campaign-funding strategy including her commitment to seeking a majority of small donors and providing constituent services helped give her an edge, Czajkowski said.

“On many, many issues there was not a lot of daylight between [Brekhus] and [Drakulich],” he said. “But I think at the end of the day, developers versus neighborhood activists is probably the biggest dichotomy.”

An amalgamation of neighborhoods and opinions

One of the key factors in the race was the changing demographics of Washoe County, and by extension, Ward 1.

In a presentation in November, Brian Bonnenfant, a researcher at UNR’s Center for Regional Studies, noted that the county’s population grew about 2 percent from 2018 to 2019 and is projected to grow 2 percent in 2020, with most incoming migration coming from other parts of Nevada, as well as from Asia and California. The majority of those who recently moved from outside Washoe County fell between the ages of 20 and 34 years old, he said.

Kazmierski and others noted that within Ward 1, the age breakdown (and therefore concerns of residents) tended to be geographically linked by neighborhood.

The older Southwest and Newlands community in Ward 1, featuring larger, older and more expensive homes, contains a sizable bloc of voters who want to maintain Reno the way it was and who generally lean toward the anti-growth part of the political spectrum, Kazmierski said.

Scenes from the Older Southwest part of Ward 1 in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

In comparison, people living within the more newly developed portions of Midtown and some of the ward’s downtown areas are some of places where the technology-based workforce lives and are more excited about growth, he added.

Scenes from Midtown within Ward 1 in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Czajkowski said that even though City Council races are nonpartisan, many of the races fall along partisan lines — and the closer someone is to the Virginia Street corridor and I-80 in the western part of Ward 1, the more likely a voter will lean Democratic.

He added that the suburban and Caughlin Ranch area voters tend to lean more conservatively, but regardless of where they live, most voters in the ward do not tolerate “extremism” or “weirdness,” and are mainly focused on core services such as fire and police.

Scenes from Ward 1's Caughlin Ranch area in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

From his communications with voters and door knocking, Drakulich said that West Midtown generally features younger, more progressive voters, and the Southwest, with lots of character and old Reno flair, hosts more traditional Reno residents.

Scenes from areas of West Reno within Ward 1. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

In the newer parts of the Southwest, Drakulich said he met younger families wanting to be within certain school zones, many of whom were first-time homeowners with a sense of pride and ownership in the community.

New tech companies have not yet shaped the landscape of the city in the same way as the casino industry did, Barber said, emphasizing that understanding the historical fabric and demographic make-up of a ward or district is essential for candidates looking to understand the perspectives and needs of voters. 

A map showing local development from 1868-1928 and color coded by the year it was developed shows that some of Reno's most historic structures and neighborhoods are located in Ward 1, Barber said. The brown pentagon shape in the middle was the original 1868 plat map, and then it expanded outward, making preservation a key issue in the ward.
A map showing local development from 1868-1928 and color coded by development year shows that some of Reno's most historic structures and neighborhoods are located in Ward 1, Barber said. The brown pentagon shape in the middle was the original 1868 plat map, and then it expanded outward, making preservation a key issue in the ward. (Map courtesy of Alicia Barber)

In a question about historic preservation posed during a This is Reno Ward 1 candidate forum, Barber said that the two candidates’ responses may have shaped how voters cast a ballot — especially voters living within the ward’s more historic neighborhoods.

Whereas Brekhus discussed the complexities of balancing preservation with development and recognizing the role historic structures play in revealing community character and how they can be used to support independent business along with other factors, Drakulich pivoted the discussion to focus on the need for additional housing and streamlining the process for new developments, Barber said.

“I would imagine that [Brekhus’] support for historic preservation as one component of responsible city development likely rings true for many who live in her ward,” Barber said. 

A ‘political unicorn’

As Brekhus heads into her last term as a city councilwoman, she said she’s well aware of some of the characterizations of her and how she’s voted, but looking back, she would not change many of her dissenting votes.

“I don't take it personally. I don't mean it personally … I'm not doing, and I will not do, relationship and transactional politics. I just won't,” she said. “It has to be a very collective decision-making basis on what's in my heart, fiscally best for the city, equitably best for our population and best long term. “

Brekhus’ campaign manager characterized Brekhus as a “political unicorn” who doesn’t vote for a specific team or party. He said that Brekhus appealed to voters who cast a ballot for Devon Reese in the at-large race and those who chose his opponent, Eddie Lorton — two candidates with different political leanings and opposing views of how a city should be governed

There were Joe Biden supporters who voted for Drakulich and vice versa, and though many like to try to place Brekhus in a box, that’s just not possible, Czajkowski said. 

“[Brekhus] is going to disagree with even her most staunch supporters on at least two or three issues,” Czajkowski said.

He added that Brekhus’ planning background drives her fiscal conservatism but that she also supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in his presidential bid.

“There's no Democratic way or Republican way to fill a pothole,” Czajkowski said. “I think a lot of people want that clarity that says, ‘Hey look you're in my tribe,’ and [Brekhus] won’t give people that.”

Builders work on a roof in a home within Ward 1. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

As for Drakulich, he said he’s still mulling the outcome of the race, but he’s committed to continuing to contribute to Reno through volunteer work with the youth homeless outreach program at Eddy House and hopefully joining some of the council’s citizen groups and advisory boards.

He said he’s still receiving calls from residents he connected with during the campaign process and wants to serve the ward in whatever capacity he can.

“I won't be sitting on the sidelines for the next four years,” Drakulich said. 

Biden slightly expands lead over Trump as Nevada releases first results in 24 hours

Joe Biden slightly expanded his narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Nevada on Thursday, though the number of outstanding ballots in urban Clark County suggests that the race in the Silver State is still the former vice president’s to lose.

Biden now leads in Nevada by a little less than a percentage point, or 11,438 votes, slightly wider than the slim, 0.6 percentage point margin he had held on Wednesday. The roughly 30,000 votes reported Thursday, however, did not provide the massive boost that Democrats were hoping for as tens of thousands of mail ballots in Clark County, which have been splitting 2-1 for Biden over Trump, remained uncounted.

In total, Clark County only reported back the results of about 14,000 mail-in ballots, just a sliver compared to the roughly 175,000 ballots that remain to be tallied countywide. Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria, during a news conference on Thursday, said that the results of 51,000 ballots being counted on Thursday would be reported on Friday.

In the rest of the state, an additional 15,000 ballots remain to be counted, though mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day are expected to still roll in over the next few days and could grow that total.

The Biden campaign had been hoping to declare victory in Nevada on Thursday, which would, according to some news outlets, secure the final six votes needed by the former vice president to notch the presidency. Other news outlets project Biden at only 253 of the 270 needed electoral votes, projecting the race in Arizona, with its 11 electoral votes, too close to call.

“We don’t really care which state takes us over the top, we just want to keep going and make sure that counts get done, and as I said earlier the counting is underway,” Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign manager, said in a press conference on Thursday. “We know that it’s going to take a little bit of time and we’re going to support that, and we’re just going to stay calm and be patient.”

Counting, meanwhile, in other states continued Thursday morning, including in Georgia where Trump leads though Biden has been gaining ground. If both Arizona and Georgia are definitely called for Biden on Thursday, Nevada’s six electoral votes could be a moot point by Friday.

As of late Thursday morning, state election officials said that no additional results were expected to be reported until their next update at 9 a.m. on Friday morning. However, state and local election officials could always change their mind, as they seemed to during a day of back-and-forth, will-they-or-won’t-they report on Wednesday.

The new results, however, revealed just how difficult the path to a Trump victory in Nevada remains. Few votes remain to be counted in rural Nevada, where mail-in ballots have been breaking 2-1 for the president over Biden. 

Of the 3,300 new votes reported from rural Nevada on Thursday, 2,033 of them were for the president. Those numbers, however, pale in comparison to the block of votes remaining to be counted in Clark County. And in Washoe County, historically Nevada’s swing county, Biden had the net gain in votes, though just 333 of them, on Thursday.

In anticipation of a Biden victory in Nevada, the Trump campaign laid the groundwork for yet another lawsuit in Nevada on Thursday morning, as they have in other battleground states. The Trump campaign and the Nevada Republican Party plan to file a lawsuit Thursday evening alleging that tens of thousands of people in the state cast ballots despite no longer living here, though they offered no evidence of such during a Thursday morning press conference announcing the suit.

“It is unacceptable in this country to have illegal votes counted and that is what’s happening in the state of Nevada,” Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell, a Trump campaign official, said. “We’ve asked Clark County for answers. They have no answers. They continue to count illegal votes. That is unacceptable and it is giving legal people a sense that the system is corrupt.”

All the while, election officials statewide continued the important, but slow, work on Thursday of accurately verifying and counting mail-in ballots while the nation trains its eye on Nevada, eager for results that will bring them some clarity in the outcome of the presidential race. Ballot counting in Clark County is a multi-step process that involves a signature-counting machine, manual checks, counting and tabulation.

“Our goal here in Clark County is not to count fast,” Gloria said. “We want to make sure that we’re being accurate. The results in the state of Nevada, obviously, are going to be very important to the entire country and Nevada is our number one goal.”

