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November 28, 2014

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Man of purpose

Rory Reid was the kid parents wished their daughters would date.

The daughters were less interested.

Stephen George, Reid's longtime friend and now a Henderson justice of the peace, recalls that his girlfriend's mother encouraged her to date Reid instead.

"All our parents always wanted us to do things with Rory because they knew if we were with Rory, we wouldn't get into trouble."

When others plotted to toilet paper a schoolmate's home, Reid, now chairman of the Clark County Commission, declined. In college, he was in bed by 10 p.m.

"We were really concerned he would never get married," George said. "He was somewhat nerdy looking."

The pictures don't lie. Reid, a Democrat, wore thick, oversized eyeglasses and parted his hair down the center.

Today, the hair is parted more fashionably on the side and Reid, 44, is seen as a rising political star in Nevada. His squeaky-clean image will mean none of the personal foibles that have soured so many careers.

His acumen as a negotiator and master of policy details have won him the respect of the political elite - both Republican and Democrat. But reaching higher office often means exhibiting other traits and skills - a spark of charisma, a backslapping bonhomie, a speech to send them to the rafters.

The quiet Reid has never displayed those traits - and for all his success in local government, this son of the aggressively uncharismatic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may well have his future depend upon whether he can be more than the smartest and nicest guy in the room.

Voters sometimes prefer the guy (Bill Clinton, George Bush) willing to TP the block.

At Brigham Young University, where Rory Reid studied international relations, Spanish and then law, he often was at the books while others partied. He eventually did get married, to Cindy, who threw him a surprise party in their first year of marriage, only to discover that Reid is not fond of surprises.

"He was studying for the bar and he wanted everyone to leave after 30 minutes," she said.

After school Reid quickly landed a job as general counsel for Lady Luck Gaming Corp. before taking his current job as a partner with Lionel Sawyer & Collins. He developed a knack for negotiating.

Cautious and calculating, he passed up a shot in 2001 at Nevada's new 3rd Congressional District seat, then ran for the County Commission and walked over a token opponent to win his first election in 2002.

Since then, Reid has earned a reputation as someone who can walk into a room of people with opposing viewpoints and walk out with a solution everyone endorses.

"He's confident that every problem can be solved, and his abilities as a negotiator are unmatched," said Billy Vassiliadis, who has known Reid for 10 years and is chief executive of R&R Partners, an advertising and public affairs firm. "One of his strengths is that people greatly underestimate him, especially his tenacity and determination."

Indeed, the impression he leaves on those who don't know him well (Reid rarely smiles) often works to his advantage, said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, whose style (think cheap fireworks) is perhaps the polar opposite of Reid's (think light pole).

"People would think his appearance suggests he is mild-mannered or even wimpy," Goodman said. "It's disarming because you think you can flick him over. The truth is he is a very tough guy."

Reid, the oldest of five children, learned negotiation early in life, said his father. "He's been a peacemaker in his family for years."

In his understated way, Reid has quietly assembled a list of accomplishments that many political observers say can propel a run for higher office - perhaps governor, attorney general or Congress.

When first elected, he led the effort to update the county's outdated master plans. In 2005 he hashed out a settlement between Nevada Power and the Southern Nevada Water Authority to end a long-running feud stemming from the 2000-01 Western energy crisis, and he helped broker a deal between the Sierra Club and government agencies over a lawsuit that threatened to halt U.S. 95 expansion.

More recently, he helped convince Aviation Director Randy Walker to ditch his resignation plans and stay with the county.

When talks stalled between the local nurses union and management at Desert Springs Hospital and Valley Hospital Medical Center, resulting in a lockout last month, Reid played bulldog. In a matter of hours, he and other public officials secured an agreement between the groups to return to the bargaining table.

"What sets Rory apart from a lot of folks in politics is the ability to boil down an issue, take ideology out of the mix, take personalities out of the mix and be a problem solver," Republican consultant Ryan Erwin said. "I wish he were a Republican."

Last week Reid's colleagues selected him for a second two-year stint as commission chairman, a position that has, in recent times, rotated every two years. Whether his fellow commissioners intended to set him up for higher office, there is no denying that the chairmanship gives Reid the best platform in the county for climbing to the next political level.

Yet while Reid's skill set might make for good governance, it's not necessarily one that prepares him for higher office, especially to those plum executive posts - mayor, governor, president - that reward people with vision and the communication skills to express it.

Reid is untested in this area. In his first campaign he faced only a token Republic opponent. His absentee challenger this fall didn't have a job or a phone. In other words, Reid's easy campaigns might be behind him.

Reid says he hasn't thought about the future. He likes his job, he says. His wins have resulted from careful planning, announcing his intent to run early and raising enough money to scare off opponents, he said.

He acknowledges that making headlines, slapping backs and kissing babies are not his strong suits. "I think I'm better at the substantive stuff than at retail politics," he said. "I think I've gotten better.

"You can't just sit around and think about policy."

The conflict for Reid came into sharp focus during a Thursday taping of a public service announcement for the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. Reid and Robin Leach, star of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," went to a studio on Highland Drive to shoot the commercial.

As Leach delivered his lines flawlessly, Reid lit up the room with dry off-air jokes.

"You sound like a professional, Robin," he said.

A helicopter flew over the studio, prompting complaints from the crew.

"Somebody ought to do something about that," Reid said, a droll reference to the commission's search for a way to reduce helicopter traffic in the area.

While his humor created affability among the half dozen people gathered in the studio, he was unable to produce the same effect on camera.

He stumbled as he read from a teleprompter. A member of the crew asked if Reid could sound more positive. It took Reid five or six takes for every one of Leach's. And the tall, gaunt Reid couldn't shake the monotone. Viewers will see it, in painful contrast to Leach's inviting manner.

Whether Reid finds a way to translate the subtle, off-camera congeniality he displayed in the studio Thursday into a style that captivates large audiences remains the biggest question about his political potential.

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