‘DACAversary:’ Dreamers re-up calls for congressional action after nine-year battle for permanent status

Local leaders and immigrant advocates marked the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) by once again calling for congressional action on pending legislation that would create a path to citizenship for thousands of “Dreamers.”  

Tuesday marked the anniversary of the Obama-era DACA program, which protects an estimated 640,000 people nationwide who were brought to the country undocumented as children, including around 12,000 in Nevada, according to government data.

“Today is an incredible celebration for us of this anniversary – or ‘DACAversary’ – which we've celebrated every single year, and the excitement that surrounds remembering June 15, 2012, when so many of us were awoken by the excitement of what may come,” Astrid Silva, DACA recipient and executive director of Dream Big Nevada, said during a press conference in Las Vegas. “It has opened so many doors for us to be able to continue fighting for a pathway to citizenship.”

Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II, Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz and North Las Vegas Councilman Isaac Barron joined Silva, among others, to offer messages of support to those in attendance and to call for action from Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen and the Biden administration. 

Congress is considering the American Dream and Promise Act and the DREAM Act. Each measure aims to create a path to permanent status for hundreds of thousands of people covered under DACA and living in the U.S. with temporary status.

The House passed the American Dream and Promise Act in March, but the Senate has yet to consider the bill, in part, because 10 Senate Republicans would be needed to pass the measure with the 50-50 party split in the chamber. The House bill only got nine GOP votes.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters Wednesday that immigration reform could end up in an infrastructure bill as a way to help pay for the package under the reconciliation process. Under Senate rules, reconciliation allows legislation that directly affects spending and taxes to avoid a filibuster — which requires 60 votes to overcome — and pass the chamber on a simple majority.

“Anytime there’s been a [Congressional Budget Office] examination of what immigration reform would do, it produces a significant increase in the [Gross Domestic Product] without really costing much money,” Kaine said. “So that may not be a traditional pay for but if we feel like there’s something we could do within a reconciliation vehicle that could produce significant economic growth.”

Cortez Masto is working with a bipartisan group of senators to see if an immigration deal can be struck, but has not signaled that they have made much, if any, progress.

The proposed legislation comes after the program was reinstated in December 2020 after being suspended by former President Donald Trump in 2017. While the program was suspended, only renewals were allowed, as the Trump administration stopped accepting first-time applicants. 

“DACA is still under imminent threat. And the only pathway that we see is the pathway to citizenship, which will provide the certainty that Dreamers and their families need,” McCurdy said. “Now is the time to step up. Now is the time to create a quality of life that all of our families can enjoy. And that pathway is by passing the two bills that are now stuck in the Senate.” 

On Tuesday, several Democratic senators, including Rosen, signed on to a letter spearheaded by Cortez Masto and sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seeking answers about recent delays in DACA application processing. In a tweet, she said the Trump administration created an “extreme backlog.” 

“Dreamers are our friends and neighbors. These delays have made it impossible for many to work and support their families,” Cortez Masto continued in another tweet. “While we continue negotiating a bipartisan immigration bill with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, we must make sure the DACA program is actually working.”

A pending 2018 lawsuit in Texas adds to uncertainty about DACA’s fate — U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas could decide that DACA is unlawful. Silva urged eligible Nevadans to apply as soon as possible with that in mind.

“It's not about necessarily hurrying or causing panic. We've been waiting for the court decision since Dec. 22, and so every day that passes by I say, ‘yes, one more day to apply,’ but this isn't something that's going to be stable forever,” Silva told The Nevada Independent in an interview. “There's no deadline, but there are outside factors that could change it. And it's moving fast, very fast.”

Dream Big Nevada and the Immigrant Home Foundation, which focus on immigration advocacy, providing resources and support, held their first in-person, first-time DACA applicant workshop after holding only virtual workshops since December. In the nine years the program has existed, the Immigrant Home Foundation has helped more than 5,600 DACA applicants, including those applying for the first time and renewals, according to Cristhian Barrera, DACA program coordinator for the foundation. 

“It's incredible to think that it has been nine years, because I think so many of us thought that this was going to be kind of a temporary thing, that it would kind of hold us over while they were figuring it out in Congress, and so it's exciting to see how all of us have grown — but it's also very frustrating,” Silva said on Tuesday. “And some days, it's very, very easy to want to give up …. But we have to pick ourselves up and remember that we have gotten this far because of all of us. We have gotten to this place because all of your dreams matter.”

Tens of thousands of rental assistance applications in Clark County backlog as eviction moratorium expiring

Two weeks before the expiration of a statewide eviction moratorium, Clark County says it has more than 17,000 applications for rental assistance money still waiting to be processed.

The update on the status of federal funds set aside to help people pay overdue rent came at a virtual town hall on Wednesday hosted by Clark County Commissioners Tick Segerblom and William McCurdy II and Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz. 

Kevin Schiller, Clark County assistant county manager, explained in the town hall that the CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) ran out of funds in December, leaving about 12,000 households that had applied for rental assistance in the queue. 

Schiller said of those 12,000, about 4,500 have been processed, for a total of about $12 million in aid. Because of the anticipated funding through the second and third round of federal aid, Schiller said, CHAP allowed more room for applicants, which led to the backlog of between 17,000 and 20,000 applications. 

New federal funding came with changes in eligibility requirements, which required CHAP to upgrade its computer system. Changes included lowering the annual income cap for a family of four from about $90,000 to $60,000 and no longer allowing landlord-direct applications in bulk — a tenant has to submit the application and meet requirements. 

But with the upgrades completed, Schiller said the program will be in “fast forward mode” starting Monday, processing about 1,700 applications a week.

Panelists at the town hall meeting strongly encouraged people in need of rental assistance to visit Chap.ClarkCountynv.gov, fill out an application and get in the queue before the moratorium expires on March 31. Between the City of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Clark County and funding from the state, $161 million is earmarked for rental assistance, or enough to serve 20,000 more households beyond those in the queue.

“If you have not applied for rental assistance, you have to apply for rental assistance… There is a pot of money there that tenants who have been impacted by COVID can tap into to pay their rent,” said Jim Berchtold, and attorney with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada. “The application process can be a little cumbersome, and so we have seen a number of tenants who have gotten discouraged and have just quit. That is not the answer. The answer is to stick with it, submit that application and get that rental assistance.”

Berchtold said that while applying for aid would not guarantee a landlord would not evict a tenant, it could help a tenant’s case to stay in a home, even if the money requested was still pending.

It’s unclear whether there will be any extension of the federal or state eviction moratoriums that are set to expire March 31. 

“We're working with our local partners, with the judicial branch, to determine how to handle it,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I’ve got a lot of options on the table right now, we're working night and day to come up with a plan for that and you should see something in the future.”

With just over a week of counting left, local leaders make a final push to increase responses to the U.S. census

Back in May, Mayor Ken Tedford of Fallon issued a simple challenge to Mayor Debra March of Henderson — whichever mayor’s community has the lowest participation in the census by the end of the count has to give the other mayor a key to the city. 

The deadline for that challenge is rapidly approaching as the country nears the Sept. 30 date that marks the end of counting for the once a decade U.S. census. Although response rates throughout the state aren’t as high as officials hoped, the mayors’ moves in Fallon and Henderson may have made an impact as both of these cities have response rates higher than 70 percent, and Henderson is one of only five large cities in the U.S. to surpass 75 percent.

“It’s extremely important that every single household participate in the 2020 census … to help determine where tax dollars should be used to fund education, healthcare, transportation, public safety and other programs that contribute to every resident’s quality of life,” March said in an email to The Nevada Independent. “Henderson is leading the state of Nevada in the self-response rate … In May, I accepted Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford’s invitation to a friendly census response rate challenge and if these results continue, Mayor Tedford will soon owe me a key to the city!”

The mayors’ friendly competition was meant to inspire community participation in the census in a year during which response rates have been much lower than they were in 2010 and officials fear a potential undercount. Kate Marshall, Nevada’s lieutenant governor and the chair of the Complete Count Committee charged with promoting the census, thinks this kind of involvement from local politicians and the community-bonding that comes with friendly competition can only be beneficial to raising census response rates.

“Just think about when UNR and UNLV play,” Marshall said on Sunday, during the committee’s Census Weekend of Action. “There’s a very happy competition, right?” 

More than half of the state’s counties have not hit response rates from 2010 with just over a week remaining to complete those counts. Local leaders across the state have been implementing programs that help them engage in the community in order to encourage participation in the census and educate residents about what the purpose of the census is. 

In addition to its competition with Henderson, Fallon officials have put notices in the local newspaper and set up tables at community pools to increase participation — efforts that have resulted in a response rate of over 70 percent.

