In the trenches with Mike & Bob

Talking to the candidates in the Reno mayoral race

At his back is the Siena Hotel Spa Casino, but mayoral candidate Bob Cashell’s looking at the derelict buildings across the river that he’d like to see torn down.

At his back is the Siena Hotel Spa Casino, but mayoral candidate Bob Cashell’s looking at the derelict buildings across the river that he’d like to see torn down.

Photo By David Robert

It’s still pretty early in the election season. Lots could happen between now and the primary election on Sept. 3. But there are plenty of campaign signs already cluttering the intersections. And two Reno mayoral candidates debated Wednesday at a luncheon for the Republican Round Table and Republican Men’s Club.

While the other five candidates’ names will be on the ballot, none seems to be actively campaigning in the sense of fund-raising, making countless public appearances and doling out signage on every other street corner. Two of these five men weren’t reachable at numbers listed in their candidate information and one candidate didn’t want to answer questions about his campaign. (See “Seeking the Populist Votes,” page 10.)

Cashell and Robinson both have a significant number of supporters in the community. And though Cashell’s political experience includes heading the University and Community College System of Nevada’s Board of Regents and serving a term as lieutenant governor in the 1980s, Robinson is perhaps a “better-known commodity in terms of Reno politics,” says political analyst Eric Herzik, an associate professor of political science at UNR. “He’s got, for better or worse, one primary issue—the trench—and some, oh, additional anti-status quo issues, a lot of criticism of what the council has done during the Griffin years.”

This year’s campaign for Reno mayor took a weird turn when Mayor Jeff Griffin announced in April that he would not run for re-election. At that point, casino owner Cashell had announced an interest in the race, a move that caused some community mucky-mucks to have divided loyalties.

“Everybody I’ve talked to likes Cashell,” Herzik says. “He has some very impressive experience in its variety. I like that. … How Cashell relates to Reno is harder to call. Most of his political experience has been at the state level.”

While Cashell preaches a message of unity—that is, bring those squabbling city and county leaders together—Robinson has chosen a campaign slogan that’s arguably divisive: “One of us.”

“That’s hardly the stuff that promises to bring a city together,” Herzik says. “If you’re not ‘one of us,’ you’re ‘one of them.’ … Robinson has not put down the bickering. It’s a ‘take-no-prisoners’ campaign.”

Bob Cashell

The possibility of running for mayor was something Bob Cashell had been thinking about for the past 15 years or so. “Ever since I owned Boomtown, I’ve been involved in the community,” he says. “I think I can bring some different dimensions to the game. I sit around and complain about what’s going on. I talk to my wife on every road trip: ‘This is what Reno should look like.’ “

Then, a pivotal moment in January: About two days before longtime newspaperman Rollan Melton died, the Cashells and the Meltons went out for dinner. Rollan told Cashell’s wife Nancy: “Let him follow his dream.”

“Nancy’d been kinda hesitant,” Cashell says. “No wife likes to hear her husband criticized and picked on. That’s hard on wives and children.”

When Cashell, 64, announced he was going to run for mayor, it caused a bit of to-do among the community’s prime movers, many of whom had already pledged dough and support to the re-election campaign of Mayor Jeff Griffin.

A short bio of Cashell would be likely to include the following details: Born in 1938. Grew up in East Texas. Did time in the U.S. Air Force. After leaving military service, got a job as a bill collector and learned to hotwire and repossess vehicles. Earned a bachelor’s of business administration from Austin State University and signed on at Humble Oil and Refinery Company. He started at the bottom, driving a truck in Houston for a year.

He married Nancy Parker in 1964. The oil company moved Cashell to Reno. While coaching a Pop Warner football team, Cashell met entrepreneurs Don Carano and Bob McDonald. In 1967, when Cashell (then making about $18,000 a year) tried to figure out how he might purchase a truck stop known as Bill and Effie’s on the edge of town, he hit up these men for some capital. They bought the diner with its 75 slots for $1 million.

Cashell did well at this “truckers’ Hilton.” He bought out his partners and renamed his digs “Boomtown.” By the time he sold the property, it was worth $50 million.

Cashell’s held gaming licenses for nearly 20 casinos since 1967, including Harrah’s in Las Vegas, the Comstock and Horseshoe Club in Reno, four casinos in Winnemucca, a couple in Sparks and an Indian gambling establishment in Laughlin. Right now, Cashell’s son Rob operates the Alamo Travel Center in Sparks and the Topaz Lodge at Topaz Lake.

