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Reno and its discontents


by Kingkini Sengupta, Nevada Current

When Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve sought reelection in 2018 she bested her challengers securing 63% of the vote in the nonpartisan primary before eventually easily winning a second term.

As she seeks a third and final term this fall, Schieve drew nearly a dozen candidates in the primary. Former Reno elected officials and political observers attribute the large field of challengers to a way of doing business by the city under Schieve’s leadership that has shut out the public and fallen short of addressing some of the city’s most pressing problems.

Although the vote percentage for the incumbent mayor in last month’s primary was markedly smaller than what she garnered in the 2018 primary, Schieve does not attribute the decline to public dissatisfaction, but to the double-digit number of candidates in the race this time. 

“It was more of a crowded (mayoral) race, there were around 11 candidates,” Schieve said about this year’s primary. 

In 2018, Schieve secured 63% of the votes in the primary race for mayor. In last month’s primary she got just under 40%.

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve during a meeting on affordable housing Feb. 22, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Analysts and advocates have varied ideas about the mayor’s weaker performance in this year’s primary.

Sue Smith, a former Reno councilwoman from 1987 to 1991, says there is a lack of public process in decision making by the Reno City Council. Smith says that the mayor should hear everyone in the public, rather than eliminating them. 

“She needs to involve the rest of us, she does not have all the answers (to the problems of the city),” Smith said, adding she fears council members will rewrite city ordinances to thwart the public’s ability to appeal council decisions. 

Lily Baran, policy manager with ACLU Nevada, works closely with the mayor’s office and Reno City Council. Baran says she believes Schieve “is being strategic with how she governs the city.” 

But “both of them” – Schieve and her opponent, Eddie Lorton, who got 24% of the vote in the primary – “are not great when it comes to the unsheltered and thinking about the poor,” adds Baran. 

This year marked the third time Lorton has run for mayor. He also finished second in the primary to Schieve in 2018, and this year will be a rematch of the 2018 general election, which Schieve won so handily. Schieve is registered as non-partisan. Lorton is a Republican. 

Lorton’s share of the vote in the crowded primary this year concerns Baran. Lorton “has far right extremist affiliations which are even more concerning than the policies that have not been enacted in the city,” Baran said. 

Lorton did not respond to requests for an interview.

“It is never too late to reverse bad policy or bad decisions and it is never too late to start listening to the community members instead of casino owners and developers” Baran said, adding Schieve should bear in mind that it is the people of the community that makes the city so “great.” 

“A sign of a good leader is one who looks towards a person with more knowledge,” Baran said, suggesting Schieve and councilwoman Jenny Brekhus should work together to fix issues in the city. 

Brekhus also ran for mayor this year, finishing third in the primary with 20.5% of the vote. Citing Brekhus’s degree in community and regional planning, Baran suggested Schieve and Baran need to put differences behind them. “They need to respect each other and work together as a team now more than ever, instead of being catty and disagreeing with each other,” Baran said.

Like Baran, long-time progressive organizer and activist Bob Fulkerson says the City of Reno needs to put more focus on vulnerable communities. If Schieve wins reelection, “she needs to have more populist ideas,” Fulkerson said. He is concerned that if Schieve does not articulate a more inclusive vision for the city then Lorton would win.

“Populism on the right is fascism, and we do not want that,” Fulkerson said. 

Reno City Council members and Mayor Hillary Schieve helped demolish the Carriage Inn in 2017 after it was purchased by Jacobs Entertainment. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.
Reno City Council members and Mayor Hillary Schieve helped demolish the Carriage Inn in 2017 after it was purchased by Jacobs Entertainment. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.

Fulkerson said that Schieve has to stop favoring people from the lobbyist class that are paid to give her advice that benefit their clients. Fulkerson pointed to Schieve and the city allowing out-of-state developer Jeffrey Jacobs to demolish downtown motels which housed low-income residents, ostensibly to pursue development plans that didn’t materialize.

According to Fulkerson, Schieve should implement rent control and stop being concerned about how the “landlord and developer class is going to react to it.” He says she can easily cap the rent to an amount that people of Reno can afford. 

Schieve says that the possibility of having rental caps is something that the Nevada Legislature is closely looking at, and adds that the city is ready to work with the Legislature to implement any policy changes required for it. 

“Being in the third term, a mayor is likely to make decisions that people might not always be happy with,”  Schieve said, adding that can’t deter her from making those calls. 

As she prepares for a possible third term as mayor of Reno, Schieve says that public safety and mental health are issues that need more attention.

Reno is slated early next year to have a new mental health and crisis center on the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services (NNAMHS) campus. Funded by a state grant and the Legislature’s $20 million allocation on crisis centers, the facility will remain open 24 hours a day, everyday. The center will be staffed with social workers and case managers, in the hope of providing better outreach and accessibility to people needing social services throughout the clock. 

Nevada ranks last in the nation in availability and accessibility to mental health services.

Last month, Schieve was named chair of a task force on mental health at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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