“The mayor is taking it seriously and we’ve tried, I guess, about all the tricks up our sleeve that we could think of,” said Robert Erquiaga, the city’s legal and administrative director.

While Marshall has indicated that operations by the national Census Bureau have been slowing in the state throughout the past month, local initiatives have been ramping up as Nevada’s leaders try to ensure as many residents as possible provide information on their households in the last week of the census count.

“That spirit of community and collaboration … is going to take us over the finish line in a better place than we are today,” Marshall said.

The lieutenant governor herself took part in some of these programs over the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, Marshall, joined by several community leaders including Assembly members Selena Torres and Edgar Flores and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, held outreach events in East Las Vegas, where response rates to the census are at 29.4 percent, far lower than the overall county response rate that is more than 65 percent.

Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall speaks with Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz and a volunteer during the Census Weekend of Action on Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo Courtesy of Nevada Complete Count Committee).

The leaders were joined by census takers and volunteers who helped residents fill out their census forms. Marshall says that the weekend’s efforts in East Las Vegas pulled in around $1 million as each person who completes the census means $20,000 for the region’s budget over the next 10-year period.

Communities with demographic makeups similar to East Las Vegas consistently have lower response rates than more affluent communities, but it is exactly these communities, according to Marshall, that need to be counted correctly the most. 

“The people in East Las Vegas need health care, education, infrastructure,” said Marshall. “So the very people who don’t have time to focus on things outside of food and shelter are the very people we need to be counted so that we can lift up this state.”

While the census may not take a long amount of time to complete, it is less of a priority in busy households where working multiple jobs, grocery shopping, and helping children with school take precedence. 

“In the Constitution when it says life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ... those are in order,” she said. “And also, quite frankly, there has been a politicalization of this process.”

Courts have blocked attempts by the Trump administration to include citizenship questions on the census and exclude undocumented immigrants, but according to Marshall and others, the damage has been done and uncertainty is rampant in Latino communities, where people fear any information they give may be used against them by immigration officers.

“I can talk about how safe it is, but when you have people like the president of the United States making a lot of political statements with respect to the census, that distorts the process,” Marshall said.

East Las Vegas and other urban communities have very high Latino populations, but they are not the only regions in the state facing this issue. Nevada’s population is approximately 30 percent Latino, and many rural communities have large numbers of immigrants, resulting in similar problems with fear and uncertainty regarding the census and the perceived possibility it may be used to deport Nevada residents.

“One in five of our residents is foreign born, and, you know, we really believe that the rhetoric that came out of the White House leading up to the census really discouraged a lot of folks from completing the census,” said West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona.

West Wendover is located in Elko County on the eastern border of the state with a population of approximately 4,200. The city’s response rate for the census is 52.8 percent, which is higher than its 2010 response rate. However, Corona says it’s still not as high as the city is hoping for.

“We can no longer rely on 2010 numbers to fund our needs in 2020 and until 2030,” he said. “It's so important that everyone takes the census as we were undercounted in 2010. And we can't afford to have that big of an undercount again in 2020.”

West Wendover has been sending out census reminders with every household’s water bill and implemented a program in March which offered residents $20 off their next utility bill if they filled out the census and brought proof of completion to city hall. According to Corona, the vast majority of those who did fill out the census took advantage of the offer, but participation in it has dwindled as the city’s response rate has flatlined over the last month and a half.

As the city’s response rate has largely settled at that 52 percent mark, the city and its census takers have largely focused on educational outreach, Corona said. Messaging has been largely focused on how census data cannot be used for immigration purposes or to deport any Nevada residents.

A lot of that educational messaging has been aimed at schools, with the hope that students who learn about the census and its purpose will relay that information to their parents and encourage them to provide information.

With just over a week left of the count, the city is expanding its education outreach in schools with public service announcements put together by the West Wendover High School journalism program. A similar video filmed by Marshall is being shown to students in the Clark County School District.

“They plan to show throughout the day in different classes, while the kids are doing their virtual learning,” Corona said. “And the hope is that if the parents are home, they're paying attention to what their kids are doing at school and, you know, parents might catch that and some of that might observe and absorb it and go and take the census.”

Fighting misinformation isn’t the only challenge Corona and other rural leaders face in increasing census participation. It is often difficult for census forms to be delivered in rural areas where many citizens have P.O. boxes. Census forms cannot be delivered to a P.O. box and instead a form must be delivered by a field operative. According to Marshall, the pandemic has “compounded” already limited field operations this year.

The mayor himself told Marshall that he received his census packet but some of his own neighbors did not, and Marshall says she has heard from Lovelock, Carlin, Fort McDermitt, and basically all of Esmeralda County that forms have not been delivered there. As of Sept. 8 in Esmeralda, the smallest county in the state with less than 1,000 residents, the response rate was only 14.7 percent, the lowest of any county in the state and less than half of what it had been in 2010. 

West Wendover is also planning to host a virtual town hall over Facebook in the next week as a final attempt to educate residents and encourage them to fill out information about their households. Using social media to encourage residents to complete the census is something other cities have been trying as well.

“We’re working under a completely different landscape, which is challenging, right? We’ve never seen this before,” said Hillary Schieve, the mayor of Reno. “That’s why we really look to social media because we believe more people are using technology to communicate.”

Officials in Reno have been making use of the Nextdoor app among other forms of social media to spread the word about the census. Nextdoor allows neighbors who live in the same community to share information with each other as well as connect with businesses and public agencies.

“There’s a lot of residents that are paying attention, and they’re engaged,” Schieve said. “We’ve seen in the past, certainly, when we’re working on messaging to the community that those are really effective ways.”

The response rate in Washoe County is slightly higher than that of Clark, at over 68 percent.

In addition to improving response rates in inner-city and rural areas, from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, the state will be conducting outreach to unsheltered and transient populations. Nevada’s homeless population was undercounted in 2010, and Marshall expects the same to occur this year, but hopes that efforts made by non-profits will at least improve the rate of response.

Counting of Nevada’s transient populations will take place through service providers as census takers are not allowed and not trained to visit encampments and other locations where homeless individuals are known to congregate.

The state has also been making an effort to leave forms at temporary housing units in order to get as accurate a count as possible.

Nevadans wait to fill out census forms during the Census Weekend of Action on Sept. 19, 2020.

Although attempts have been made to further extend the counting deadline for the census, with officials arguing that finishing the count at the end of the month would result in a flawed count, Marshall does not anticipate receiving any additional time. Even if time were extended, census operations have been winding down and would have to be ramped up again.

“We learned [Saturday] that there are only about 12 census takers in the entire state of Nevada right now,” Marshall said. “One of the reasons that I called for the push this weekend is because quite frankly, if we in the state of Nevada had not called for that, it wouldn’t have happened.”

But Marshall says that even while operations have been slowing, she’s grateful for the work the Census Bureau did during its time in the state. She also says she is grateful for the work local politicians and community members have done to try and get as accurate a count as possible.

“I am overwhelmed with the community that we have shown and grateful, and it gives me hope,” she said. “It gives me a feeling that when we come together, we can achieve the things we need for our community, that really we talk about Nevada as our Nevada, right, and we matter.”

‘The forefront of America’s reopening:’ Goodman, in attempt to soothe worried constituents, downplays coronavirus threat in public and in emails

The day after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered nonessential businesses to shutter for 30 days to help halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman urged him to reconsider.

At an in-person City Council meeting on March 18, Goodman warned that the city and state would not be able to survive a “total shutdown” of the economy for more than a week or two. 

She talked about Las Vegas’s hotel workers and the “mom and pop, privately-owned businesses” that would struggle. She talked about the 42 million visitors a year who fuel the state’s economy. She talked about other recent viral and bacterial outbreaks, including the West Nile virus, SARS, bird flu, E. coli, the swine flu and the Zika virus.

“And believe it or not, we’re still here,” Goodman said.

The longtime mayor doesn’t actually represent the famed Las Vegas Strip, but she and her husband, former mayor Oscar Goodman — who often show up together to public functions flanked by showgirls — are the living personifications of the town’s ethos, its live-and-let-live mentality. 

A month later, Goodman has emerged as part of the national discussion on COVID-19, downplaying the severity of the pandemic in cable news interviews and urging policymakers to ease business shutdowns that public health officials say are necessary to slow the spread of the disease. On Wednesday, an interview with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper prompted pushback from Sisolak and local elected officials and caused a union leader to call for her resignation.

Those interviews, now in the national spotlight, echo what the mayor has said for weeks, both in public and in emails obtained this week by The Nevada Independent. The emails, which cover a period in March weeks before the CNN interview and which were first requested by progressive activist Dan Rolle, provide a window into the supportive as well as critical comments the mayor received as she grew increasingly vocal about the novel coronavirus and shed light on how the city responded to the outbreak early on.

