Running for Piñata

Why would anyone want municipal office?

Reno City Council candidate Michael Trudell chats with voters. Standing behind him is candidate Dennis Romeo.

Reno City Council candidate Michael Trudell chats with voters. Standing behind him is candidate Dennis Romeo.


After years of failing to prepare for possible future recessions and in some cases of passing out corporate welfare like drunken sailors, local governments in recent months have stayed solvent through dubious interdepartmental fund transfers, reducing personnel and increasing workloads on surviving workers, default negotiations on major bonds and other such devices. To tie it all together nicely, there are very few indications of substantial economic recovery anytime soon.

Voters being what they are, if the problems of local governments have not been solved four years from now, it will be the new governing bodies—not today’s—that will be blamed.

So why would anyone want the jobs? Politics is nasty at any level, but at the municipal level the critics of elected officials are all around them, not hundreds or thousands of miles away from the state or national capital. Yet six people are seeking two county commission seats and 27—that’s twenty-seven—people are running for four Reno City Council seats.

Candidates do seem aware that they may well be facing no-win situations in office because the problems are so deep and wide that they may not be solved within their terms of office. “Not being solved is, of course, a realistic possibility because the environment is such that, you known, the economy in this market is not recovering as fast as we’d like,” County Commission candidate Marsha Berkbigler said.

She and others say they are prepared for the consequences if things go badly, particularly since some of the decisions needed to solve area problems are likely to be just as unpopular as kicking the can down the road. It is surprising how many candidates say they are prepared for adverse public reaction if things go badly. They also say that their acceptance of that reality will make it easier to make those unpopular choices.

“I don’t owe anybody anything,” Berkbigler said. “I own my home outright, and I’m totally comfortable if I never worked another day in my life. I don’t have to worry about it so I’m not in a position where I need the job or I need any job.”

“Who knows?” said Reno City Council candidate Michael Trudell. “I may not be elected in four years, if I get elected, because of the tough choices that need to be made.”

“This isn’t a career for me,” said Reno Council candidate David Ward. “I’m 61 years old. … So for me this is public service. It’s not a career. I don’t even know what the job pays, and I don’t care.”

“I’m retiring at the end of the year. The people I’ve met as a planning commissioner, they’re all reasonable people,” said City Council candidate Dennis Romeo. “And I think in the next couple of years we can resolve some of these problems. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Several candidates used the term “thick skinned” to describe themselves.

County commissions do seem to have a bit more shielding against public anger than city councils. There’s nothing like city hall as a target. The candidates seem to have some recognition of this—when asked as they filed their candidacies whether they want to have contact information posted on the county election website for the public, five of the six county commission candidates did so. Only two of the 27 Reno council candidates did so.

Candidates at both levels say it’s specifically because the problems are so serious that they want the jobs.

“Well, I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to make our city better, and I don’t think the blame gam—I don’t think there’s a place for that in successful politics of making it better, so if people are going to blame me, that’s their right, but I’m work hard to make sure that we get things fixed,” said Reno Council candidate Kathleen Taylor.

“Someone’s going to be making these tough choices in the next four years, and I don’t want to delegate my decision making to someone that I don’t feel has the same business background and experience that I have,” Trudell said. “And I believe that I will be able to make those tough choices.”

“This is my home,” Ward said. “And I think Reno has some huge problems, and we need to elect some people who care deeply about it that are consensus builders, that can have some success in bringing back our economy.”