Gloria added that he thought the county will count the majority of its mail ballots by Saturday or Sunday, though it can continue to receive mail ballots postmarked by Election Day through Tuesday. Once all mail ballots are counted, the county can start processing about 60,000 provisional ballots, including those cast by people who registered to vote on Election Day, which included about an even number of Republicans and Democrats.

Down ballot, incumbent Democrats stretched their leads in the races for the state’s two competitive congressional districts, boosted largely by a small tranche of Democratic-leaning ballots from Clark County.

In District 3, Rep. Susie Lee widened her lead over Republican challenger Dan Rodimer to 1.9 percentage points, or 6,801 votes — a slight increase over her initial lead of 1.5 points and roughly doubling of her lead in raw votes from yesterday of 3,233 votes. 

Lee’s lead is so far clearly larger than the narrow Democratic victory by then-newcomer Jacky Rosen in 2016, who won District 3 by 1.3 points, or just 3,900 votes. Still, tens of thousands of outstanding ballots in Clark County will likely shift Lee’s margin in the coming days. 

Incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford also lengthened his lead Thursday on the back of several thousand votes from Clark County, ending the day’s count with a 2.7 percent lead, or 7,680 votes, over Republican challenger Jim Marchant. 

Winning Clark County’s votes by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Horsford offset a small number of votes also reported Thursday from several of the state’s less populous central counties. 

The updated totals in Clark County also narrowed the gaps but did not change results in any of the major legislative races on the ballot. Democrats still narrowly trail in two swing state Senate districts; Republican Carrie Buck leads Democrat Kristee Watson by 742 votes in Senate District 5, and Republican April Becker holds a 350-vote lead over incumbent Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, a Democrat.

The updated numbers on Thursday narrowed the gap in both state Senate districts by about 200 votes.

In the Assembly, Republicans continued to hold narrow leads in three districts held by Democrats: Assembly District 4, 31 and 37. Flipping just two of those seats would end the current supermajority Democrats have in the state Assembly.

Updated totals in Washoe County narrowed a tight race between Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus and real estate agent J.D. Drakulich. Brekhus held a narrow 104-vote lead after Election Day. On Wednesday, that razor-thin lead shrunk to 38 votes. 

Votes from Clark County also slightly narrowed the margin on Question 1 — a ballot measure that, if passed, would remove the Board of Regents from the Nevada Constitution — to 2.8 points. As of Thursday, “no” led “yes” by a margin of 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent, or 31,037 votes. 

Much of the overall “yes” vote has so far been driven by results in Clark, which favors the question 55.5 to 45.5 percent. Should remaining absentee and provisional ballots in the state’s most populous county continue to favor Question 1 — as they did Thursday — the current margin could narrow considerably through the weekend, though by what degree remains unclear.

Jackie Valley contributed to this report.

Clark County Commission seat and Reno Council seat too close to call; other local races have clearer outcomes

Though candidates for the presidential race and several major state races are neck and neck as of Wednesday, most local candidates have been able to relish a clear victory or hang their head in a loss.  

Five candidates for commission races in Clark and Washoe counties have emerged victorious based on preliminary results, including Washoe County Commission candidate Alexis Hill, a Democrat who shifted a historically Republican seat on the board. In Reno, Sparks and Carson City, local races heavily favored incumbents.

But not all local races have been decided.

In Clark County, Democrat Ross Miller and Republican Stavros Anthony are locked in a tight race for the District C seat on the state’s most powerful local board, with Anthony, a Las Vegas city councilman, retaining only a slight lead over Miller, the former secretary of state. The Reno City Council Ward 1 race has incumbent Jenny Brekhus and real estate agent J.D. Drakulich separated by about 100 votes with no clear winner.

Here's a look at the local races across the Silver State.

Clark County Commission

William McCurdy II, chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party, handily defeated three nonpartisan opponents in Democrat-dominated District D. McCurdy has been backed financially by multiple commission incumbents during his run, including Michael Naft, who also came out on top in his election.

Naft, the highest-funded candidate for the commission this year, had more than 52 percent of the vote in District A on Wednesday morning, putting him ahead of Republican opponent Michael Thomas. A second incumbent also held a seat Tuesday, with commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick defeating opponents Kevin Williams and Warren Ross Markowitz in District B.

The race is still too close to call, though, in highly competitive District C, where former Secretary of State Ross Miller and Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony have gone head to head. The two candidates have been spending heavily to take control of the district where term-limited Commissioner Larry Brown is leaving an open seat.

Anthony currently holds a 2,000 vote lead over Miller with nearly 130,000 votes counted.

Washoe County Commission

Republican two-term incumbent Marsha Berkbigler and Democratic challenger Alexis Hill, the former arts, culture and events manager for the City of Reno, were on similar financial footing heading into the election, but Hill captured 55 percent of the votes as of Wednesday morning in an upset that shifts the board’s partisan makeup to three Republicans and two Democrats.

Hill told The Nevada Independent that she was excited about the initial results but noted that final results will not be available until all the votes are counted.

“I want to be respectful of this voting process and the voters who cast their ballots. I’m cautiously optimistic because vote counts are still coming in, but excited to get to work for this county,” Hill said. “My message to the voters, I think, resonated with the voters, which was to bring this region together to solve its most pressing issues.”

In Washoe County’s District 4 Commission race, Republican incumbent Vaughn Hartung won a decisive victory over Democrat Marie Baker, carrying about 58 percent of the vote. The District 4 commissioner represents Sparks, Spanish Springs and Wadsworth.

“I’d just like to thank my supporters. I’ve been truly blessed by the community and I look forward to serving this community over the next four years,” Hartung said. “We’ve made great strides and there’s still more to do — onwards and upwards.”

Reno City Council Races

Devon Reese, the city’s newest councilman, prevailed against businessman and perennial candidate Eddie Lorton in the city’s most vitriolic and highest spending race — the contest for the at-large position on the Reno City Council that represents the entire city.

Reese holds 55 percent of the votes as of Wednesday morning.

Two-term incumbent Oscar Delgado defeated librarian Rudy Leon, holding a 3,499-voter lead over the challenger who hoped to mobilize voters through a grassroots-style campaign.

Delgado outstripped Leon in both fundraising and spending during the run-up to the election and will be representing Ward 3 for the next four years.

"I always appreciate campaign season and the opportunity to discuss my record with the residents of Ward 3,” Delgado said via text message. “This campaign season presented some challenges because of COVID, but I’m honored that at the end of the day the voters chose me to represent them for four more years on the Council. I’m excited to get back to work for the people of Reno."

Incumbent Neoma Jardon bested challenger Darla Fink for the Ward 5 seat on the Reno City Council with 54 percent of the vote. The two-term councilwoman will serve her third and final term focused on prioritizing housing, homelessness and public safety.

The race is still too close to call in the hotly contested Reno City Council Ward 1 race where incumbent Jenny Brekhus was only leading real estate agent J.D. Drakulich by 104 votes as of Wednesday morning.

Sparks City Council

Both well-funded incumbents in the race for Sparks City Council maintained their seats over challengers that tried to paint them as disconnected to their respective wards.

Ward 1 Incumbent Donald Abbott defeated Wendy Stolyarov, a political activist and the owner of a public relations company that serves labor union clients, by just over 650 votes as of Wednesday to secure his second term. Abbott and Stolyarov both tried to establish themselves as the on-the-ground candidate best connected to the community. Abbott and Stolyarov were active fundraisers and spenders during the cycle, but Abbott dominated throughout in cash on hand.

Abbott, who was the youngest member to ever serve on the council when he won the seat at 26, attributed his win to his campaign volunteers, investment in social media advertising and accessibility to voters. 

"I know my ward, and I would even argue my whole city like the back of my hand … I try to be accessible to people and I think that shows," Abbott said. "There's a lot of cool stuff we got done in the last four [years], and I'm excited for another four and to see all the good work we can get done and help out the people of Sparks."

After being appointed to the Ward 3 seat in 2018, Paul Anderson, an account executive with Pilot Thomas Logistics, won his first election over University of Nevada, Reno staff member Quentin Smith with 57 percent of the vote. Though Smith made ground in fundraising as Election Day neared, Anderson held on to his large advantage in cash on hand throughout the race.

Anderson said he is excited to continue his work on the council. He said his first priority during his four-year term will be making sure the city goes in the "right direction" amid the fallout from the pandemic.

"This is gonna be a tough few years ahead of us because I truly believe the effects of COVID are going to be with us for a while," he said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. "One of my biggest concerns is that we're looking at making decisions to run our community well with limited funds. The budget shortfalls are going to continue for time to come."

Carson City Board of Supervisors

After unsuccessfully running for the Ward 2 Supervisor seat in 2012 and 2016, the third time was the charm for Maurice "Mo" White. He captured 58 percent of the vote as of Wednesday, defeating longtime Carson City School Board Trustee Stacie Wilke-McCulloch, who also ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2012. 

White greatly out-raised and out-spent Wilke-McCulloch and campaigned as an outsider candidate who, as a retired diesel mechanic, would offer a different perspective than Wilke-McCulloch and existing supervisors who largely have administrative backgrounds.