Many of them came in response to her March 18 speech. Nevadans, she said, were more than capable of making their own decisions to protect their safety amid the ongoing pandemic.

“As we are permitted, the city of Las Vegas will seek ways for people and businesses to control their own lives … make their own choices, create and follow their own destinies and live being assured they have the right to do so in dignity,” Goodman, a registered nonpartisan who has previously registered as a Democrat, said.

Goodman’s speech, delivered, unusually, during the public comment portion of the meeting, earned the Las Vegas mayor a healthy dose of criticism from some political observers. But it also earned her behind-the-scenes plaudits from others skeptical of Sisolak’s decisions, including from former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison.

“As a native Las Vegan, I want to thank you for your courage and leadership,” Hutchison, who is a Republican, wrote in an email to Goodman that evening. “The country is in panic mode because of the apocalyptic 24-7 political news cycle and the mindless, herd-mentality of social media and the concomitant social shaming of anyone who fails to fall in line with its precepts. No one has explained why today is different from the flu season of 2018 or the pandemic of 2009-10. Are lives more valuable today than they were then?”

Goodman responded the next day: “AWESOME ... just like you! THANK YOU. I sent you a voicemail with my cell.” Moments later, Hutchison responded, thanking her for the response.

“You have an army of supporters!” Hutchison said in reply.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Hutchison emphasized that his email, on March 18, came in the immediate aftermath of Sisolak’s business closure announcement when there was still uncertainty about the scope of the closures — and weeks before the mayor’s CNN interview.

"When I expressed support for the mayor it was immediately after there had been an order to shut down virtually all business in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada,” Hutchison said. “I didn't believe that was sustainable and that we needed to weigh the need to keep businesses open with public health. And there needed to be a balanced approach. I still believe that.”

Hutchison said he would like to see a path toward re-opening the economy once it is safe to do so, though he believes it’s still premature to re-open “hotels, casinos, convention centers to large groups of people in dense and compact settings,” as Goodman pushed for on CNN. 

“That would be a mistake. We will eventually get there but we are not there now,” he said.

Though Goodman did not respond to requests for comment for this article, she released a statement on Twitter Friday afternoon doubling down on her position and suggesting that Southern Nevada’s extreme summer temperatures would help Las Vegas beat back the virus. (Though many have hoped that the spread of COVID-19 might slow in the summer months, as is true for some other viruses, studies so far do not suggest that.)

“Although it has not been clearly determined as to the effect that extreme warmth will have on the virus, it is assumed that it shall deter its ferocity … Our hot summer coupled with our unique economy compel us to be at the forefront of America’s ‘reopening,’” Goodman wrote. “Las Vegans are smart and courageous. We need to act first...and we will.”

‘Nothing to fear but fear itself’

The more than 2,000 emails obtained through the public records request shed light on Goodman’s thinking and the feedback she has been receiving from prominent community members and constituents alike amid the developing coronavirus crisis. 

They reveal a mayor so eager to provide comfort to financially hurting constituents that she often counterfactually downplays the very real threat of COVID-19 by comparing it to the flu and placing hope in a vaccine that is still months, if not a year or more, away from being released.

“All reports still at this time report the mortality rate of the virus is NOT the primary cause in our country and death directly from Covid-19 is not at the rate of other major, deadly, epidemics, flus, and we all hope and pray that it dissipates very soon,” Goodman wrote in a response she sent to two city staffers for review. “As we await recovery, millions more are without care, without means to support themselves or their families, and those in our community dependent upon week-to-week checks or who work in the hospitality industry (housekeeping, room service, kitchens, and the like) are slammed beyond comprehension.” The subject line of the email to the staffers was, “what do you think? OVER MY SKIIS???” 

A portrait of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman as seen in Las Vegas City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The week before, after speaking at a Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority meeting where she blamed the media for “destroying” Las Vegas, Goodman received an email from an OB/GYN who thanked her for “speaking truth” and, as an addendum, noted “unless there is some hidden data, the COVID-19 is paltry in virulence compared to the Seasonal Influenza virus.” (COVID-19 has killed more than 50,000 people in the U.S. since February, even amid widespread business closures and stay-at-home orders; the seasonal flu has killed between 24,000 to 62,000 people since October.)

“Hi Doctor: Thank you for your email and support of trying to calm the fears that have taken over the mindsets of so many,” Goodman wrote back. “Normal practices that have sufficed forever in my recollection as precautionary for not getting sick, still seem reasonable to suffice and allay the hysteria.”

In other emails, Goodman told a visitor struggling to receive a refund for a deposit she put down on a condo that “the cure is going to be worse than the crisis,” touted a vaccine as “equally or more important” than testing — overlooking the fact that testing, combined with contact tracing, is a stopgap measure by public health experts until a vaccine can be developed — and paraphrased a famous quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural address: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

The emails also shed light on the various sources of information Goodman was taking in as she was making decisions, ranging from U.S. Department of Homeland Security advisories detailing the federal coronavirus response to documents she was sent by her neighbor “whose husband spends half his time in China.” Goodman did, however, email University Medical Center CEO Mason VanHouweling and her son, who is a doctor, the documents, which include instruction manuals on antibody testing and rapid tests and pictures of testing supplies, for their assessment.

On March 12, Goodman received an email City Councilwoman Michele Fiore forwarded from one of her friends, who is a doctor; in it, the doctor acknowledged that COVID-19 is “more dangerous than the flu to the small number of predisposed people” but said “the numbers pale in comparison to annual flu deaths.” At that point, there were just 51 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

Fiore did not respond to a request for comment.

Goodman also twice forwarded columns from conservative activist Chuck Muth criticizing Sisolak’s ban on the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 diagnoses outside of an inpatient hospital setting. One of them, titled “Sisolak Confers Upon Self One-Man Death Panel Authority,” she sent to her husband, as well as three city staffers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned against taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial amid reports of serious heart problems from patients with COVID-19 who took the drugs. A National Institutes of Health panel also this week recommended against using the drug in combination with azithromycin as treatment for COVID-19.

‘Paycheck-to-paycheck people’ 

The emails also show how Goodman was deeply concerned about financial hits to her constituents because of the closures and eager to help. After a city staffer sent over a resource guide put together by Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto’s office, Goodman responded within minutes: “CAN WE MAKE 1 COPY FOR THE OFFICE AND KEEP IT ... IN A BINDER?”

In one instance, Goodman told a woman who highlighted a series of layoffs in Henderson that her “deepest concern” from the beginning of the business closures was the “paycheck-to-paycheck people, the small business population, and also all those caught in this horrendous life shutdown.” She responded to another former Las Vegas resident that she was hopeful the city would “be open-for-business (at least in part) again, soon.”

And even as she bemoaned the closures writ large, Goodman still voiced support for closing the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas, one of her husband’s proudest mayoral accomplishments and where she is a member of the board. 

“With the POTENTIAL health risks to persons touring the indoor facility (being in close proximity to one another), this is a hard but good decision,” Goodman wrote.

However, her general response to residents’ concerns, besides sympathy, was largely to blame Sisolak and the state. In one email, Goodman bemoaned the business closures and said that she wished she “had the ability to augment the Governor’s edicts” in another, she lamented that “your highest government officials are in charge, and yes, we/or others elected officials subordinate to them must acquiesce to their declarations unless otherwise LEGALLY finding loopholes.”

Goodman’s address during the March 18 City Council meeting resonated with many. One resident who emailed her the following day encouraged her to “stay strong and defiant against Governor Sisolak” she responded with a simple “thank you.” Another told her that she was “very brave to point out the obvious.” A third praised her for “standing up and making comments that may be considered unpopular.”

Others were not so pleased with her speech, nor the other statements she had made publicly leading up to it. One called her a “rethuglican.” Another told her to “lick a slot machine on camera” to prove how safe Las Vegas is. 


‘Business as usual’

The emails also reflect divisions among the council about how city operations should proceed as it became more apparent that the state planned to take actions to minimize public gatherings.

On March 12, Councilwoman Olivia Diaz emailed the city manager, the mayor’s office and city staff asking about how the council would move forward as the county confirmed new cases.

“I’ve received several inquiries on what we are planning on doing re: the Council meetings with the identification of more Coronavirus cases,” Diaz wrote that morning. “The folks I have spoken to want to know if we are considering changing our format or how we will conduct our meeting due to the coronavirus. I don’t think we touched on this in briefings so I wanted to make sure we were considering how we’d conduct business if needed.”

Councilman Cedric Crear responded: “Good question. Tele-meeting?”

“Also, has the building gone through a deep clean,” he added.

City Manager Scott Adams said staff was “on these issues” and would offer recommendations.

On the same day, Fiore offered a different point of view. Fiore forwarded them the email, the same one she had sent to Goodman, from her friend, a doctor in the health care industry. 