On the political side, Cashell chaired the UCCSN Board of Regents more than 20 years ago—he helped get former UNR president Joe Crowley hired—and was Nevada’s lieutenant governor from 1980 to 1984. He won that race by getting nearly twice as many votes as his challenger, R. W. “Bill” Boyd. Cashell was a Democrat back then. Though he’s been out of the political arena for more than a decade, he hasn’t been sitting around. He served on Nevada’s Millennium Committee and on the Reno-Tahoe Olympic Bid Committee. In June 2000, he was one of the gaming moguls, including casino lobbyists, the chairman of IGT and gaming consultant Sig Rogich, who held a quarter-million-dollar fund-raiser for George W. Bush.

Here’s where Cashell stands on a few things, in his own words:

Vision for Reno?

Chad Dehne (left) and Chad’s dad, government watchdog Sam Dehne. Sam filed to run for mayor again this year, but he dropped out of the race in late May.

Photo By David Robert

It’s not just downtown that needs to be cleaned up; it’s the whole area. You have to include the Peppermill, Atlantis and John Ascuaga’s. It’s a community effort, and that’s how we’ll take on foreign gaming. To get 10 million people to Reno, you’ve gotta run the show right. I have a reputation for being able to get people to work together.

…Personally, I like the idea of open space where the Mapes was. Turn that into a small Rockefeller Center with a skating rink, outdoor amphitheater, gardens. It could be designed with the flood plain in mind. We’ve all grown up loving our open space. The river’s too pretty to have all these buildings hanging over it. … Then take one of these studies that show what Virginia Street should be like. We’ve done 10 or 12 studies. Pick any one of the 12, and you could have a beautiful downtown. It isn’t all about casinos. If we do the river right, we can raise the value of all properties downtown.

Running the city as a business?

The only reason Bob Cashell is a success is because of my employees and the way they treat customers. Everybody who comes to town is a customer of the city. [If elected], this will be the biggest board of directors I’ve ever sat on. I’m going to try to satisfy the majority of the people and listen to them and then make the right decision.

Most important issues facing the city?

Well, for the long run, the City Council working together and treating one another with respect. Every member needs to be well informed and briefed as to what’s going on. Then, [they need to] get together with the city of Sparks and the [Washoe] County Commission and start communicating and working together. Also, I think we really need to address issues of cleaning up and doing stuff on Wells Avenue and on Fourth Street. Both of these areas are blighted. The city needs to jump in the middle and work with the property owners. … These people are all trying. They need a little help.

Homeless services?

You can’t send people somewhere unless you’ve got a place to help them. We should have a place. Get together with property owners [on the Sage Street site chosen by the city] and make sure their property values stay up. We need to listen to them and work with them, and we need to build it. … It doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal. Let’s give ’em the help we can. Once I saw former governor Mike O’Callahan go home and make sandwiches to take down to homeless veterans in Las Vegas. That’s the kind of government we oughta have. You gotta have a caring government and caring people.

A casino guy as mayor?

Some say you don’t elect a gambler [to be mayor]. But somebody needs to understand the business. And just because I understand the business doesn’t mean they own me. My main concern is what’s good for this community. That’s the nice thing about running at this age. I’m the old guy who’s proposed a state lottery for education and gaming taxes at certain times for education. Call up any one of these casino owners and ask them if they own me. They don’t.

Economic diversification?

That’s one of the biggest challenges I see. [Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada] is doing a great job. If elected, I want to work closely with EDAWN. We need to broaden our employment base, attract high-tech jobs, better-paying jobs. One of the areas we are overlooking is the arts. Arts and culture [contribute to] diversification. We need a performing arts center. We need the arts community working together.

Convention centers?

[Long sigh.] The big one downtown might have been a little premature, but [it was] needed. You gotta do it right so that it doesn’t fall back in the lap of the citizens. I think they’ve structured this [debt] pretty well. It seems like that will protect citizens from a tax increase. Mr. [President/CEO Jeff] Beckelman at the RSCVA is a smart man, intelligent. He can fill it up. The boys downtown have to realize they can help fill it up.


The ReTRAC program has a lot of merit. It’s a shame it’s been handled the way it has, that the community feels it’s been rammed down its throat. There are some questions I haven’t gotten answers on. I’m not worried about the casinos, but what about the small-property owners? There’ve gotta be some protections.

The people have signed a petition to vote on the trench. I don’t have a problem with that. If [the city] had done a better job selling it, it wouldn’t have come to that. [Trench critics] have misrepresented facts to the community because they had no facts. It’s in the courts. If the courts rule for them to vote on it, I have no problem.

It’s really not a trench; it’s a redevelopment project. Somewhere down the line we need to do something with this. From what I understand, if we don’t do it now, we lose sources of funding. We can’t spend the $231 million on the river. I see it as part of cleaning up downtown, making it more viable. But it has to be done right. And if they don’t take care of the small-property owners, they’re not doing it right.