"This is something I've been working on for a very long time and it's gratifying and humbling that the people of Carson City have chosen me," White said in an interview. "[The voters] recognize the shift that needs to be made on the Board of Supervisors. My experience and my background is going to add a substantially more diverse approach to how the board of supervisors governs Carson City."

For up-to-date elections results, head over to The Nevada Independent’s 2020 Election Results page. 

Biden narrowly leads Trump, but major Nevada races too close to call after Election Day

Joe Biden maintains the slimmest of leads in Nevada over President Donald Trump, while the other major congressional, statewide and local races significantly narrowed early Wednesday morning.

Biden and Democratic congressional candidates running in the state’s two competitive House districts — Susie Lee and Steven Horsford — maintain small leads over their Republican opponents but the races remain too close to call, particularly after a late batch of results from Clark County helped Republicans candidates there catch up to their Democrat opponents.

Down the ballot, it appears unlikely that Democrats will have supermajorities in either chamber of the Legislature next year, while a well-funded ballot question to take the Board of Regents out of the state Constitution appears in danger amid strong rural opposition.

More than 1.2 million Nevadans cast a ballot in the general election, although it’s unclear what the total turnout will be as last-minute ballots mailed in or dropped off have not yet been tallied.

Here’s a look at the status of major races on the 2020 ballot after initial results on Election Night:

Presidential:

The presidential race in Nevada remained too close to call Wednesday morning with former Vice President Joe Biden leading over President Donald Trump by a narrow 0.6 percentage points, or 7,647 votes. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 2.4 percentage points in the Silver State four years ago.

The presidential election itself also remained up in the air as of early Wednesday morning, with key races in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Georgia still yet to be decided.

Congressional: 

In a pair of the state’s most competitive congressional races, preliminary vote tallies favored incumbent Democrats — though by narrow margins.

In the hotly contested race for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in suburban Clark County, incumbent Democrat Susie Lee led Republican challenger Dan Rodimer by 1.5 percentage points, or 3,233 votes.

And in neighboring District 4, incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford led his Republican challenger, former one-term Assemblyman Jim Marchant, by 2.4 points, or a margin of 6,697 votes.

Meanwhile, incumbents in Nevada’s remaining two congressional districts sailed to victory after early returns, with Democratic Rep. Dina Titus securing Las Vegas’ District 1 by a 26.6 point margin, and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei winning Northern Nevada’s District 2 by a 15.8 margin as of early Wednesday morning.

Legislature:

Democratic dreams of holding super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate appeared on thin ice after initial results were posted late Tuesday, with no clear decision yet in many of the swing districts that will determine super-majority control.

Two Las Vegas-area state Senate districts remained too close to call early Wednesday, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Democratic candidate Kristee Watson trailing their Republican opponents — April Becker and Carrie Buck, respectively. In Reno, incumbent Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert posted a notable lead over her Democratic opponent, Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, in a seat necessary for Democrats to take to capture a two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

In the Assembly, Democrats appeared to be in danger of losing three seats — two in Southern Nevada, Districts 4 and 37, and one in Northern Nevada, District 31 — while leading narrowly in a fourth competitive seat in Assembly District 29. Republicans are likely to keep control of the fifth competitive seat, Assembly District 2, where Republican Heidi Kasama is leading by a sizable margin over Democrat Radhika Kunnel.

Democrats can only afford to lose one of the four competitive seats they currently hold in the Assembly in order to retain their supermajority.

Other less competitive races that remained too close to call early Wednesday morning include Assembly Districts 21, 35 and 41.

Candidates who have won their races include:

  • Dina Neal (D) in SD4
  • Dallas Harris (D) in SD11
  • Pete Goicoechea (R) in SD19
  • Brittney Miller (D) in AD5
  • Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D) in AD6
  • Cameron "C.H." Miller (D) in AD7
  • Jason Frierson (D) in AD8
  • Steve Yeager (D) in AD9
  • Bea Duran (D) in AD11
  • Susie Martinez (D) in AD12
  • Maggie Carlton (D) in AD14
  • Howard Watts (D) in AD15
  • Cecilia Gonzalez (D) in AD16
  • Clara Thomas (D) in AD17
  • Venicia Considine (D) in AD18
  • Glen Leavitt (R) in AD23
  • Lisa Krasner (R) in AD26
  • Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D) in AD27
  • Edgar Flores (D) in AD28
  • Natha Anderson (D) in AD30
  • Alexis Hansen (R) in AD32
  • Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod (D) in AD34
  • Jim Wheeler (R) in AD39
  • PK O’Neill (R) in AD40
  • Alexander Assefa (D) in AD42

The 11 Assembly and three Senate candidates who were the only person running in their districts are automatically assumed to have won their races.

Local Government: 

Three Democrats emerged victorious in Clark County Commission races, but one contest was too close to call after initial results.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, a Democrat, retained his District A seat, snagging 52 percent of the votes in initial returns. His opponent, Republican Michael Thomas, captured 48 percent. 

Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, also coasted to re-election, with 53 percent of early returns in the District B race. Her challenger, Republican Kevin Williams, garnered 44 percent of early returns. 

Democrat William McCurdy, meanwhile, handily won the District D race, replacing term-limited Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. McCurdy captured 77 percent of the early returns, while his opponent, David Washington, who’s not affiliated with a political party, only earned 23 percent. 

The District C race for Clark County Commission was neck-and-neck based on early returns. Republican Stavros Anthony received 50.8 percent of early returns, while Democrat Ross Miller grabbed 49.2 percent. The winner in this race will replace term-limited Commissioner Larry Brown.

Up north, Republican incumbent Vaughn Hartung won the District 4 race for the Washoe County Commission. Hartung grabbed 58 percent of the early returns, while his competitor, Marie Baker, snagged 42 percent. 

In the other Washoe County Commission race — for District 1 — Democrat Alexis Hill defeated Republican incumbent Marsha Berkbigler in an election upset. Hill emerged with 55 percent of the early returns, while Berkbigler received 45 percent.

Three Reno City Council members were re-elected to the board, but one race remains too close to call. Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado won the Ward 3 race, capturing about 63 percent of the early returns. His opponent, Rudy Leon, won about 37 percent of the vote. 

Councilwoman Neoma Jardon was re-elected to represent Ward 5, winning about 54 percent of the early returns, while her opponent, Darla Fink, received about 46 percent of the vote. 

Councilman Devon Reese defeated his opponent, Eddie Lorton, to continue serving in the council’s at-large seat. Reese snagged roughly 55 percent of the early returns, while Lorton received about 45 percent.

But the Ward 1 race remains close. Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus retained a slight 104-vote lead in a closely-watched race against real estate agent J.D. Drakulich. 

Supreme Court

District Court Judge Doug Herndon defeated Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo in a race for an open Nevada Supreme Court seat, capturing about 47 percent of the early returns. Fumo received about 36 percent of the vote. “None of these Candidates” made up about 18 percent of the early returns.

Herndon was running to replace Associate Chief Justice Mark Gibbons, who announced last year that he would not run for re-election. 

Fumo, who has practiced law since 1996 and served as an adjunct professor at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, won the support of progressives. Herndon, a former deputy district attorney who has sat on the bench since 2005, received support from a PAC primarily funded by Sheldon Adelson.

Ballot Questions

The campaign for Question 1, a measure that would remove the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education from the Nevada Constitution, remained too close to call after initial returns.

However, all four other ballot measures have prevailed. They include:

  • Question 2, which amends the Nevada Constitution to permit same-sex marriage
  • Question 3, which restructures the Board of Pardons
  • Question 4, which enshrines a voter’s bill of rights in the Nevada Constitution
  • Question 6, which raises the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards calling for greater use of renewable energy

Election Preview: Librarian Rudy Leon seeking to oust incumbent Oscar Delgado in Reno Council’s Ward 3 seat

As Election Day approaches, candidates in four nonpartisan Reno City Council races are squaring off in an election that will shape how the city navigates the devastation the pandemic has brought on local revenue, a housing crunch spurred by a burgeoning population, and calls for racial justice reform amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

Well-established incumbents and challengers for three ward positions and one at-large position are reaching out to residents by every means possible to earn votes ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. Though many of the campaigns are separated by large funding gaps favoring the incumbents, challengers are hoping to sway voters with bold policies and fresh perspectives.

In three of the races, incumbents are backed by significant donations from developers. Opponents question the conflict of interest the donations might present given that the council decides the fate of various developers’ projects, but incumbents remain steadfast in their position that they serve the citizens of Reno, not other interests.

Three of the seven council seats, including the mayor who votes on the council but does not represent a specific geographic district, are not up for re-election in the 2020 cycle. Council seats are nonpartisan and council members receive salaries of about $80,000 along with benefits each year.

The Nevada Independent is releasing Reno City Council election previews this week giving an overview of the two candidates, their campaign funding standings along with each candidate’s platform and stances.

The previews released on Thursday covered the Ward 1 race between real estate agent J.D. Drakulich and incumbent Jenny Brekhus and the at-large race where perennial candidate Eddie Lorton is challenging the council’s newest member, Devon Reese. 