“I believe we need to set an example of continuing to run Las Vegas,” Fiore wrote, forwarding along the message. “I’m not canceling any events, I’m coming to work everyday.”

The emails suggest that Goodman also preferred a “business as usual” approach. On March 12, a staffer asked Goodman if the city should reschedule a March 26 meeting on homelessness.

“As much as we can, business as usual, and if this is scheduled here, yes go ahead please,” Goodman replied. 

But later in the day, the staffer wrote that “several of the community participants have indicated a concern about community meetings because of coronavirus. Additionally some agencies are closing down for a while. So we may not have any participants. I recommend postponing at this time.”

The “business as usual” theme reemerged on March 17, one day before Goodman’s comments at the city council meeting, even as some council members continued expressing concerns.

Councilman Brian Knudsen shared a copy of a document with Adams, Goodman and Diaz. The document, which was not included in the records but obtained by The Nevada Independent, contained recommendations for public safety, health care, the economy and city business. 

Some public safety recommendations included ensuring that first responders had access to testing, child care and mental health services. It also recommended convening a roundtable of small businesses and “identifying ‘shovel-ready’ projects.” 

Finally, the recommendations sent on March 17 include stopping “non-essential city businesses, including council meetings,” allowing staff to work from home and a “press conference indicating our acknowledgement of the situation and address our proactive approach to mitigate the impacts of economic downturn.”

“Here is a copy of the document I provided at a briefing,” Knudsen wrote. “We are all very busy and will get busier. While we don't agree on everything, I would [choose] to focus on those items on which we agree. The list of objectives, which I believe are of critical importance are included in the attachment. There are many items of critical importance right now.”

Diaz replied that “although many of us want to see business conducted as usual, we need to act in a way that shows we are listening to our President and CDC by protecting our residents, employees and city’s health and well-being.”

“While we know these closures will have a devastating economic effect, we should remain optimistic in seeing travelers['] confidence restored and coming back quickly if we demonstrate to them we all took measures to keep everyone healthy,” Diaz added. “Many of these items require swift and rapid response that is critically important in a time of emergency.”

That day, Crear also emailed council members to inform them that he had learned that two people at a National League of Cities conference he attended had contracted the virus.

“It has been 10 days since I attended the conference," Crear wrote in the email, noting that he did not have symptoms and was recovering from a cold before he went to the conference in Washington, D.C. “Yet I have been advised that I should take a test as a precaution, which I will.”

That message was enough for at least one council member to raise concerns about whether other council members should get tested, as they had not started social distancing at that point.

“I wish for a negative outcome and the rest of your family to be healthy and well,” Diaz said that evening, replying to Crear. “Can you please ask your primary care provider or whoever will test you if your City Council colleagues should get tested too? We obviously have not been practicing social distancing or any of the precautionary measures before you found out? As a matter of fact, many of [us] succumbed to flu like symptoms some weeks ago too.”

In an interview, Diaz said that when she wrote that email, she was concerned not only for the council’s health but also for the health of city staff and their families.

“They are in a difficult situation,” she said. “It's been very draining on them having to hear about two different perspectives on the council and the city. But I think for the most part, there are some of them that want to feel like they count and they matter and they are protected too by our actions.”

Neither Crear nor Diaz attended the in-person council meeting the next day, though those who did attend sat staggered, several feet away from each other, filling every other seat on the dais.

A notice is posted on social distancing during a Las Vegas City Council meeting on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

At the meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve a resolution giving Adams powers to take action under the city’s emergency declaration. But the meeting put the internal divisions on public display. (And those fractures persist: This week, Knudsen, Diaz and Crear penned an op-ed disagreeing with Goodman’s position on reopening the economy.)

Adams, during the meeting, noted that the council was “fractured” on particular issues, making it “very difficult to understand the will of the council at times.” Later, Fiore responded that the council might be fractured, but the mayor’s position is often backed by a majority.

After the meeting, issues continued to arise about whether the city was taking adequate steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the early days of the shutdown, Las Vegas was often one step behind Nevada’s other jurisdictions.

On March 26, the city announced that Las Vegas parks and restrooms would remain open. The press release discouraged the use of playgrounds but did not close them, as Clark County did on March 23.

“Applause!!!” Goodman wrote in an email, responding to the press release.

Four days later, there was a new press release: “City Of Las Vegas To Close Playgrounds.”

Census kickoff overshadowed by spread of coronavirus; bureau confident it can adapt

People munching on tacos at a local restaurant. Children and their parents playing together during a library storytelling event. A marching band and a mariachi group performing at an outdoor amphitheater.

These seemingly disparate scenes on Thursday were connected by a vital task: the beginning of the U.S. census — made even more challenging as it coincides with a growing pandemic and what Gov. Steve Sisolak has declared as a state of emergency.

Policymakers began voicing concerns earlier this month about the virus’s potential to interfere with the census, which determines political representation as well as the allocation of funding for state services. Sen. Jacky Rosen and 16 other senators sent a request to Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham on March 6 asking for a contingency plan for the outbreak.

"An accurate and comprehensive census is fundamental to our democracy and the well-being of communities across the country,” the letter from the senators said. “We urge the Census Bureau to be prepared to assess whether public health concerns about novel coronavirus are depressing census response rates, and develop contingency plans for mitigating measures to help ensure a full and accurate population count.”

The Cheyenne High School band performs during the "Win the Census" Rally at the Clark County Government Building Amphitheater on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The 2020 U.S. census count kicked off today. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The U.S. Census Bureau said in a press release on Wednesday that it established an internal task force to monitor the situation and the bureau has a contingency budget to address costs of operational changes that may be necessary to make sure everyone is counted. Thursday marked the start of a self-response period that extends to official Census Day on April 1, and is followed by a months-long stretch in which census workers follow up with people who haven’t responded.

“It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail — all without having to meet a census taker,” the organization wrote in bold letters in the press release.

Census takers are required to deliver population counts in December 2020 and the Census Bureau said they will fulfill their constitutional obligation to deliver the census on time to the president.

“Currently, we are successfully conducting fieldwork for some of our non-decennial surveys by phone in areas where we are seeing an outbreak,” the press release said. “In short, where a community, facility or service organization makes a change that would affect any field operation, we will adapt to make sure we are getting the same population counted another way.”

The Cheyenne High School band marches during the "Win the Census" Rally at the Clark County Government Building Amphitheater on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The 2020 U.S. census count kicked off today. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada has been preparing for the census to open through outreach efforts including a statewide media campaign launched on March 6, which consists of TV advertisements, social media awareness campaigns, interviews with news organizations and other forms of communication in both Spanish and English. 

Kerry Durmick, Nevada’s statewide census coordinator, said the Nevadans in the TV advertisements and audio announcements “volunteered their time to help us get the word out about how data from the 2020 census benefits all Nevadans” and “reflect the diversity of our state.”

She said the campaign will continue until the end of May and is in addition to partnerships with local businesses and organizations, booths in various public locations, and other outreach efforts in English and Spanish as well as Tagalog, Korean and Mandarin.

On kickoff day, as various meetings and gatherings throughout the state were canceled, Las Vegas City Council members plugged the count on their respective Facebook pages. Councilman Cedric Crear, one of the Nevadans featured in census advertisements, posted photos of himself filling out the form on a computer, and Councilwoman Olivia Diaz posted a Facebook Live video of herself interviewing people in Spanish about how easy it was to fill out the questionnaire. 

Scott Oxarart, the media contact for the Washoe County Health District, said he did not have insight into whether the coronavirus will affect the census count or community gatherings aimed to drum up participation. The health district issued a statement late Thursday saying it wasn’t ordering gatherings to be shut down but supported decisions “to decrease any possible transmission of COVID-19.”

“At this time we have no public guidance to limit social gatherings, but that could change,” he said noting that the number of cases in Washoe County is low enough that county officials have not yet instated bans on large gatherings such as those enacted in San Francisco and Washington state.

In his state of emergency announcement, Sisolak said the state would soon be enforcing bans on large gatherings but has not yet released any definitive plans.

Michelle Rindels and Jeff Scheid contributed to this report.

A member of the Cheyenne High School band performs during the "Win the Census" Rally at the Clark County Government Building Amphitheater on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The 2020 U.S. census count kicked off today. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Vegas council votes to extend criminal penalties to sidewalks not covered by encampment ordinance

Opponents of Vegas homeless ordinance

The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance to allow city officials to “designate hours of sidewalk cleaning” in areas that are not already covered by an approved ordinance that makes it illegal to sit or lie down in many parts of town.  

During the designated hours, those who refuse to pack up and move will be subject to fines up to $1,000 or arrest. Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who proposed the law, and other city officials say that it is necessary to prevent disease outbreaks that can arise from rotting food, human waste and discarded drug paraphernalia such as syringes. 

