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September 3, 2014

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Elephant sits in room throughout NLV debate

Robinson, who’s ducked public forums of late, finds one that’s safe

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RICHARD BRIAN / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NLV mayoral candidate William Robinson debates Shari Buck, left, on Wednesday as accountant and former Assembly candidate Andrew Martin, center, moderates.

North Las Vegas mayoral debate

North Las Vegas mayoral candidate William Robinson, right, answers questions during a debate with Shari Buck, left, and moderated by Andrew Martin, center, at the Silver Mesa Community Center on Wednesday. Launch slideshow »

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For weeks, after being identified as a target of a 1994 FBI investigation — that didn’t pan out — into suspected political corruption, North Las Vegas mayoral candidate William Robinson had been keeping a low profile.

He said he didn’t want to discuss the matter, and avoiding political events — including two debates on television and one on the radio — was the best way to do it.

On Wednesday night, he ventured out.

The event: the only public debate going into Tuesday’s election between him and Councilwoman Shari Buck. It was sponsored by the North Las Vegas Alliance of Homeowners Associations and Concerned Citizens.

Nobody raised the biggest issue in the race.

“The elephant was in the room,” Buck said Thursday.

She said the forum should have included discussion about the scandal. But even she shied away from bringing it up during the hourlong event.

It would have been pointless, she said, because most of the 35 people in attendance at the Silver Mesa Recreation Center were Robinson supporters.

Robinson, 69 and a seven-term City Council member, said he had been lying low until Wednesday because “I don’t go to stuff where they are going to glorify stuff or bring up all this stuff from the past.”

Why, then, this event? “This was in North Las Vegas and for the people in North Las Vegas.”

Plus, it seems likely that had anyone posed the question in advance about the FBI investigation, it would not have been asked by the moderator, Andrew Martin, an accountant and former Assembly candidate.

Richard Cherchio, organizer of the alliance, said Robinson made it clear before the debate that he had no intention of talking about the investigation.

Cherchio, who ran against Buck for City Council in 2007, chose the questions and said he avoided controversy. “I knew the partisan people would be there. I didn’t want it to turn into a negative scene.”

The questions that did get asked came from Cherchio and other members of his group who e-mailed him in the past week. The audience could write down questions on cards. But Cherchio and Martin decided what got asked.

Cherchio said to be fair he blocked audience questions involving an internship that was created for Buck’s daughter in the city police department in 2005.

Buck said the pro-Robinson crowd was to be expected. Cherchio is active in city Democratic politics. Robinson is a Democrat; Buck is a Republican.

The mayoral race is nonpartisan in name only. Both state parties have been involved in campaigning.

The attendees Wednesday included county Commissioner Tom Collins and former State Sen. Joe Neal, both of whom support Robinson.

It also included several well-known residents who support Robinson and Robinson’s son, who arrived with friends.

“I don’t know if there were any (undecided) voters,” Buck said. “But I appreciated them having it. I went to support Richard because his group is doing good things for the city.”

No questions were asked about other prominent issues, including the $23 million budget shortfall and plans to build a $165 million city hall.

Nor did the candidates field questions about support for City Manager Gregory Rose, whom Robinson harshly criticized during recent budget meetings, or plans to develop the city’s aging downtown along Las Vegas Boulevard North.

Cherchio said time constraints prohibited getting into every issue.

Among the questions asked as folks snacked from a pair of cookie tins:

What do you like most about living and working in North Las Vegas? (Both candidates, not surprisingly, like everything about the city.)

Do you support forcing banks to negotiate with homeowners before foreclosing? (Sure, they said. Unfortunately North Las Vegas lacks the legal authority to pass such a law.)

Should the city rethink plans for growth during the recession? (We’re going to have to, they said.)

Both candidates also favor casinos near the Las Vegas Beltway and Interstate 15, although they recognize a need to diversify the economy.

Both think public safety should be the top priority.

“I need to find something to disagree on,” Martin quipped 45 minutes into the talk.

He did find one small thing.

Buck supports building a new wastewater treatment plant because it could save money in the long run.

Robinson says the project should wait until better financial times.

After the debate, Robinson said he was glad he attended — “but I could have used the time knocking on 70 or 80 doors.”

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