The Friday preview focused on the Ward 5 race between incumbent Neoma Jardon and challenger Darla Fink.

***

In the Ward 3 council race, incumbent Oscar Delgado far outstrips Rudy Leon in fundraising. His challenger, however, criticizes the two-term incumbent for his lack of presence in or engagement with the community and says that campaign funds are just a piece of the puzzle.

Rudy Leon, candidate for Ward 3

“I don’t think that my opponent shows up. And I think that the people of Ward 3 deserve someone who will show up,” Leon said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “At meetings when he is present, he rarely contributes… he has some really key positions on public health and on the homeless advisory board, but you never see him bringing any of that back to city council and contributing as a subject matter expert. I just don't think he does the job. And I think we deserve someone who will do the job.”

Delgado pushed back against Leon’s critiques, calling them “bizarre,” and explaining that residents of the ward have seen him address pedestrian safety hazards, policing concerns and a myriad of other issues in the city.

Oscar Delgado, councilman for Ward 3

“I'm not the guy who is looking to hog the microphone and shout at political rallies, which is apparently how my opponent judges engagement,” Delgado wrote in an email to The Nevada Independent, “But I have shown that I'm willing to knock on the doors of my constituents and speak with them in their living rooms about their concerns.”

Leon, a librarian by trade who now works as a freelance editor and also creates indexes for textbooks and other documents, moved to Reno in 2012. She decided to run for the position after serving on various community councils and is banking on voters recognizing that her grassroots campaign is focused on the community rather than other interests.

Leon explained that she grew up in Chicago, has lived in seven states and chose to live in Reno because she fell in love with the city and community. She hopes to use her research, analytical skills and life experience to improve the city.

“When I say that I chose to live in Reno, that’s meaningful to me,” Leon said. “I was just listening to an interview with my opponent and his understanding of renters is deeply connected with extreme poverty and not having better options. I’m a renter by choice. I think that’s a perspective that’s deeply missing from our City Council as well.”

Leon’s campaign is centered around housing and the economy, specifically affordable and attainable workforce housing and increasing better-paying jobs while diversifying the economy. She also made police reform a central part of her campaign literature.

Leon advocates for reform that involves integrating social workers into the response process, reducing armed emergency response, and recruiting and training staff that reflect the diversity of the community. She added that de-escalation and improved sexual assault training are essential parts of police reform.

She said that in her neighborhood, residents do not trust the police and referenced the shooting of Miciah Lee by a Sparks police officer in early January 2020 as one example showcasing a need for police reform.

“We have to be innovative in and of ourselves. We have to look at what we need and what our budgets are and think really hard about what the police are not doing. I’m not saying that our police are horrible thugs shooting people in the back,” Leon said. “I would like to break it apart and rebuild it to meet our needs because our needs are not being met.”

Delgado, who holds dual master’s degrees in urban planning and social work from the University of Michigan, grew up a few blocks from the boundary of Ward 3 and said he is running to continue to represent residents he has served for nearly eight years.

“I care deeply about the hardworking people who live in this community, and I want to make sure that my constituents feel safe in their homes; that they have access to a strong local economy; and that they know there's someone on the Council looking out for their interests,” Delgado wrote.

The candidate highlighted his work on the council to lead regional efforts on police reform, pay down millions of dollars of city debt and look out for local businesses in the community, but said that the top three issues he is focusing on for the future are the city’s response to COVID-19, affordable housing and public health.

“Our service industry has been hit incredibly hard the past six months, and we need to do all we can to make sure it gets back on its feet. The next most important issue is affordable housing. We need to continue to do all we can to increase housing supply and look for opportunities to increase affordable housing in and around Reno,” Delgado wrote. “We need to start considering public health issues in our planning and development decisions.”

He argues that what sets him apart from Leon is his track record, experience and deep roots in the community.

“I've represented Ward 3 on the Council for the past 8 years. I understand how to make things happen on the Council to benefit my constituents, and it's clear from some of the things my opponent has said that she's not quite there yet,” Delgado wrote. “I'm battle tested. I've had to make difficult decisions on the Council, and I've shown that my priority is doing what's best for all my constituents and not just the select few who sit on the political extreme and have the time and resources to show up at a Council meeting.”

As far as the recent political unrest and criticism of police departments, Delgado said that for the most part, he believes the Reno Police Department does a good job, and he is not in favor of defunding the police or reducing police staffing.

Still, there is room for improvement, Delgado said, explaining that that was one reason why he pushed for the Reno Police Department to implement recommendations from a Guinn Center Report. He added that there are common sense reforms that he would like to see, including improved diversity in the police department, bad police officers dealt with appropriately and more community involvement in how the police department is run.

Though Leon remains hopeful, she is facing an uphill climb as she only received $250 in donations during the second quarter — a paltry amount compared to the $55,900 Delgado raised.

During the second quarter Delgado’s largest donations came from the Newport Pacific Land Company LLC and Lyon Management Group, which each gave $10,000 to the candidate. Newport Pacific Land Company LLC was the developer behind the controversial Daybreak project and also donated to Councilwoman Neoma Jardon.

The developer of the Daybreak project donated to his campaign nearly nine months after he voted to approve the amended Daybreak project, Delgado said, explaining that no contribution has ever influenced any vote he has made. He had initially voted against the Daybreak project because he had concerns about density, traffic and potential flooding. After the developer addressed the issues, he voted to approve the amended project.

“Unlike my opponent, I refuse to speak ad nauseum about the need for additional housing, but then vote against a project that will increase housing supply in a responsible manner,” Delgado said. “I made a commitment to assist my constituents in a meaningful way, and I believe the Daybreak project will do so. Others may disagree, but I voted my conscience, and I stand by my vote.”

The next biggest donations Delgado received were $5,000 contributions from Reno Land Development Company LLC and the Associated General Contractors. Contributions to Leon’s campaign were all $100 or less, so donors were not listed on her campaign finance report for the second quarter.

Leon spent roughly $194 and had $318 in remaining cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. In contrast, Delgado spent about $6,100, the bulk of which went toward consultants and advertising. He had about $130,400 left in his campaign account.

Ward 3 reaches over the northeast, central and southeast Reno, including neighborhoods east of UNR and Wells Avenue, Mira Loma and southern parts of Damonte Ranch.

Election Preview: Incumbent Neoma Jardon and challenger Darla Fink face off for Reno City Council Ward 5 position

As Election Day approaches, candidates in four nonpartisan Reno City Council races are squaring off in an election that will shape how the city navigates the devastation the pandemic has brought on local revenue, a housing crunch spurred by a burgeoning population, and calls for racial justice reform amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

Well-established incumbents and challengers for three ward positions and one at-large position are reaching out to residents by every means possible to earn votes ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. Though many of the campaigns are separated by large funding gaps favoring the incumbents, challengers are hoping to sway voters with bold policies and fresh perspectives.

In three of the races, incumbents are backed by significant donations from developers. Opponents question the conflict of interest the donations might present given that the council decides the fate of various developers’ projects, but incumbents remain steadfast in their position that they serve the citizens of Reno, not other interests.

Three of the seven council seats, including the mayor who votes on the council but does not represent a specific geographic district, are not up for re-election in the 2020 cycle. Council seats are nonpartisan and council members receive salaries of about $80,000 along with benefits each year.

The Nevada Independent is releasing Reno City Council election previews this week giving an overview of the two candidates, their campaign funding standings along with each candidate’s platform and stances. The previews released on Thursday covered the Ward 1 race between real estate agent J.D. Drakulich and incumbent Jenny Brekhus and the at-large race where perennial candidate Eddie Lorton is challenging the council’s newest member, Devon Reese.

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Two-term incumbent Neoma Jardon received the most votes in the June primary, but her opposition is calling voters and using social media platforms to unseat the councilwoman.

Ward 5 encompasses an area of Northwest Reno that includes the Old Northwest, UNR, a variety of residential neighborhoods and parts of downtown.

Darla Fink, a retired executive for Sierra Nevada Job Corps with a master’s degree in public administration, was born and raised in Reno and said she decided to run after watching what was happening on the national political stage.

“I don’t like the way things are going and I can’t be on the sidelines. I have to do my part,” Fink said. “I have the education and experience. I need to get in here and see what I can do to be part of the solution, because if you’re not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem.”

Fink discussed her dissatisfaction with some of the new construction along hillsides in the northern part of the city and also with Jardon’s recent support of moving homeless people from the Reno Events Center to a temporary shelter on East Fourth Street. She said the main focus of her campaign has been housing security, budget stabilization and addressing homelessness.

Fink has an online presence and has been hosting virtual meetings via Facebook Live, as well as reaching out to voters through mailers and phone calls. She said she has not been putting out signs because she does not want to clutter the landscape or be part of the massive amount of spending on campaigns when the money could go toward better ventures.

Jardon, who grew up on a small ranch in Reno, spent 20 years in business management and has investment and rental earnings, outpaces Fink in fundraising and endorsements. She raised more than $20,000 this quarter.

Housing, homelessness and public safety are some of Jardon’s top priorities. When she first ran for office she said she wanted to bring her business experience to the government process and develop collaborative and creative approaches to council. Now, she is hoping to continue her work in a third and final term.