The ordinance passed with only one vote in opposition from Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, who represents Ward 3 that includes the downtown area. Councilman Brian Knudsen was not present for the vote but did later say he would have voted against the ordinance.

Deputy City Attorney Jeff Dorocak, author of the proposed ordinance, distinguishes the sidewalk cleaning bill from a similar ordinance passed in November, which was intended to prevent sitting and camping activities on sidewalks. He said that the ordinance that is up for adoption on Wednesday is primarily to give the Department of Operations & Maintenance the ability to clean areas where encampments would be “still available,” such as sidewalks or parking lots in commercial or industrial areas in the city.  

“The encampment bill was about taking sidewalks and preventing them from being used,” Dorocak said in an interview on Monday. “We needed to build a procedure there to direct [offenders] to services.” 

A notable difference between the two bills is the absence of guidelines for law enforcement to first direct the offender to services or areas not subject to the ordinance, and then escalate to ticketing and arrest if the individual does not comply. Under the encampment bill, these guidelines prevent city marshals and patrol officers from having to transport or throw away tents, documents, medication, pets and other personal belongings, and prevent having to issue criminal penalties when a simple warning suffices to get them to move. 

“We drafted [the sidewalk cleaning bill] purely for the point of cleaning sidewalks. We didn’t build anything in there to direct homeless [people],” Dorocak said, adding that the bill was intended for “belligerent” offenders who refused to move when asked by department employees. 

City spokesman Jace Radke said that the city’s street outreach teams accompany the cleaners to help direct homeless individuals to services. City officials have said that members of law enforcement who are on the outreach teams, including Metro officers and marshals from the city’s Department of Public Safety, do not enforce the encampment laws and are solely for protection of the other outreach team members, and that enforcement of the encampment law will fall to patrol officers when criminal penalties go into effect on Feb. 1. 

“In the past, some have been resistant to moving to let the crews clean the sidewalks,” Radke said in an email on Tuesday.  

Language for city signage indicating cleaning times has not yet been decided. 

Protesters, who organized through Facebook, demonstrated outside of City Hall in response to the ordinance. Protests also took place within the meeting chamber, with activists speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting and chanting “housing not handcuffs” from the audience. 

Goodman initially silenced the audience by chastising protesters for their “disrespect” and threatening to have them escorted from the meeting by city marshals. When chanting picked up again at the back of the chamber following the passage of the ordinance, the protesters were removed.

Advocacy groups including the ACLU of Nevada, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Nevada National Organization for Women have asserted that the sidewalk cleaning ordinance criminalizes homelessness as much as the encampment bill, even if the stated intent is purely to sanitize sidewalks.  

“What we feel, and most of the activists [at the annual State of the City address] felt, is that there’s no plan for what to do with the homeless population other than arrest them,” Jeri Burton, president of the Nevada National Organization for Women, said in an interview on Tuesday. 

“They’ve talked about building a bigger area at the Courtyard [Homeless Resource Center] ... [Mayor Goodman] announced that 800 beds would be added,” Burton said. “They’re talking several thousand homeless people in our community. There’s not [enough] room for what they know are the numbers of homeless people, and yet no plan or other options for them.”

Burton added that the ordinance will have a lifelong impact on those who are fined or arrested for violating the law, starting a cycle of fines that offenders can’t afford to pay. She takes the position of other activists — that homelessness deserves community-wide concern, but heaping criminal penalties on top of the issue does not make it any better. 

“We know it’s a problem, but I think that’s too simple of an answer to say ‘arrest them,’ instead of providing services,” Burton said. 

This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2020 to add developments from council meeting.

When it comes to helping Vegas' homeless, everything old is new again

Protesters with signs at city council meeting

Those who have followed the sad dance between Las Vegas government and its homeless population probably felt a sense of deja vu during Wednesday’s boisterous City Council marathon.

It was 2019. But it might have been 2009, 1999, 1989, or 1979 for that matter. The city and its unwashed have been at this a long time. To some of the gray-haired activists in the crowd, City Hall’s proposed ordinance banning most street camping probably sounded like a corny old tune coming through new speakers. It was the homeless hustle with a  “housing not handcuffs” remix, and it was nothing they could dance to.

Not that their opinions -- and there were a lot of them -- appeared to matter much. Their views are well known to the city officials, whose social service programs often contract with nonprofits. Despite the raucous reception they gave the City Council and the added pressure from progressive political groups and representatives of a few Democratic Party presidential candidates, the ordinance was all over but the shouting before the vote was cast.

But shout they did.

“Housing not handcuffs,” many in the crowd chanted. When decorum was more or less restored by Mayor Carolyn Goodman, a wide assortment of citizen activists accused Las Vegas officials of criminalizing homelessness, of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on the helpless, and of violating biblical tenets. Some critics predicted the council would be hit with legal action, others were certain God’s backhand would provide the punishment.

Few were spared. Councilman and retired Metro officer Stavros Anthony was accused of rolling his eyes when a speaker criticized the role of the police in the process. Mayor Pro-Tem Michele Fiore was accused of encouraging Mayor Carolyn Goodman to shut down the noisy debate.

The mayor took a browbeating, but generally kept her composure during a very long day. At one point the city’s head cheerleader admitted, “We know this isn’t perfect. We’re going to find the flaws, and we’re going to fix them.”

We’ll see.

Homeless advocates and civil rights attorneys will be watching as the city rolls out the ordinance over the next three months. Giving everyone credit for having the best of intentions and using best practices, I think the city may be headed for more legal headaches.

Those opposed to the ordinance often pointed to the obvious, its potential penalties: up to a $1,000 fine and as long as six months in jail. This, on its face, illustrates the futility of trying to police a social problem. Housing a homeless person in a detention center is far more costly than booking them a room at a downtown hotel.

But that’s part of the dance.

City officials argued the ordinance would help protect local neighborhoods and businesses while steering the homeless into its Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, where social services are available in a safer atmosphere than the street. They also admitted the facility is a work in progress, gets overwhelmed, and even at full strength won’t be big enough to serve the flow of humanity at its gates.

The frustration is understandable. Like many other cities, Las Vegas has wrestled with what to do about its street people for decades. Doing a little more is never enough. Doing less is inhumane. Doing the same thing year after year is crazy-making.

So every few years someone comes up with a new idea -- or at least one being tried in other jurisdictions. That’s the case with the courtyard concept and the encampment ban. More than 160 cities across the country have versions of the no-camping law.

By the time all the shouting actually ended Wednesday, Council members Brian Knudsen and Olivia Diaz opposed the ordinance, but that raises an interesting question: Was it possible to care about the homeless and vote for the measure? I think it was.

When longtime City Attorney Brad Jerbic said the issue was the most frustrating his office faces, I believe he was being sincere. When department heads talked about the lengths they’d gone to improve a system everyone agrees is a regional crisis, I don’t think they were simply trying to placate the council.

Not to get too preachy here, but the homeless issue really isn’t a “them” problem. It’s an “us” problem. This is a national crisis that deserves a national strategy with leadership at the top, a big buy-in and -- most of all -- the political will of the people behind it. You have to be willing to address not only having enough food in the pantry and blankets on a cold night, but the issues of affordable housing, rampant drug addiction, and mental illness. So, don’t hold your breath.

Instead, expect the homeless hustle to continue. Do a little more, then a little less. Preach hope in the face of despair. Be kinder, get tougher. A Thanksgiving dinner today, the bum’s rush at 6 a.m.

By now, everyone should be able to name that tune.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

Las Vegas City Council OKs controversial homeless ordinance

Protesters outside Vegas city hall

The Las Vegas City Council passed a controversial ordinance Wednesday that makes sleeping or camping in downtown Las Vegas a misdemeanor crime, capping a weeks-long debate over a law that critics have charged would effectively criminalize homelessness in the city’s urban core — and that became a cause célèbre among Democratic candidates for the White House. 

The council approved the measure by a vote of 5-2, with councilmembers Michele Fiore, Victoria Seaman, Stavros Anthony and Cedric Crear joining Mayor Carolyn Goodman in favor, and Olivia Diaz and Brian Knudsen voting against. 

City leaders have described the ordinance as a necessary step in addressing homelessness as a public health problem, but the introduction of the law sparked a fierce backlash among advocates for the homeless in Las Vegas and nationwide. 

Protesters outside Vegas city hall
Protesters gather in front of Las Vegas City Hall to demonstrate against a controversial proposal that would ban people from sleeping in public areas in downtown Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Ahead of Wednesday’s marathon meeting, dozens of protesters rallied outside City Hall with chants of “Help not handcuffs” and “Poverty is not a crime.” Those protesters eventually filtered inside the council chambers, where several went on to spar with the mayor over decorum. 

