North of center
With all of the media attention and campaign dollars going into the race for Reno mayor, it can be easy to forget that two other City Council seats are also up for grabs.
While it hasn’t garnered as much attention, the race between county commissioner Bonnie Weber and labor activist Paul McKenzie in Ward 4 to succeed outgoing Councilmember Dwight Dortch has all the hallmarks of a classic faceoff, down to nasty attack ads, substantial partisan differences between candidates and closely reported donations.
Ward 4 contains the north valleys. And with only a few weeks to go until Election Day, the race is still open for the taking.
Despite Weber’s name recognition, first-time candidate McKenzie is giving her a fight. The steely-haired 54-year-old longtime labor representative and lobbyist currently serves as the secretary/treasurer of the local Building and Construction Trades Council. He’s a true, dyed-in-the-wool labor Democrat, down to a bumper sticker in his office equating anti-union voices to pro-Chinese activists.
He’s well versed in labor issues, which has come back in to vogue in light of Tesla’s announced $5 billion lithium battery gigafactory. Despite disappointment with a lack of wage requirements, McKenzie said he’s optimistic that the electric car manufacturer will help spur more work for the construction industry in the near future.
His plans if elected include encouraging businesses to use local contractors and workers, and to begin auctioning off excess city-owned property to deal with the city’s debt. Absent is any goal to restructure pension arrangements between public employee unions and the city itself, which McKenzie calls necessary to continue smooth operations.
“Most people that complain about public employees having a PERS plan are jealous because they don’t have the same thing,” he said.
That’s a line of reasoning that Weber rejects entirely.
“We can’t pay people $80 an hour, which is what Mr. McKenzie would like to do,” she said. “We don’t have the funding. We don’t have the resources to do that.”
Weber’s campaign is primarily focused on her conservative background and 12 years in the county commission, where she served as vice chair for 11 years and worked with a number of local elected officials on transportation and other issues.
But Weber’s name recognition cuts both ways—a local political action committee called Citizens for Responsible Local Government created an attack website against Weber accusing her of being an extreme “Tea Party Republican,” a charge Weber denies.
Though short on detailed answers due to a claimed lack of inside knowledge on city issues, Weber does have a general plan if elected. She wants to negotiate an automatic aid agreement between the city and county fire services and is open to the idea of reconsolidating the departments after the messy deconsolidation in 2012.
Weber’s plan for fixing the city budget is generally conservative, and she said she’s open to re-negotiating pension plans and salaries of city employees.
She will also attempt to buck the fate of a county commissioner, Kitty Jung, attempting to jump to the City Council two years ago. She said her longer tenure and personal differences will help her avoid the same fate.
In terms of finance, McKenzie outraised Weber by slightly more than $6,000 for the most recent reporting period, and combined the candidates have put together around $141,000 since the campaign began.
Weber won July’s primary with about 36 percent of the vote over McKenzie, who attracted around 24 percent. Neither candidate said they have conducted internal polling since the primary.