“There's just so much for our community that still needs to be accomplished,” Jardon said. “Whether it be improving the issues surrounding emergency sheltering for our homeless or infrastructure projects, there is a tremendous amount still to do and I’m running to continue to do that work, to expand that work and keep serving the people of this great community.”

Similar to Fink, Jardon has been getting creative in adapting her campaign to the pandemic, dropping off hand sanitizer to voters, sending out mailers, setting up Zoom meetings and using social media.

Both candidates said they appreciated the work of the police department and did not want to defund officers, especially given that the department is understaffed, but did want to make sure the community’s needs are being met.

Fink noted that she would like to set up community-wide conversations between police and people in various neighborhoods to identify and meet the needs of certain communities.

“The people I’ve talked to are, generally speaking, not in favor of [defunding the police] in terms of, they still want somebody to be able to come and help them if they have a call,” Fink said.

Jardon added that the council has made strides to address community concerns, including a de-escalation mandate, implementing body cameras and releasing body camera footage from officer-involved shootings within two weeks, but more work can be done.

“I'm really working to continue to diversify the workforce and increase their communication across all neighborhoods with everybody,” Jardon said. “There are always opportunities to look for augmentation within the department to allow for expanded social services, to increase training, to look to homeless service advocates that can work with our police department.”

Jardon raised $55,100 during the second quarter, about $4,300 of which was from an in-kind contribution of $4,375 for billboard advertisements from Lamar Advertising. Fink raised $2,200, all of which came from two loans from family members whom Fink will repay after the election.

Jardon’s largest contributors were Lyon Management Group, Newport Pacific Land Company and Reno Land Inc. Lyon Management Group and Newport Pacific Land Company each gave $10,000 to her campaign and Reno Land Inc. donated $5,000.  

Fink and others have criticized Jardon for receiving donations from developers, but Jardon emphasized that every cent she receives is disclosed and available for the public to review.

“Do I love it? I don’t. Do I wish campaign finance were different? I do. But as far as campaign finance contributions from developers, they play no role in any vote I took,” Jardon said. “I have never decided a vote based on a contribution I did or did not receive.”

She added that the Daybreak project vote came before the contribution from the Daybreak developers and that she originally voted against the project, but then gave approval once the project managers addressed concerns expressed by the council.

During the second quarter, Jardon reported spending $37,282, primarily on advertising and consultants. She had about $61,900 cash on hand at the end of the second quarter.

Fink, on the other hand, reported spending roughly $3,885 on advertising, consultants and staff and had $2,828 remaining at the end of the second quarter.

Election Preview: Real estate agent J.D. Drakulich, incumbent Jenny Brekhus vie for Ward 1 post on Reno City Council

As Election Day approaches, candidates in four nonpartisan Reno City Council races are squaring off in an election that will shape how the city navigates the devastation the pandemic has brought on local revenue, a housing crunch spurred by a burgeoning population, and calls for racial justice reform amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

Well-established incumbents and challengers for three ward positions and one at-large position are reaching out to residents by every means possible to earn votes ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. Though many of the campaigns are separated by large funding gaps favoring the incumbents, challengers are hoping to sway voters with bold policies and fresh perspectives.

In three of the races, incumbents are backed by significant donations from developers. Opponents question the conflict of interest the donations might present given that the council decides the fate of various developers’ projects, but incumbents remain steadfast in their position that they serve the citizens of Reno, not other interests.

Three of the seven council seats, including the mayor who votes on the council but does not represent a specific geographic district, are not up for re-election in the 2020 cycle. Council seats are nonpartisan and council members receive salaries of about $80,000 along with benefits each year.

The Nevada Independent is releasing two Reno City Council election previews Thursday and Friday giving an overview of the two candidates, their campaign funding standings along with each candidate’s platform and stances.

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Ward 1 is one of the city’s tightest races, with the two candidates mounting well-funded campaigns as they vie for the position.

J.D. Drakulich, a real estate agent, is squaring off against incumbent Jenny Brekhus. Drakulich and Brekhus advanced to the general election after defeating Britton Griffith, vice president of Reno Engineering Corporation, her family’s development firm, during the June primary, which determines the two candidates running in the November election.

Mayor Hillary Schieve endorsed Griffith for the seat in October, citing Griffith’s “positivity” and experience working with the council.

Even though Schieve said her endorsement had nothing to do with Brekhus and was focused on who would be a better fit for the council and the direction she believes it needs to head, the endorsement was one of many signs of a fractured relationship.

Schieve has not endorsed any candidate since Griffith lost the race.

The winner of the November election will represent a section of Reno containing many historic homes and parks. 

Drakulich is a board member and two-term president at Eddy House, a youth homeless shelter in Reno. He said that one of his motivations for running is that he feels Brekhus neither represents the majority of Ward 1 residents nor has fresh ideas for solving the homelessness crisis and other problems in the city.

He cited his role as a residential real estate agent and work with families from various income levels and backgrounds as something that allows him to connect well with residents. He said his main goals are increasing attainable and affordable housing, addressing problems related to homelessness, developing solutions to the budget crisis and increasing public safety.

“I love this city. I'm a husband and a father, and I've got a little seven-year-old and I really hope that this is the type of town he wants to raise his family in,” Drakulich said. “I've been in this ward for 33 years. I went through the public education system. I feel really deeply connected to the families and the people around me here and representing them would be an honor.”

Drakulich criticized Brekhus, a two-term council member, for lack of a strong stance on addressing homelessness until recently, as well as her recent decision to vote against acquiring the Governor’s Bowl as a potential site for a homeless shelter.

Brekhus, whom the Reno Gazette-Journal has called “a lone voice for precision in policy on the Reno City Council,” said that she places constituents above special interests and makes decisions based on the good of the ward.

Brekhus, who is running for her last term and has experience as a city planner, is centering her campaign around improving the city’s fiscal condition, supporting healthy and sustainable city growth and increasing affordable housing. Since the pandemic began, Brekhus added that she made addressing homelessness a central part of her campaign.

“I'm running to provide continued, independent and informed leadership on the city council and, more specifically to Ward 1, continue the standard that I believe I've established of responsive constituent services to Ward 1 residents,” Brekhus said.

Both candidates said they have been reflecting on the recent protests and calls for policing reform and say that accountability is necessary, but that in the last 25 years, the city has been decreasing funding for the police department and both said budget cuts are not the solution. They both have suggested working with Washoe County to increase the number of social service responders and alleviate some of the stress on the police department.

“We can always enhance how our law enforcement officials better serve our citizens in safer ways, maybe that’s stronger training in de-escalation techniques, maybe they need better tools to de-escalate a situation without a firearm,” Drakulich said. “In reality, if you have a badge and a gun, the community should hold you to the highest of standards, but we can't turn our back on our police in that process.”

Brekhus said that she does not support defunding the police intentionally but has been pushing for an independent audit and review of the police department and would like that to inform future policies.

“There has been systemic racism in our country that we still carry around and it manifests in a lot of ways and it manifests in law enforcement and our criminal justice reform,” Brekhus said. “There’s a lot of ways to innovate there, to build the police department leadership that’s reflective of our population.”

Brekhus is ahead in fundraising efforts with a more than $5,400 lead on Drakulich for contributions received in the second quarter. She received around $22,500 in contributions and spent around $36,800, primarily on advertising and consultants. 

Drakulich reported receiving $17,100 in donations.

His top donations included $2,500 from Cathy Stiser, a resident of Reno, $1,000 from Stephen Hartman of Carson City, and another $1,000 from Heinz Ranch Land Company, which also donated to Councilman Oscar Delgado during the second quarter and to Councilman Devon Reese’s campaign in December. Drakulich spent around $28,900 on advertising and consulting as well as a special event at Homegrown Gastro Pub.

Brekhus has been outspoken on social media about campaign finance reform and has emphasized that her campaign has been largely people-powered. Her largest donation during the second quarter was $2,500 from the Reno Firefighters Association, followed by an $1,100 donation from Uppal Properties, a $1,000 donation from the District Council of Iron Workers, and $1,000 dollar donations from NV Energy, Greenstreet Development and others.

During the first quarter, Brekhus received $10,000 from Brian and Erika White, residents of Verdi, before a council vote on the Meridian project development. The Whites also donated to Councilwoman Bonnie Weber’s campaign in 2016. 

Though the Whites submitted public comment opposing the development before a council vote, Brekhus said that the Meridian project had been part of a years-long discussion, and the Whites’ contribution had no bearing on her decision to vote against the development.

“I never make any pledges to anyone on any votes,” Brekhus said, noting that hundreds of residents had sent in input on the vote.

At the end of the second quarter, Brekhus has the most cash on hand with a little less than $46,000 in her campaign account. Drakulich’s balance hovers at $822.

More than 150 people in limbo as Reno Events Center set to stop serving as pandemic-era homeless shelter

As the end of summer approaches — ushering in falling leaves and winter winds — more than 150 homeless individuals who have been sleeping on mattresses at the temporary shelter in the Downtown Reno Events Center are in limbo, caught between an effort to send them away from the convention center and a lawsuit seeking to block them from a campground-style alternative shelter.  