“If you care, and I mean really care, you will sit down and observe the decorum of this body who is taking everything in earnest and with dignity,” Goodman said, briefly quelling early chants. “I expect the same from each of you.”

In several instances, Goodman asked marshals to escort out a handful of protesters after a number of disruptions, in addition to a repeated threat to recess the meeting altogether. 

But for more than three hours, activists and residents — including some of Las Vegas’ homeless population — railed against the proposal in public comment periods. 

“Homelessness is not a crisis because the homeless exist, homelessness is a crisis because the homeless suffer,” said Ron Moore, a Las Vegas resident who said he was once homeless himself. “We can do better than empty gestures such as this bill.”

Protesters at Vegas council meeting
Citizens protest at the Las Vegas City Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, during which council members considered a ban on people sleeping in public areas in downtown Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Assemblyman Howard Watts, Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones and County Commission hopeful Hunter Cain showed up to testify in opposition to the ordinance. Jones led his comment with the fact that the commission recently devoted $12 million in marijuana fee revenue to address homelessness.

“As has been referenced before, the Legislature asked that the jurisdictions work together under AB73 on a working group for homelessness,” Jones said, adding that city officials had “shut down” certain questions and comments in regard to the ordinance in a meeting with county officials last month. 

By early this week, the ordinance had grown so outwardly unpopular — especially among those on the political left — that it had drawn a national spotlight, prompting a number of Democratic presidential campaigns to decry the move in public statements. 

After the vote, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called the measure "a band-aid that caters to the interests of powerful business groups while doing real harm to Southern Nevadans" and concluded "this fight isn't over." Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said "criminalizing poverty is not the solution" and pledged that "when we win we are going to take on the greed creating the [housing] crisis."

But not all responses to the measure were negative; many lined up to praise the ordinance as the meeting stretched into the late afternoon, especially as it related to homelessness as a hindrance to local businesses.

That included testimony from both Patrick Hughes, president and CEO of the Fremont Street Experience, and David Dazlich, director of governmental affairs with the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, who told the council homelessness would drive away business from downtown. Hughes said he believed that the ordinance focuses on “those not willing to get help” and that homeless individuals blocked patrons from doorways. 

Four Vegas council members
Members of the Las Vegas City Council Stavros Anthony, left, Michele Fiore, Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Cedric Crear confer while homeless advocates demonstrate during a council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. The council approved a controversial proposal that would ban people from sleeping in public areas in downtown Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/Nevada Independent)

Council members who supported the ordinance argued that the measure was more nuanced than opponents made it out to be.

“Many people have bad info — either they have bad info or you just don’t want to recognize that the ordinance is not picking people up and throwing them in jail,” said Councilman Cedric Crear. 

Councilwoman Michele Fiore agreed, adding that comments saying the ordinance criminalized homeless people “is just plain false.” She shared an account of seeing a homeless man when she was downtown with her grandchildren. 

“There was a homeless individual laying on a cardboard box. It was 5 o'clock and maybe he just didn’t realize that his pants were undone. But my two young grandchildren got to see all of his anatomy,” Fiore said. 

She said the measure balanced the rights of people who are homeless and other residents.

“Under this proposed ordinance, the authorities discover homeless encampments. They have the options to ask the homeless person to move on and not stop their encampment. And we’ve even taken it a step further — we’ll help you get to a place where you can lay your head safely,” Fiore said. “Homeless individuals have rights, and you know what, so do the business owners, citizens and residents.” 

The ordinance will be enforced in all downtown master-planned districts including the Historic Westside. According to Deputy City Attorney Jeff Dorocak, although the ordinance will be effective on Sunday, an amendment to the ordinance says that the criminal penalty provision will not go into effect until January 2020.

Follow the Money: Years after leaving office, Reid and other former politicians continue campaign spending with little oversight

Harry Reid in a blue sport coat with red tie

In the three years since leaving office, Harry Reid has kept a low profile.

Rather than become a cable news talking head or lobbyist, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader has given the occasional interview, dealt with health problems and held a few events at UNLV discussing anti-Semitism, leadership and the changing role of “Islam in America.”

Reid is far from out of the game, though. His former staff has fanned out to help run top 2020 presidential campaigns, and candidates still make regular calls or visits to the early caucus state’s “kingmaker.” 

But Nevada’s most powerful senator in modern history is still making his influence count in another way — continual use of his federal campaign accounts.

In the years since Reid left the U.S. Senate, his campaign account and leadership political action committee — Friends For Harry Reid and Searchlight Leadership Fund — have regularly continued to file disclosure reports that show a steady stream of campaign expenses, charitable donations and political contributions.

Add it all up and Reid’s two campaign accounts have spent a sizable $564,000 since 2017, with checks cut not only to charities and various campaign expenses, but also nearly $281,000 in contributions to political parties and a mix of state and federal Democrats running for office.

According to his most recently filed quarterly report, Reid still has more than $290,000 in available cash on hand between the two committees, more than two years after leaving office and nearly a decade since his last election.

Reid is far from the only retired federal office-holder to keep using campaign accounts once out of office. A trend of “zombie campaigns” is one taking place nationally and locally in Nevada, where former office-holders — namely former Reps. Joe Heck and Ruben Kihuen — are holding on to hundreds of thousands of dollars while continuing to use their federal campaign accounts after leaving office.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversees these federal accounts, prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for personal use, but offers little guidance on what candidates should do with their campaign accounts and the funds left over once their time in office comes to an end. 

The commission wrote in a 2013 advisory opinion that campaigns should aim to wind down expenses within six months of leaving office, but there are no hard and fast rules as to when a campaign has to close down — a loophole exploited by dozens of former federal office-holders who used their campaign accounts to buy iPads, country club memberships and other questionable expenses, according to a 2018 Tampa Bay Times investigation.

But lax federal election oversight (the FEC has been effectively shut down since August after a commissioner resigned and left the body with less than a quorum) means former candidates have a wide breadth of options on how to use the money left in their campaign piggybank once they leave office.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Reid declined to address specific spending questions but said the leftover funds were primarily used for charity and contributions to similarly-minded candidates.

“After winding down his official Senate office, Senator Reid has used leftover campaign funds to support local charities that do important work in Nevada communities and to support candidates who will carry the torch forward for the causes he championed while in office,” a spokesman for Reid said in an email. “These activities are permitted by both federal and Nevada law, and the money is not spent on personal use.”  

Reid’s contributions since leaving office

August 16, 2018, was akin to a political Christmas for Nevada Democrats.

On that day, just a few months before the midterm election, Reid’s former Senate account and leadership PAC combined to give $84,500 to Democratic candidates for federal, statewide and legislative races, from a combined $20,000 to gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak to $5,000 each for Democratic state Senate candidates running in key swing districts— Julie Pazina, Melanie Schieble and Marilyn Dondero Loop,

Those contributions fit a pattern of strategic political contributions made by Reid’s political arms — targeting not only top-of-the-ticket races, but also important, less public races down the ballot including city councils and county commissions.

The list of office-holders who have received campaign contributions from Reid is wide and deep: 13 U.S. Senators or Senate candidates, seven House hopefuls, five legislative candidates, six municipal candidates and five of the six statewide “constitutional” officers (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer).

Here’s the full list of candidates and organizations who received a contribution from Reid’s federal campaign account and his leadership PAC since the start of 2017:

