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July 29, 2014

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henderson:

Mayoral candidates try to differentiate themselves

Early voting begins Saturday as Andy Hafen, Steve Kirk vie for votes

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Sam Morris

Henderson City Councilman and mayoral candidate Andy Hafen talks to volunteers before heading out to canvass on Saturday.

Henderson Mayor Debate

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Henderson mayoral campaign

Henderson City Councilman Steve Kirk uses a Segway as he canvasses an Anthem neighborhood on Thursday in his bid for mayor. Launch slideshow »

After a few minutes of discussion about eliminating cost-of-living raises for city supervisors and executives, Henderson Mayor James B. Gibson called for a vote.

There was a pause for a couple beats while City Council members cast their votes, then the big screen in the council chamber flashed the results — five in favor, none against.

Like so many other votes the council takes, this vote, taken May 5, was unanimous. Sometimes, the council will issue a unanimous no vote, but rarely is there a split vote.

If nothing else, the almost-always unanimous votes, for better or worse, are a testament to a city that preaches unity.

But now that two members of the council, Andy Hafen and Steve Kirk, are campaigning for mayor, those same lock-step votes pose a challenge to the candidates as they try to distinguish themselves.

Some differences are obvious.

Though the race is non-partisan, neither candidate hides their political persuasion. Kirk is a Republican. Hafen is a Democrat.

Kirk’s professional experience has been in the private sector, where he has owned his own business and now works as a venture capitalist. Hafen was an inspector with the Metro Police for 23 years before retiring.

Both candidates tout their backgrounds as one of their greatest strengths.

“When we talk about running government like a business, it helps if you’ve actually run a business,” Kirk said. “That’s probably the biggest difference.”

Hafen said his advantage is his longer service on the City Council — 22 years to Kirk’s 10 — and the abundant time he will have for the job as a retiree.

“I’ve got the time necessary to devote to the job to get it done,” he said. “This is going to be a very time-sensitive issue with the economy. It’s going to take a lot of time and work to fix this.”

To differentiate themselves, both candidates have relied heavily on going door-to-door to campaign face-to-face.

Kirk, riding a Segway scooter and knocking on doors in Sun City Anthem on Thursday, said the unanimity on the City Council only goes so far and drew distinctions with Hafen.

He said he has opposed projects he thought would hurt surrounding neighborhoods — naming a commercial building, storage facility and bus depot off the top of his head as examples. In each case, he said, he voted against the proposal while Hafen voted for it.

“There are significant land-use differences,” Kirk said. “I think any time there’s a dissenting vote, it’s me, you know, standing up to the developers and protecting the neighborhoods.”

The most recent example of Kirk bucking the rest of the council came when he cast the lone dissenting vote against a one-year, $120,000 lobbying contract the city signed earlier this year with former Police Chief and Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins.

“I think the Richard Perkins thing is huge,” Kirk said. Hafen, along with the rest of the council, “voted to pay a guy $10,000 a month to do a job he’d never done before, growing the government, which I think is awful,” he said.

Hafen said he wasn’t enthusiastic about supporting the contract — he had opposed the two-year, $240,000 deal that was originally suggested — but ultimately felt it was in the city’s best interest.

“You have the former speaker of the Assembly, a tenured assemblyman. He knows almost everybody at the Legislature. He knows the process,” Hafen said. “He’s a member of the party that’s in power up there. So who better to have up there, fighting for the people of the city of Henderson, fighting for the fiscal interests of Henderson, than Richard Perkins?”

Hafen has a different perspective on the differences between him and Kirk.

“As far as voting philosophy, yeah, there’s not a whole lot of difference between us,” Hafen said. “That’s why I push my experience and the fact that I’m retired. Even though (being mayor) is not a full-time job, I can give it my full-time attention.”

The candidates differ in how they approach canvassing, as well.

Kirk is using a political consulting firm that pores over reams of data and historical voter turnout information to target those voters most likely to vote. A paid team of walkers then knocks on every one of those doors to identify the residents and their preference. Kirk and other volunteers follow up with subsequent visits and letters.

Hafen’s system is less technical. In place of computer printouts and scanners, his team works with note cards, one for each home, on which canvassers make a note of voter preferences and questions. Instead of a team of political operatives, his canvassers are mostly family members and teens he has recruited from his neighborhood. He pays them $15 an hour to go door-to-door and pass out campaign materials.

But for any differences between the candidates, there are more similarities.

Both say that no matter how bad the recession gets, property tax increases are off the table. They agree with the way the city has handled declining revenue by trimming nearly $60 million from the budget and asking each department for plans to cut up to another 15 percent.

Neither candidate has a position on what kinds of cuts should be at the top of the list and what should be at the bottom.

“I need to see how that report comes back and see if there are department heads who admit, or who would say, that they actually have fat,” Kirk said. “I don’t think anything is off-limits. If we find efficiencies anywhere in the city, we need to take advantage of them and make adjustments.”

Hafen, likewise, declined to offer any specifics but said layoffs — a move the city has steadfastly avoided — likely will have to be part of future cuts.

“In our operating budget, we’re pretty much as close to bare bones now,” he said. “Our reserves — we’ve pretty much tapped them. I hate to say it, but it’s probably going to be layoffs. I hate to say that word, and if we can cut more out of our operating budget without doing layoffs, then great. But as we’ve said before, nothing is off the table.”

When it comes to their vision for Henderson’s future, both candidates said they would continue the city’s efforts to become a regional leader in renewable energy and sustainable development. The city is in the midst of an energy efficiency overhaul of all municipal buildings and new construction meets the highest green standards.

Mayor James B. Gibson has also hinted at the possibility of a municipal solar energy plant and a city program to help homeowners finance the cost of residential solar panels.

“I think you’ll see us push ahead with solar technology,” Kirk said. “We’re already working on City Hall. … There’s no question; I think (solar) is something we can take the lead on in the community and in the region.”

Hafen said bringing green jobs and renewable energy to Henderson is a major part of his campaign.

“I honestly think that renewable energy — solar — is going to be the wave of the future,” he said. “I think that technology is really going to take off and that’s something that the city should be at the forefront of.”

Both men see west Henderson — an area of 2,000 mostly undeveloped acres — as an opportunity for Henderson to diversify its economy. The city is set to receive 500 acres near the Henderson Executive Airport from the federal government for industrial development.

Hafen said he wants to offer tax incentives to renewable energy companies and health research firms to set up shop in the future industrial park.

Kirk said he sees potential in west Henderson, too, but if the city really wants to diversify, it must maintain a strong commitment to education.

In recent years, that commitment has brought facilities like Nevada State College and Touro University to Henderson, and if Southern Nevada is to create new industries, it will need such institutions to grow and prosper, he said.

“The key to diversifying the economy is education,” Kirk said. “By bringing educational institutions into the city, over time, I think the economy will naturally diversify.”

Both men are in their final term on the City Council and face term limits in 2011, but neither is looking beyond the mayoral race.

Kirk said he doesn’t know what he will do if he loses. “It’s one of those decisions you just take day by day, you know, see what happens,” he said.

Hafen said he hasn’t seriously considered any other options.

“You never rule anything out, but right now, I can’t see myself doing something else,” he said. “I just want to be mayor.”

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