Operators of the Reno Events Center initially said they needed to shut down the temporary homeless shelter that has been operating there since early in the pandemic by August 3, citing a casino company’s reservation to use the center for an event on Sunday. 

But plans to move the guests into a new campground-style shelter on Wednesday ceased when Scott Peterson, the owner of Wells RV and Boat storage, filed a lawsuit against the city, and a District Court judge issued a restraining order calling for all work on the new temporary shelter to stop, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported. A hearing on the matter is set for Tuesday.

Peterson, whose business borders the new site, alleges that the city failed to properly notify adjacent property owners, did not follow zoning laws and illegally fast-tracked construction of the shelter. He asserted that the shelter will irrevocably damage his business.

The conflict is the latest in the region’s long struggle to address homelessness, which has included regular and controversial cleanups of encampments. It also comes as COVID-19 — the reason leaders sought a larger shelter space in the first place — shows few signs of abating.

Decisionmakers say they are balancing the need to help vulnerable people and questions about how many resources they can and should put toward the issue.

“I think as a community, it's our duty to step forward and make sure that they are taken care of long term. I think we obviously want to serve the most people for the least amount of money, especially as stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” said Kate Thomas, the assistant Washoe County manager. “This is uncharted territory. We haven't gone through anything like this before. So it's hard to gauge what the right cost is for something of this scale."

Timeline

Officials set up the shelter at the Reno Events Center in March when COVID-19 struck Nevada and shelter staff realized that the usually at or over capacity shelters were more conducive to spreading the virus than halting it, said Neoma Jardon, a Reno councilwoman and one of the two representatives for Reno on Washoe County’s Community Homelessness Advisory Board (CHAB). The board was created in 2011 to address homelessness after responsibility for the issue ping-ponged for years between the county, Reno and Sparks.

“We acted within 10 days of the shutdown or somewhere near there,” Jardon said. “It was still kind of cold. We didn't want to put people out, but we wanted to be able to better socially distance those individuals, particularly as they slept at night, and still give them some services.”

Clients are allowed to stay in the shelter from the evening until the next morning. They receive water bottles and sleep in spaced-out beds across the air-conditioned convention center, which also has access to restrooms, handwashing stations and showers.

Washoe County, Reno and Sparks agreed to split the costs of the temporary shelter, paying $977,274 (as of July 28) for the project with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the CARES Act. Though officials initially had planned to close the shelter by the end of June so they could reopen the Reno Events Center for commercial use, increases in coronavirus cases and a need for continued social distancing kept the temporary shelter open.

Even as the pandemic and government restrictions on events with more than 50 people carry on indefinitely, there’s been pressure to wind down the shelter to allow for increased tourism and events that would boost the local economy. Representatives from Washoe County, Sparks and Reno decided during a July 20 meeting of the homelessness advisory board to vacate the Reno Events Center by Aug. 3.

The shelter’s planned closure was prompted by a reservation of the venue for Aug. 9 for an unspecified “appreciation event” hosted by The Row, a resort and casino group that includes the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus casinos in Downtown Reno. A representative of The Row confirmed this week that the event was postponed until the end of the month but the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) did not yet have a date on the books for when the event might be rescheduled.

Reno Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus opposed the original decision to shut down the shelter at the Reno Events Center during a City Council meeting on July 22. She said she'd prefer to keep the shelter as an overflow site for the Community Assistance Center (CAC) shelter instead of putting people outside in the temporary campgrounds, which she said had logistical issues such as paying for spring-up tents and getting required permissions.

"I am questioning the idea that we need to get out of there, that we're not in the driver's seat of our own facility," she said about the Events Center, adding that she couldn't find any advertising for The Row's scheduled event. "I just don't understand going from one temporary facility to another temporary facility that we have to build all new."

Officials in Northern Nevada were set to replace the Event Center’s 370-bed capacity with an outdoor campground-style shelter, additional space at the CAC shelter and the recently completed Our Place center, a shelter for women, children and families with wraparound services. 

City attorneys are preparing for the legal battle over the planned site for the campground-style shelter, but no announcement has been made about where the city will move people staying at the Reno Events Center if the judge’s restraining order against pursuing the campground remains in place following the court hearing this week. In the meantime, homeless individuals will remain in the facility until at least Aug. 11.

"We are complying with the judge’s ruling to halt operations at the temporary shelter," a city spokesperson said in an email. "We believe the need is strong for our emergency plan. Any other option would potentially force more than 150 people to leave safe shelter."

Organizers weigh costs and benefits

While the final bill is not in, decision makers have been weighing whether the shelter has been an efficient investment.

In the 130 days the shelter was open from March 1 to July 28, the regional response effort cost an average of $7,517 per day. The temporary shelter, run by the nonprofit Volunteers of America Northern California and Northern Nevada (VOA), had a capacity of 370 beds — 21 percent of the beds necessary to house the estimated 1,256 unsheltered people in Washoe County on any given night, according to data from 2019

With an average bed occupancy of about 69 percent for each night the shelter was open, some have wondered whether the money could have been better allocated, but officials and organizers said that the temporary shelter was the best solution given the immediacy of the need.

“Well, it is a lot of money dispensed … when governments are hurting, but at the same time, these are people. They're homeless, but they're still people and they still need to be protected,” Washoe County Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler said. “The cost of putting 50 to 70 homeless people in the hospital on ventilators would be infinitely higher.”

The median cost of treatment for patients with a respiratory system diagnosis was $88,000 for those on a ventilator for 96 hours or more and $34,000 for less than 96 hours, according to an analysis of COVID-19 treatment costs.

Twenty-nine people experiencing homelessness in Washoe County have been reported to have contracted COVID-19, according to records from the Washoe County Health District, but district officials noted the number could be higher because following up with and tracking cases in the homeless population can be difficult. Organizers said not having the space to distance people properly in shelters would have significantly worsened the situation and potentially caused increases in numbers of cases.

Of the 29 cases, 20 were identified at the Reno Events Center shelter, according to the health district.

Costs of not providing shelter or support to people experiencing homelessness are more expensive in the long run, Sparks Councilman Kristopher Dahir added, referencing the 2006 New Yorker article Million Dollar Murray, a story about a homeless man in Reno whose time in “non-solutions,” such as jails or hospitals, cost taxpayers $1 million over the span of 10 years. Dahir serves on CHAB as well and said that emergency FEMA and CARES Act funds helped alleviate some of the burdens on local taxpayers.

An average of 260 people stayed at the shelter each night, placing the cost per night per person around $28, according to an analysis of records from Sparks, Reno and Washoe County — much lower than the $3,796 Las Vegas spent per patient each night at the recently closed Isolation and Quarantine Complex for unsheltered populations exposed to COVID-19.

The costs detailed in invoices and budgets provided to The Nevada Independent of $977,274 do not include the amount the city paid to the VOA for maintaining or running the temporary shelter at the Reno Events Center. 

Arlo Stockham, Reno’s acting assistant city manager, noted that although he had a bit of a “sticker shock” when he first looked at the costs surrounding the temporary shelter at the Reno Events Center, it was the least expensive alternative to meeting the needs of the homeless population. The cost was two to three times cheaper than renting out hotel rooms, which was San Francisco’s solution to the need for increased distancing, Stockham pointed out.

“It's kind of hard to find a place to stay for that kind of money, no matter who you are,” Stockham said. “And then you layer on top all the services. It's a challenging population. It's not like you can, just open up a building and everything's gonna be fine.”

The decision comes down to short-term and long-term spending, Thomas said. In the short term, money should not be a factor in ensuring someone’s safety. In the long term, however, money needs to be spent wisely and is a balancing act.

Pandemic heightens housing insecurity

Government leaders worry about the effect the pandemic might have on a community lacking affordable housing and struggling with a devastated local economy.

Berkbigler and Dahir discussed how CHAB is leading a cross-regional effort called Built for Zero to develop ways to find a permanent solution for homelessness by addressing the more deeply rooted issues causing homelessness rather than just using  band-aid solutions such as providing food and shelter.

Washoe County has an affordable housing trust fund that the county has never financed. To help families struggling with making rent payments and ease a predicted influx of eviction cases as the state phases out an eviction moratorium, Berkbigler said commissioners will vote to place funding from the CARES Act into the fund to help some of the most vulnerable renters.

She added that the county also set up trailers for people by the river in Southeast Sparks to stay in if they had nowhere to quarantine during the pandemic, but so far the trailers have not been used. 

Some of the underlying issues causing homelessness are especially visible during the pandemic, Dahir said and he hopes that through CHAB and a regional response he and other leaders can help families navigating an uncertain future.

“My biggest focus is not just on the homeless, but I would call them the almost homeless, the most vulnerable,” he said. “There are many people in their homes right now, right now that can't pay rent, especially because of COVID, but they were there before COVID.”

More permanent interventions are on the horizon

As officials navigate the immediate needs of unsheltered populations, they are also developing longer-term solutions for addressing homelessness in the region.