  • $101,000 to the Nevada State Democratic Party in September 2018 (a $1,000 donation was made in November 2017)
  • $20,000 to Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s campaign in August 2018
  • $19,000 total to groups affiliated with Nevada Democratic U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen’s campaign; $14,000 directly to her campaign in June 2017 and $5,000 to Rosen Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee affiliated with Rosen in August 2018
  • $15,000 to Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s campaign in August 2018
  • $10,000 to Our Votes, Our Voices, a state-based political action committee formed to fight efforts to recall Democratic state senators in 2017
  • $10,000 to Durbin Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee benefiting the campaign of Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, in June 2019
  • $8,000 to Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford’s campaign; $3,000 in April 2018 and $5,000 in August 2018
  • $5,000 to American Possibilities PAC, which is affiliated with former Vice President Joe Biden, in October 2018
  • $5,000 to Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s campaign in August 2017
  • $5,000 to former Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s campaign in September 2017
  • $5,000 to Democratic Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield’s campaign in June 2019
  • $5,000 to Democratic Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall’s campaign in March 2018
  • $5,250 to state Treasurer Zach Conine’s campaign; $250 in March 2018 and $5,000 in August 2018
  • $5,000 to former Democratic state Senate candidate Julie Pazina’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to Democratic State Sen. Melanie Scheible’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to former Democratic Secretary of State candidate Nelson Araujo’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to Clark County Commission candidate Justin Jones’s campaign in August 2018
  • $5,000 to Democratic state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop’s campaign in August 2018
  • $2,500 to Washington Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s campaign in November 2017
  • $2,500 to Democratic Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign in April 2018
  • $2,000 to New Jersey Democratic U.S. Sen Bob Menendez’s campaign in June 2017
  • $2,500 to Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s campaign in January 2017
  • $5,000 to Nevada Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford’s campaign in August 2018
  • $12,000 to Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee’s campaign; $4,500 in August 2018, $5,000 in September 2017 and $2,500 in November 2017
  • $2,000 to Arizona Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly’s campaign in June 2019
  • $2,000 to California Democratic Rep. Norma Torres’s campaign in May 2019
  • $1,000 to Democratic state Sen. Mo Denis’s campaign in November 2017
  • $1,000 to Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz’s campaign in April 2019 (made after the municipal primary election but before the general election)
  • $1,000 to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign in February 2018
  • $1,000 to former Missouri Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign in February 2018
  • $1,000 to former Las Vegas City Councilman Steven Seroka’s campaign in March 2017
  • $1,000 to Henderson Mayor Debra March’s campaign in February 2017
  • $750 to Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams’s campaign in September 2018
  • $500 to New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland’s campaign in May 2018
  • $500 to former judicial candidate James Dean Leavitt’s campaign in October 2018
  • $500 to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross’s campaign in July 2018
  • $500 to Henderson city councilwoman Michelle Romero’s campaign in March 2019
  • $500 to former Indiana Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s campaign in December 2017
  • $500 to Rhode Island Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s campaign in October 2017
  • $500 to former Democratic California congressional candidate Kia Hamadanchy’s campaign in April 2017

But political contributions were just a portion of Reid’s spending since leaving office.

The two committees also reported spending more than $254,000 since 2017 on campaign expenses and wind-down related costs, including moving costs, credit card payments, bank fees, taxes, airline travel, meals and consulting services.

The vast majority of those expenses — $194,000 — came in 2017, the first year after Reid had left office.

But some of the reported spending has a less clear purpose. His campaign reported spending nearly $800 on “officially connected” gifts at a CVS and $20 on a SiriusXM radio subscription, both made in January 2017. He also reported spending nearly $1,200 at the now-closed Driftwood Kitchen in Washington, D.C. in November 2017.

And between February and May of 2017, Reid’s leadership PAC — Searchlight Leadership Fund — spent more than $4,200 on “gifts for donors,” including $1,100 of expenses incurred at Nordstrom, $1,059 at a CVS and $778 at Hermes, a luxury clothing store. 

The leadership PAC also reported paying for more than $12,000 in meals, primarily during the first six months of 2017 when Reid had just left office (the FEC doesn’t allow candidates to use campaign funds for “food purchased for daily consumption” but allows it for campaign meetings or fundraising activities). Outside of 2017, the leadership PAC reported a $450 expense at a Green Valley steakhouse in Henderson in March of 2019.

Reid’s Senate campaign account also reported making several payments for “wind down consulting” and “strategic consulting services” to a firm called Sala Consulting, Ltd. The firm was founded in January 2017 and is run by Chris Anderson, who lists himself as its president on his LinkedIn page and who spent nearly four years as the executive director of Reid’s official Senate campaign account and his affiliated “Leadership PAC,” Searchlight Leadership Fund. 

According to FEC records, $14,500 of the nearly $60,000 paid to Sala Consulting over the last three years has come from Reid’s campaign account or his leadership PAC, including $5,000 in 2017, $2,000 in 2018 and $5,000 in 2019. Outside of small disbursements from Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, all other Sala Consulting income reported through federal campaigns came from Rosen’s campaign, whom Reid “hand-picked” to challenge incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in 2018.

Reid has also made more than $31,000 in charitable contributions from his campaign accounts since leaving office, including a $10,000 check to the UNLV Foundation in November 2017, $1,250 donated to UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law in October 2017 and a combined $3,000 to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, as well as various other charities, including The Shade Tree, the Committee to Aid Abused Women, Children of Mine Youth Center and Dream Big Nevada.

The former Senate majority leader also has not shied away from contributing to media organizations, including:

  • $2,200 to Nevada Public Radio (between three donations)
  • $1,500 to The Nevada Independent
  • $1,250 to Vegas PBS
  • $1,000 to Daily Kos, a left-leaning Internet news website

Money raised

Reid’s campaign hasn’t just made contributions over the last two election cycles; it has also reported raising more than $111,500 since the start of 2017. Some of the funds have come from bank interest, but the vast majority came from one source — a boutique digital firm called Well & Lighthouse, which paid the campaign a total of $108,000 in 2017 for what was described in FEC records as “list sale income.”

Email lists are one of the most valuable commodities in the world of campaigns, especially as candidates have begun to eschew high-dollar fundraisers and rely more on a broader pool of small donors. A primary way to do that is through the sharing, rental or sale of email lists, which is how individuals who sign up or donate to one candidate can soon find themselves bombarded with donation requests from many other, seemingly unrelated candidates.

Since at least the 2012 election cycle, Well & Lighthouse has been a major vendor for Democratic congressional and Senate campaigns — bringing in more than $33.3 million since the 2012 election cycle, or an average of $8.3 million per election cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. The firm also received $1.4 million from the campaign of Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto — Reid’s handpicked successor and former attorney general — in the 2016 election cycle, the second-highest of any candidate that cycle.

Well & Lighthouse was co-founded and is led by Jon-David Schlough, who worked on Reid’s 2010 re-election campaign overseeing digital strategy. His firm did not return a request for comment.

Zombie campaigns

Reid isn’t the only former politician to keep his federal campaign account past retirement; a 2018 Tampa Bay Times investigation into so-called “zombie” accounts found a myriad of questionable spending to likely abuses. These included a former South Carolina congressman-turned-lobbyist who kept his account open for more than two decades, disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley using campaign funds to buy dinner more than a decade after leaving office and a consultant being paid more than $100,000 over 17 months from the campaign account of Hawaii Rep. Mark Takai — despite Takai being dead the entire time.

In total, the investigation found nearly 100 “zombie” campaigns that had continued spending leftover donations on everything from “airline tickets, club memberships, a limo trip, cell phones, parking and new computers.”

The investigation eventually prompted the FEC, which did not have clear-cut rules on the use of campaign funds once out of office, to send letters earlier this year to nearly 27 campaigns asking why their campaigns were still open and posing specific questions on reported spending (Reid’s campaign did not receive a letter).

But enforcement action is unlikely after FEC Commissioner Matthew Petersen resigned in August, dropping the number of active commissioners to three — below the legal requirement to hold a meeting or make any high-level decisions.

The Center for Public Integrity reported that the commission — composed of up to six members, with no more than three of the same political party — has been effectively hobbled since the resignation, with no power to hold meetings, levy fines, issue advisory opinions or work on the backlog of nearly 300 cases on its enforcement docket, many of which may surpass the statute of limitations early next year.

Although there’s little clear guidance under federal campaign law, the Legislature in 2015 passed a law requiring former candidates or public officials to dispose of unspent campaign contributions within four years (the law only applies to candidates for state legislative or local office, not federal races).

Zombies in Nevada

Other former Nevada politicians with leftover cash have elected to either hold on to their campaign contributions, use them in other races or refund checks to contributors. 

One of the more notable examples is former Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who elected not to run for re-election in 2017 in the face of sexual misconduct allegations reported by BuzzFeed News and The Nevada Independent (details of which were later confirmed in a House Ethics Committee investigation).

Rather than return his then-substantial campaign war chest of more than $318,000 to donors, Kihuen transferred more than $160,000 to his 2019 campaign for a Las Vegas City Council seat (a move at first questioned by but later deemed acceptable by the Nevada Secretary of State). Kihuen narrowly lost in the primary election.

As of his last quarterly campaign finance report, Kihuen had $151,000 in available cash on hand. Other than nominal fees for storage, web hosting and postage, his other major expenditures include legal consulting ($1,220 to the law firm of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock) and a $500 contribution to Adrian Boafo, the former chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer and City Council candidate in Maryland.

Others have opted to return donations after losing their races. Former Sen. Dean Heller, who lost his re-election bid in 2018, has already made more than $103,000 in refunds to contributors throughout 2019. He also made a $10,000 charitable donation to a search and rescue task force, and has otherwise not made contributions to other candidates.

His campaign, which raised more than $15 million during the last election cycle, has a relatively paltry $99,000 left in cash on hand.

Similarly, Heller’s 2012 opponent — former Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley — filed termination paperwork for her Senate committee less than a year after losing her race (Berkley forgave more than $249,000 in personal loans while terminating her campaign, suggesting that she had little cash left over at the end of her campaign).