I like a tunnel better than anything, if I had a pick. Maybe there are still some options open that I don’t know about. It’s very unfortunate, though, that the opposition is using scare tactics. That’s a shame. They’re doing a good job of selling scare.

Ever get sick of the trench debate?

Kodea, 7, and her brother Gidean, 5, pose for a photo with their dad, mayoral candidate Andrew Putnam. Not pictured is Putnam’s 4-month-old son, Justice.

Photo By David Robert

So many things are more important. I want that river open. I don’t want any buildings on that river. It should be a place where people can walk down and sit. You’d have bright lights so you feel safe and comfortable. And you’d have policemen walking around saying hello to everyone.

How would you handle city critics like Sam Dehne?

I’ve met with Sam and talked to Sam. If I treat Sam with respect, he’ll treat me with respect. He’s a very smart man. If you listen to Sam, cut through some of his rhetoric, you’ll see what he’s saying.

Dealing with the media?

I want to be open with the media. Even though I’m kind of country, I hope they don’t stick words in my mouth or try to read into what I’m saying or doing. I’ve been going back and looking at news clippings from before I was on the Board of Regents. Overall, I’ve gotten good grades and fair treatment. … I’ve been meaning to call Cory Farley. He wrote that I had more money than Bolivia. I was going to tell him that I called Bolivia and that day they had $28 in the bank and I had $30. So I did have more that day.

Operating philosophy of life?

Be truthful and open. Practice what Mom taught us between the ages of 1 and 12. Say “yes, ma’am,” “please” and “thank you,” and it’s really not so tough to get along in this world.

Mike Robinson

When county commissioners refused to let citizens vote on a sales tax increase back in 1998, Mike Robinson felt the urge to get involved in local government.

“That lit a fire under me,” Robinson says. “And the more I tried to find out stuff, the more I realized [citizens] weren’t being told everything or that we were being told things that are not true.”

That’s why most folks probably know Robinson, 60, as one of the leading figures in the push to stop a depressed railway from being built through downtown Reno. He’s been involved in several lawsuits regarding his opposition to the trench.

To Robinson, respecting the priorities of the people means allowing a public vote on the trench. He supports the Citizens for a Public Train Trench Vote, though he wasn’t officially part of the group that circulated petitions in February and March and received more than 15,000 signatures of citizens who want a chance to vote on the trench.

Robinson, a Reno insurance broker who has sold life and medical insurance for 35 years, ran for an at-large City Council seat in 2000. He got 23 percent of the vote but lost to Pierre Hascheff.

Robinson is a Reno native who lives and works in downtown Reno, not far from Wingfield Park. He attended the University of Nevada, Reno, for two years and worked in local restaurants until he started his own insurance brokerage. He has three children and two grandchildren. His wife, Michele, works as a medical transcriptionist. Robinson has been a president of the Lake Ridge Golf Club and is active in several non-profit organizations.

In Robinson’s office, there’s a small collection of Mapes gear: postcards and a brochure, “Mapes—Where the Action Is.” Near this display is a book, Nevada’s Paul Laxalt. A huge mounted sailfish spans nearly the entire length of one wall. To be honest, other than some cartilage in the nose and fins, not much remains of the actual critter that Robinson caught deep-sea fishing in Puerto Vallarta. Most of the fish is recreated, painted over and mounted. It’s kind of a scam the way you get hooked into paying for this, Robinson explains.

“You get off the boat, they ask, ‘Do you want to have this mounted?’ You pay ’em $100. … But then there’s insurance, crating and air freight to send it here.” That’s a few hundred dollars more. “But you’re already hooked and they reel you in.”

Robinson is still irked that the Reno Gazette-Journal wouldn’t run his Web site address with his recent “Your Turn” column. At, you can read the entire text of Robinson’s recent deposition taken during hearings on a lawsuit filed to stop bonds from being sold to finance the trench project.

In the deposition, half a dozen lawyers grilled Robinson. Their goal appeared to be, in part, making the candidate look not particularly knowledgeable about the numbers used by trench opponents. For example, Deputy City Attorney Randall Edwards began the questioning by establishing where Robinson had learned about buying and selling municipal bonds (on the Internet), public works projects (Internet), construction (helped his brother construct geodesic domes) and public/private partnerships (no expertise). The attorney replayed moments of Robinson’s testimony to the Reno City Council and brought along copies of columns that Robinson had written for the RG-J.

In one brief but deliberate moment, Edwards seems to intimate that Robinson’s trench objections were related to involvement with the county. Robinson serves on the Washoe County Organizational Effectiveness Committee.