After the closure of the temporary shelter at the Reno Events Center, officials plan to split men experiencing homelessness between two shelters. City officials in coordination with the VOA will re-open the CAC on Record Street, which has a capacity to shelter 135 people and an overflow capacity of 40 people. Pending court decisions, officials hope to set up a temporary campground for about 165 people at the East Fourth Street meals site owned by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA).

Operating costs for the campground-style shelter would be similar to the shelter at the Reno Events Center, with reduced spending through ASM Global and different shower facilities, but there will be an additional $65,000 per month cost to cover expanded services, including, daytime facilities with shade structures and 24-hour armed security, according to figures Stockham gave during a presentation to CHAB on Monday.

The tents on the campsite, which is intended for night-use only, will be ventilated but will not have air conditioning.

The city will also open up Governor's Bowl Park, an unused baseball field in Reno, as a regular park where people wanting some shade can come and receive meals as well as other services. The new setup, including the tents at the TMWA site, will have meal delivery and day-use areas with shade — amenities the sites presently lack, Stockham said.

The Events Center does not have a daytime use area, so people seeking respite from the summer heat hang out in parks, doorways downtown, and shaded areas along the river, Stockham added, explaining that his offices regularly field complaints from the community about unsheltered populations congregating in the area. 

"We're hopeful that with sheltered, sleeping areas, meal provision, and the day use areas altogether that it'll be a better arrangement," he said.

Map of Interim Shelter sites from a presentation City of Reno Community Development Director and Acting Assistant City Manager Arlo Stockham gave about COVID-19 Emergency Homeless Shelter Plans to the CHAB on Monday, July 20, 2020.

Officials hope to find a ‘more suitable’ long term shelter site

Part of the reason the CAC is able to reopen and officials such as Stockham feel confident that they can shelter everyone safely is that the Washoe County Human Services Agency opened the doors of Our Place in June, a new shelter with case management services located in Sparks for women, children and families experiencing homelessness. The $20 million project at the campus of the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services has been in development for two years and happens to coincide with the need to transfer individuals from temporary locations, Thomas said.

“When we talk about temporary solutions, we're all driving towards a more longer term solution that helps actually rectify the situation for folks. Versus like I said, continually applying kind of short-term solutions,” she said. “Obviously people have needs in the short term, but really what we want to get to is the heart of why someone is in a situation they are, help give them the resources to achieve permanent permanency and housing.”

Families moved from the events center to the Our Place campus in June. The women currently at an overflow shelter are expected to move in Aug. 15.

Stockham anticipates the interim shelter on Fourth Street will operate for approximately four months, allowing two months to find a more permanent shelter and two months to assemble and construct the shelter before winter comes. If the permanent shelter is not ready by the end of November, officials can extend the lease but will need to make additional improvements, most notably, a heating system.

The location for the permanent site is "sensitive," Stockham said and would require about 8 or 9 acres and ideally be close to local services and resources for clients. The site would also have to factor in Reno regulations that determine where homeless facilities can go.

Governor's Bowl Park is an option, Stockham said, but officials are scouting other locations as well.

"I'm not under any illusion COVID's gonna go away. This fourth street site is really not ideal for a long term shelter. It's pretty small," Stockham said in a CHAB meeting on Monday. "Our hope and plan is to have a more suitable longer term site identified in a couple months and then have a couple months to develop that site and improve it."

Election results: Primary whittles field of candidates for local government positions across Nevada

Nevada voters weighed in on a range of local government races in Tuesday’s primary, in some cases handing seats outright to candidates and in other cases narrowing the field to two for the general election in November.

Incumbents made strong showings in lively races for Reno City Council and Sparks City Council, while two big-name Democratic candidates separated themselves from the pack in Clark County Commission primaries.

Here are the highlights of some of those races. Check back for updates as more results are released.

Assemblyman Will McCurdy and Controller Catherine Byrne on the first day of the 2019 legislative session on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 in Carson City, Nev. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Incumbent Naft coasts to victory in Clark County Commission race; two major players in the Democratic Party take strong leads

Four seats are up for election this year on the Clark County Commission, the state’s most powerful local government body, and incumbent Michael Naft along with two big names in the Democratic Party have taken decisive leads in their races.

District C, the Democratic-leaning district in the northwest region of the Las Vegas Valley, had a crowded primary with six Democrats vying for the nomination. Commissioner Larry Brown is leaving the seat open after reaching his term limit this year.

Former Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller has taken a strong lead with 38.8 percent of the vote, followed by Hunter Cain, the former director of community outreach for Rep. Dina Titus, who is in second with 24.7 percent. 

Miller himself said he was “very encouraged” by these initial results.

“We’ve now lapped the field in a seven person race,” Miller said. “So that’s very encouraging, so we’ll wait for the rest of the votes, but we’re starting to look forward to the general election.”

If Miller holds the lead, he will compete against Republican Stavros Anthony in the November general election. Anthony is a Las Vegas city councilman and has been the biggest spender in the race for a commission seat thus far. 

“I think that [my] message will be in stark contrast to my general election opponent who is a career politician and really, I think, embodies, this Trump philosophy,” Miller said of Anthony. “He’s a Trump crony, his entire career, and, clearly, we need to have a different direction.”

When reached for comment on Wednesday, Anthony said “I support President Trump. I don’t know what a ‘Trump Crony’ is, but I support him.”

Anthony added that while it was “nice” to have an idea who he would be competing against in November, it would not change his campaign strategy.

“It doesn’t matter who wins the Democratic primary. I’m going to run my campaign and get out there and tell people why they should vote for me, and why I’m the best person to represent District C,” he said.

District D incorporates much of North Las Vegas and parts of Downtown Las Vegas including Fremont Street. Commissioner Lawrence Weekly has also reached his term limit this year and leaves an open seat.

This heavily Democratic district had the most crowded primary, with seven Democrats. The winner will face three non-partisans in the general election.

Assemblyman William McCurdy II, chairman of the Nevada State Democratic Party, is leading Democrats by a large margin against several big-name candidates after the first round of results. Others in the race include Tanya Flanagan, president of the board of directors for the breast cancer foundation Susan G. Komen Nevada, North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron and State Sen. Mo Denis. 

McCurdy received 42.6 percent of the initial vote. Flanagan has the second highest share with 20.5 percent.

In District A, which incorporates southern portions of Clark County, Democratic incumbent Michael Naft faced only one competitor in the primary, former casino worker Ken Patrick O’Sullivan.

Presumptive winner Naft has taken a commanding lead, with Thursday's results showing him receiving approximately 74.2 percent of the vote.

“Particularly as this is my first time on a ballot, it’s particularly humbling to have the support of so many thousands of my base,” Naft said in response to Wednesday morning’s results. “It gets me excited to continue the work from the last 18 months and work hard to continue to gain that support from my constituents in November.”

In the general election in November, Naft will take on Republican Michael Thomas, who had no competitors in the primary. Naft, who has been endorsed by the Culinary Union and Gov. Steve Sisolak, is the heavy favorite in the general election in this district, where 39 percent of voters are registered Democrats, compared to 31 percent registered as Republicans.

Democratic incumbent and Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick is also up for re-election this cycle but was unopposed in the primary. She represents District B on the commission, which includes the northeastern portion of Clark County.

Republican Kevin M. Williams and Independent Warren Ross Markowitz will be on the ballot in the general after running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

— Kristyn Leonard

Incumbents hold lead in Reno Council primary races, challengers prepare themselves for November

Attorney Devon Reese is sworn in as Reno's at-large City Council member on Feb. 15, 2018. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

After Reno City Council candidates spent months campaigning, writing op-eds and adjusting campaign strategies to the pandemic, preliminary results for the four nonpartisan races show incumbents have decisive leads over their challengers.

Incumbents defending their seats in every city ward hold a lead over challengers, but the top two candidates from each race will advance into the November general election.

For the Reno City Council at-large position, which represents residents of the entire city but will be replaced in 2024 with a sixth ward, attorney and council vice-mayor Devon Reese will square off in the general election with perennial candidate and businessman Eddie Lorton.

As of Saturday morning, Reese leads the primary race with 47.7 percent of the vote, 17.6 percentage points more than Lorton. The other two candidates, Joe Moskowitz and Michael Walker, received 11.8 and 10.4 percent of the vote, respectively.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Reese said he was humbled by the support in the primary, but that the work is not over and he wants to continue addressing social and economic inequalities, both in his campaign and his capacity as a sitting council member.

“I'm going to wake up and do all the good for as many people as I can for as long as I can,” Reese said. “For me, it is going to be those people-first issues that drive the conversation about our campaign ... housing, our unsheltered population, racial inequality issues and quality of life issues.”

Lorton is optimistic about the future.

“I'm feeling very positive about our campaign. This is a new process for all of us. We are just waiting for the final results,” Lorton told The Nevada Independent in a text message on Wednesday.

In a Facebook post later in the day, Lorton thanked his supporters and criticized the voting system.

“This is something new that we have never been through before with alot [sic] of issues. I hope the voting system is back on track for the general election,” he wrote. “We always gain alot [sic] of ground in the General election, we didn't even do TV in the primary. Let's carry on and win this, our City really needs strong good leadership at this time.”