Not all former office-holders have taken Heller or Berkley’s path. Former Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who lost a U.S. Senate bid in 2016, still has more than $189,000 left in his Senate campaign account, and FEC records show his campaign has paid out nearly $296,000 over the last two election cycles.

As with Reid, Heck’s contributions have largely focused on wind-down campaign expenses, but have also benefited political parties and candidates, including $75,000 to the Nevada Republican Party in July 2018 and $5,000 to the Washoe County Republican Party in October 2017. Other contributions to political candidates made by Heck include:

  • $11,000 to former Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt’s gubernatorial campaign throughout 2017 and 2018 
  • $9,000 to groups affiliated with former Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller; $5,000 to his Senate campaign in Sept. 2017 and $5,000 to an affiliated joint fundraising committee, Heller Senate Victory Committee, in April 2018 
  • $8,000 to the campaign of Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei in March 2018 
  • $8,000 to former Nevada Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy’s campaign in January 2018
  • $8,000 to former Arizona Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally in March 2018 (McSally lost her election but was later appointed to a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate) 
  • $7,000 to Americans United for Freedom, a joint fundraising PAC formed to support Republican Senate candidates. The contributions were made in March 2018.
  • $5,000 to Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine-Husted’s campaign in January 2018
  • $4,000 to Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in January 2018
  • $4,000 to former Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita in January 2018
  • $4,000 to Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker in May 2018
  • $4,000 to former Nevada Republican congressional candidate Stavros Anthony in September 2017
  • $2,500 to former Maine Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in June 2017
  • $2,000 to Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast in September 2018
  • $1,000 to Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo in April 2018
  • $500 to Nevada Supreme Court Justice Lidia Stiglich in May 2018

Heck, who is now a lobbyist for Red Rock Strategies, also gave a $10,000 contribution to Issue One, a “cross-partisan political reform group” that focuses on issues such as campaign finance reform and election security. Heck is listed as one of the group’s “ReFormers” — more than 200 former political figures and congressional representatives. He also gave $1,000 to a group called Nevada State Society, a 501(c)(4) organization composed of Nevadans who live in the Washington, D.C. area (Red Rock Strategies, Heck’s employer, is a “sponsor” of the group, according to its website).

Heck’s campaign also paid $23,400 to WPA Intelligence, a political firm best known for its role in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, for a “Survey Study (Services)” in July of 2018.

A different path was taken by former Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy, a Republican who served one term in Congress between 2014 and 2016, lost his 2016 re-election bid and lost another bid for the seat in 2018. His campaign account with the FEC was transformed this year into an organization called Nevada Values PAC, which has retained more than $197,000 in cash on hand from Hardy’s 2018 election cycle. In paperwork submitted to the FEC in February, Hardy’s new PAC will operate as a Carey Committee (or hybrid PAC) that is allowed to maintain two bank accounts — one of which can make direct contributions to candidates and is subject to FEC rules and regulations, and the other which can accept unlimited donations and operate like a Super PAC, meaning it cannot coordinate with other campaigns or candidates.

PHOTOS: Nevada celebrates Mexican Independence Day, kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month

Three young girls after their performance of ballet folklorico at a Reno event celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day

On the evening of Sept. 16, 1810, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla waved a flag painted with the image of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe and gave El Grito, the historic cry for Mexican independence from Spain, beginning a decade-long war. 

Mexican Consul Alejandro Madrigal leading the El Grito de la Independencia at Winchester Dondero Cultural Center in Las Vegas on Sept. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jana Sayson)

Each year since 1821, when Mexico succeeded in gaining independence, the president of the republic, along with all other local government officials, honor revolutionary war heroes and commemorate ‘El Grito’ from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City, then celebrate into the night. 

Members of the Federación Hidalguense in costumes evoking key characters in the story of Mexico's independence at Winchester Dondero Cultural Center in Las Vegas. Sunday, September 15, 2019. (Photo by Jana Sayson)

Nevadans celebrated Mexican Independence Day this year by hosting local festivities in Reno and Las Vegas.

Attendees celebrate during the El Grito celebration at the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas on Sept. 14, 2019. (Photo by Luz Gray)

Latino performing artists including Mana, Gloria Trevi, and Enrique Iglesias, among others, scheduled performances in Las Vegas for the celebratory weekend, with ticket prices ranging from $100-$1,000. 

With more events and performances targeted to Hispanic visitors than during the rest of the year, Las Vegas anticipated a spike in tourists, including from Mexico, which ranks as the second-largest source of international visitors to the city. 

Traditional Mexican dances at the Winchester Dondero Cultural Center in Las Vegas on Sept. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jana Sayson)

More than 9,000 passengers were expected to be transported by Mexican air carriers over the course of the weekend, according to a press release from the airport. Added flights were expected to offer a boost to the local economy. 

“Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority research indicates international travelers stay longer and spend an average of 17 percent more per trip,” airport officials said. 

A local student mariachi band and colorful ballet folklorico dancers greeted visitors as they entered the McCarran International Airport for El Grito weekend for a fifth consecutive year.  

North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron and Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz participate in the El Grito ceremony at the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas on Sept. 14, 2019. The American national anthem was sung by Anabel Granados and the Mexican national anthem was sung by Francisco Fierro. (Photo by Luz Gray)

Fiestas patrias, or patriotic national holidays that fall in September include not only Mexico, but Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Brazil, and Chile, too. The celebrations are unique to their respective communities, but generally include traditional food and dance and music performances.  

On Saturday afternoon, music and the flags of different Latin American countries marked a fiestas patrias and the launch of Hispanic Heritage Month with a celebration inside the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas.

Cristina Blasquez, the mall’s director of leasing and Latin American development, explained that while the shopping center houses diverse businesses, it seeks to be a community gathering place that evokes the distinct plazas of Latino countries, where families typically meet to spend time together.

“In this sense, what we’re doing is not only beautifying the places outside of the malls but also beautifying the interior, creating the heart of the community in each one of these malls,” she said.

Attendees watch fiestas patrias celebrations at the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas on Sept. 14, 2019. (Photo by Luz Gray)

According to Blasquez, the event, which for the first time took place in the Boulevard Mall, took 30 days to organize and is part of a model that has already been implemented in California, Arizona and Texas. The event brought together participants from Venezuela, El Salvador, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia and Peru, among others.

“It’s located in a perfect area to become an epicenter,” she said about the Boulevard Mall. “The response of everyone was very positive. The more we come together, the more things we are going to get as a people.”

Dancers were offered free nail polish from Paul Mitchell the School at a Mexican Independence Day event in Reno on Sept. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez)

A fiestas patrias event was organized and hosted Sunday in Reno as part of a collaboration between the Sylvia Rivera Center for Social Justice — a group focused on LGBTQ communities of color — and Paul Mitchell the School cosmetology school. Lydia Huerta Morena, co-chair of the Sylvia Rivera Center, said the organization created the event with the idea that independence has not been achieved for all. 

“Because we are a queer group, we were thinking about this in terms of like, okay, we celebrate independence but we don't have independence for a lot of our communities still,” she said. “So indigenous people, queer people of color and trans people. We thought it would be a really good idea to do an event where we like ‘queered’ Independence Day and try to like abstract it into — ‘but what does it mean to have independence as opposed to freedom?’”

Young dancers perform a zapateado, a traditional Mexican dance, at a Mexican Independence Day celebration in Reno on Sept. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez)

Huerta Morena said the organization was formed because its founders felt that the services available for LGBTQ people in Reno were not inclusive enough for people of color.

The event showcased a variety of performers — children dancing ballet folklorico, a singer who performed traditional national Mexican songs, and local Chicano hip hop artists. To conclude the event, the organizers and the crowd participated in shouting ‘El Grito.’ 

A young dancer observes other artists perform onstage at a Mexican Independence Day event in Reno on Sept. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jazmin Orozco-Rodriguez)

Several dozen people dropped into the event throughout the day. Cassandra Ruiz, an 18-year-old student at Paul Mitchell the School, said she hopes the event will attract more people in the future and reflected on the importance of cultural events like Sunday’s gathering. 

“It is [important] because it's just not only one race here, it's many,” she said. “These little events should remind us that we're still here and it's good to join us together.” 

Crafts on display at a Mexican Independence Day event at the \Winchester Dondero Cultural Center in Las Vegas on Sept. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jana Sayson)

A spirit of unity was evident in the patriotic celebrations organized in Las Vegas last weekend by the Central American community, which held art exhibits and independence celebrations for Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador.

“The point is to have a party that everyone enjoys — that the children don’t forget where their parents came from,” Reina Velis of the Central American Committee of Las Vegas said in a recent interview. “We are not the negative headlines. We are art, we are poems, beauty, life. We have many things to show.”