The trench isn’t Mike Robinson’s only issue—he has lots to say about convention centers, Ballardini Ranch and cleaning up downtown.

Photo By David Robert

“Finally, we can tell whose ox is being gored,” Edwards says.

Here’s where Robinson stands on a few things besides the trench, sort of. (All the roads lead to ReTRAC.)

Why run for mayor?

The No. 1 thing I’m concerned about is a lack of integrity in local government and a lack of respect shown to citizens on the part of a majority of the Reno City Council—to varying degrees. That’s the underlying theme to all the issues I’m thinking about. The government needs to be accountable to the people, respect the people’s priorities. [The people] want to vote on the railroad trench.

Getting community support?

It’s been good, about what I expected. I didn’t set expectations real high.

Growth and development?

We have limited resources. I’m concerned about the regional plan update and the expansion of the city’s sphere of influence to the degree that they’ll create future development rights for which we will not have [water] resources. …It’s not like you can go turn on the tap. … We gotta protect our water resources. That’s a big thing. The regional plan just opens the door to overdevelopment. … The actions taken by the present City Council promote growth in areas that they know people don’t want. For example, Ballardini Ranch. The public had already passed a park bond giving $4 million to help the people interested in purchasing this ranch and making it available for open space. Defying the public, the city wanted to annex the land into its sphere of influence, which would increase the value of the ranch. That’s not fair. The city has been working at odds against those who’ve been trying to purchase the land. As mayor, I would support the efforts of these people.

The economy?

I think we have to promote more tourism that’s less directed toward gaming. My idea for a long time has been to expand the river corridor, build a plaza on the Mapes site and [encourage] more arts and culture. If you create a river corridor that’s beautiful, outside that space will become [available for new] development. Also, enhance trails in the area so we can become a world-class hiking and biking area. That will draw tourists who will pay for rooms at a decent rate. … We need all kinds of people to come here from all kinds of areas—not just to gamble. They have a jazz festival in Old Sacramento. Why couldn’t we have a jazz festival up and down the river? We need indoor and outdoor activities. Hot August Nights is good, the balloon races are good, a lot of the events we do are great. That seems to be kind of our niche.


I think we have to make every effort to get rid of these abandoned buildings, fix ’em up, bring ’em up to code or tear ’em down. Make room for something new that’s going to come along. The King’s Inn. Boondocks. That property across from the Lear Theater where the guy started work on a house—there’s dirt dumped on banks, and he’s not doing anything. Those things shouldn’t be allowed to sit and stagnate. That’s what blight is. We have the ordinance, I think, to do something about this, but not the political will. And if we don’t have the ordinances, we should pass them.

Convention centers?

The South Virginia Street site [expansion] was designed to save the Safari Club coming to town here. Apparently they’ve outgrown us regardless. The convention center is only utilized 15 percent of the time, though they project it’ll go higher. Then they build one downtown and duplicate the services. Now we’ll have two facilities—neither used more than 20 percent. It’s going to be a big drain on the budget. The events center downtown was a good idea. Now that it’s tied to the bowling stadium and they’re making it a whole convention center, I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with the downtown casinos getting $20 million back in their pocket, the money they’d committed to the Legislature for the project. They didn’t honor their commitment, and the city council didn’t make them honor their commitment. They testified to the Legislature that it was going to be a public-private partnership, that they were going to put up $20 million and that it wasn’t going to compete [with the South Virginia site]. All that went away.

Your campaign slogan: “One of us"?

I am more of an everyday type of guy, not tied to special interests. I’m not a wealthy person. I’m just like everybody else. I want to see things done better. I’ve been more involved. That’s what other people would like to be, but they don’t have the time. I represent a lot of people who feel they’ve been ignored by the current Council majority.

Dealing with city critics?

Everybody has a right to speak their mind. It’s about open government. I want to hear what people have to say. I don’t want them just to agree with me. They might come up with something I haven’t thought of. We don’t have a very good give-and-take right now.

Dealing with media?

I don’t know. The RG-J is very biased toward a lot of things downtown. It has been since its former publisher sat on the board of Harrah’s. That has tainted its objectivity toward downtown. It slants news stories. [Editors] are entitled to their opinion on the opinion page. … [When it comes to reporting on the trench], the paper’s a big part of the problem.

Your level of experience in public office?

There are a lot of things that you have to learn when you get elected to a position like that because it is a new job.

Your operating philosophy of life?

I believe in being upfront and straightforward with people. Sometimes it doesn’t win you friends. I’d rather be frank and speak openly. Sometimes people are going to disagree. That’s OK. I believe in not having a lot of controls over people. Government should not be onerous, but only as big as we absolutely need it to be.