The three-way race to represent Reno’s historic neighborhoods in Ward 1 was close, but two-term Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus and real estate agent J.D. Drakulich are edging out Britton Griffith, vice president of her family’s development firm Reno Engineering Corporation.

Brekhus has received about 45.6 percent of the votes and Drakulich came in a close second with around 35.4 percent. Griffith, who had been endorsed by Mayor Hillary Schieve last fall, hovered around 19 percent.

“Thank you Ward 1 Voters for last night’s primary win. And to my family, friends and supporters also, I could not have done this without you,” Brekhus wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “Congratulations to my two opponents also. You demonstrated your care for the residents of our ward in stepping up to represent. I am so excited to continue the conversations with voters into November!”

Drakulich also sent out a message on Facebook, thanking his supporters and well-wishers.

“This is a tough race, and I can’t begin to express my gratitude to everyone who believes in me. The incredible amount of support I have received is truly humbling,” he wrote. “Thank you for voting! We’ve got a long road in front of us until November...but we are ready!”

Griffith congratulated Drakulich and Brekhus via social media, and noted that the race “is just the beginning of things for our Biggest Little City.”

In the general election, Councilwoman Neoma Jardon and retired public administrator Darla Fink will face one another to determine who will represent Ward 5, which includes Northwest Reno, the University of Nevada, Reno, the Old Northwest and various residential neighborhoods as well as parts of downtown.

So far, Jardon leads the race with 52.6 percent of the votes and Fink, the second-highest vote getter, holds about 26.9 percent of the vote. The other two candidates did not break 13 percent.

Jardon’s goals center around increasing housing inventory, working with vulnerable populations, addressing safety issues, improving the city’s financial stability, supporting local businesses, and helping the city grow in a smart and sustainable way.

She emphasizes the need for the city and other regional partners to work together to create a stronger and more stable community.

"I'm incredibly thankful for the many who turned out to vote and supported me in the primary. The work before us as a community is significant," Jardon told The Nevada Independent. "I commit to continue to put in the work for our community and to lead our City in a positive direction."

Fink’s platform is dedicated to increasing public safety, honesty and transparency and responsible city growth, which she says on her campaign website “relies on citizen involvement and accountable representation.” 

On Twitter, Fink sent out a message of gratitude to voters and volunteers.

“It is time now to focus on November with the goal of providing a representative to Ward 5 who will always fight for YOUR interests at the Reno City Council,” she wrote. “I know our shared values in social justice, public health and responsive representation will create a more inclusive Ward 5.”

As candidates move on to the general election, they will face questions about how they plan to tackle homelessness, affordable housing, budget issues and police reform.

— Tabitha Mueller

Incumbents leap ahead of competitors in Sparks City Council race but likely not enough to evade a general election

Sparks City Council candidate Wendy Stolyarov campaign in Reno on June 9, 2020.

In the race for Sparks City Council, well-funded incumbents have a lead over their slew of challengers, but not enough to claim the seat outright in June. 

Incumbents Donald Abbott of Ward 1 and Paul Anderson of Ward 3 both held significant leads as of Saturday morning — 46.3 and 45.1 percent, respectively — but are falling short of the 50 percent plus one needed to reclaim their seats automatically. 

"It will be a fun next five months — let the fun begin," Abbott said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. "I love running for office. I love talking to my neighbors. I love that part of it. It's a fun time."

Abbott said he looks forward to continuing reaching out to community members, particularly those who did not vote, and hopes it is safe to knock on doors soon after coronavirus hampered the campaigning process. 

It appears he will face Wendy Stolyarov, who has 32.7 percent of the vote, in November. Both made their volunteer work and involvement in their community a central part of their campaign, but it was Abbott who dominated in fundraising. He ended the first quarter with more than $40,000 in available cash more than Stolyarov, a political activist who had previously worked for the Nevada Libertarian Party during the 2017 legislative session.

Other challengers include Kristine Grimes, a retired civilian employee of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office who had 15.7 percent of the vote, and Dick Kirtley, a retired maintenance staffer for the City of Sparks, with 5.6 percent.

Like Abbott, Anderson said he hopes he can engage with the community once more as social distancing restrictions are being lifted.

"I'm just excited that it's looking like I get to move on in November and continue serving the City of Sparks," Anderson said the day after the election. "It's definitely been an honor since I was appointed. We're doing great things, and I look forward to continuing that."

Anderson was appointed to the seat in 2018 and spent $9,500 in mostly advertising and consulting in his attempt to keep it. His funding overshadowed other competitors; he ended the first quarter with $27,000 more in cash on hand than his closest opponent in funding, Quentin Smith, who had $1,000.

The race to compete against Anderson in November is close.

As of Sunday, it appears Anderson will face Smith, who has 18.4 percent of the vote. But Diaz and Andrea Tavener, a development officer for the Washoe County Library System, are close behind, with 18 percent and 12.9 percent of the vote, respectively. 

Opponent Dan Ness has 5.5 percent of the vote.

Facing no challengers, Ward 5 incumbent Kristopher Dahir, a pastor and administrator at a private Christian school, will reclaim his seat.

— Savanna Strott

Carson City Ward 4 has a new supervisor, Bagwell has wide lead in mayor race, close contest in Ward 2

Campaign signs on a Carson City business on June 4, 2020. Photo by Michelle Rindels.

One race for the Carson City Board of Supervisors ended Election Night with an evident victor, although it’s still too early to say what the results mean for two other municipal races. 

In Carson City, candidates who get over 50 percent of the vote during the primary take the seat automatically and avoid a general election in November. 

Lisa Schuette claimed the Ward 4 supervisor seat early on in Election Night. As of Sunday, Schuette has 65.5 percent of the vote. In a distant second place is Ronald Bratsch, a security manager and Marines veteran, with 18.8 percent of the vote.

"I am really just thrilled and grateful, and I appreciate everyone who voted for me," Schuette said in a phone call on Election Night. "I grew up in Carson City. I care deeply about our community, and I'm very excited about moving forward." 

Once in office, Schuette, the founder of the Carson Animal Services Initiative that helps animals and pet owners in the city, said her main priority will be on getting back on track with pre-pandemic progress and preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19. She wants to be transparent in decision-making and help the community understand the process behind projects and plans.

During the campaign season, Schuette crushed her opponents in fundraising and spending in the first quarter. She out-raised her closest competitor in funding — Michael "Mike" Smith, a program manager of the American Job Center of Nevada — by more than $10,000, though $5,000 of her almost $13,000 came from various donations from herself and her husband. 

Smith, who moved to Carson City three years ago, took 15.8 percent of the vote.

The races for mayor and Ward 2 supervisor still lack clear results. 

In the five-way race for mayor, Supervisor Lori Bagwell leads with 50.4 percent of the vote as of Sunday. Although early results show Bagwell meets the 50 percent plus one requirement to win mayor outright, more votes are needed to declare Bagwell the winner with certainty. If the official results on June 19 show that Bagwell does not have the majority of votes, she will face a challenger in November. 

"I'm excited to represent the people of Carson City," she said in an interview on Election Night. "I'm most appreciative of their faith in me."

Bagwell describes financial responsibility as "near and dear to my heart," and says she will focus on ensuring the city has enough in savings if elected mayor. She has held the Ward 3 supervisor seat since 2014 and put budgeting high on her list of issues during her campaign.

In second place, with 23 percent of the vote, is Jim Shirk, a former supervisor who first ran for mayor in 2008. He often took to Facebook during his campaign to tell voters not to choose Bagwell, criticizing her approval of construction projects on Carson Street that some critics have said are unnecessary and will increase traffic. He also criticized her for accepting a campaign donation from the company with which the Board of Supervisors contracted for citywide trash pick up. 

Bagwell ended the first quarter with $9,000 more in available cash than all of her opponents' funds combined. Candidates Aaron Sims, a political activist and former Carson City Republican Party vice chairman, and Tod Jennings, an Air Force veteran and teacher, both raised less than $300. Nathaniel Killgore, a small business owner, and Shirk did not report any fundraising.

Jennings has 15 percent of the vote, Killgore has 6 percent and Sims has 6 percent as of Sunday morning.

In Ward 2, it's a three-way neck and neck race between Maurice "Mo" White, Stacie Wilke-McCulloch and Ronni Hannaman, who have 34.2 percent of the vote, 30.9 percent and 28.8 percent respectively.

Both White, a retired diesel mechanic, and Wilke-McCulloch, a Carson City School Board trustee, have run for the seat before. This is the first race for Hannaman, who is the executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. 

All three self-funded their campaigns and reported no spending outside of candidate declaration filing fees.

Marine veteran and two-time candidate for sheriff Lorne Houle has 5.7 percent of the vote.

The top two candidates from the Ward 2 primary will face off in November. 

— Savanna Strott

Douglas County Commission

Results current as of 3:45 p.m. on Friday.

  • Incumbent Dave Nelson leads challenger Danny Tarkanian by a mere 17 votes in the District 1 Republican primary.
  • Mark Gardner leads incumbent Larry Walsh in the District 3 Republican primary, with 60.2 percent of the vote.
  • Walt Nowosad leads Nathan Tolbert in the Republican primary for District 5, an open seat, with 52.4 percent of the vote.