The next mayor

<p><b>Mayoral candidates Ray Pezonella, left, and Hillary Schieve couldn't look more different, but their policies and contributors look very similar.</b></p>

Mayoral candidates Ray Pezonella, left, and Hillary Schieve couldn't look more different, but their policies and contributors look very similar.

Photo/Dennis Myers

As far as the law is concerned, Reno’s next mayor will be nothing more than a glorified City Council member, give or take a few ceremonial duties—the result of a Nevada Supreme Court ruling that the mayor is just a member of the City Council with a better title.

But ask mayoral candidates Ray Pezonella and Hillary Schieve what they think of the position, and you’ll get a much different answer.

“The mayor is the mayor,” said Pezonella, a longtime civil engineer and establishment favorite to replace outgoing mayor Bob Cashell. “That is the statesman, that is the figurehead, that’s the voice, the person that people want to come see.”

“The mayor truly sets the tone and the culture of the city,” said Schieve, a sitting city councilmember and small-business owner.

But in a rapidly changing economic environment, the shift away from a gambling-centered economy and the looming impact of Tesla means the next mayor will not only play a leadership role in local affairs, but will also symbolize what direction the city takes over the next four years.

“I think [the election is] more a referendum on how the city is changing, economically and demographically,” UNR political science professor Eric Herzik said.

“I’m not seeing a historical parallel,” he added. “It’s uncharted territory.”

Given their age and gender differences, Pezonella and Schieve come from surprisingly similar backgrounds. Both are business owners sporting high-profile endorsements, and relative newcomers to the political scene. (Schieve was elected to the Reno City Council two years ago.)

And both candidates tend to agree on most of the issues—subtract a few quibbles about fire staffing levels and public benefit restructuring, and Schieve and Pezonella differ only slightly in terms of policy.

The real decision for voters, then, comes in the form of what sort of mayoral style they prefer. Is it the more status-quo Pezonella, backed by traditional power brokers, or the “fresh face” of Schieve?

Despite her status as a sitting city councilmember, Schieve is in several ways running as an outsider candidate. With local city power brokers—development and construction leaders—first throwing their weight behind Pezonella, Schieve’s campaign has sought out younger and more diverse voters than would usually be expected in a mayoral race.

“I always run like I’m in last place,” she said.

A first-time political candidate, Pezonella nevertheless counts endorsements from numerous Reno businesses and outgoing Reno mayor Bob Cashell. Though it is somewhat odd that a political newbie is running as an establishment candidate, Pezonella’s primary focus as mayor would be to reduce the city’s multi-million dollar debt.

“I’m not looking for new ways to spend money,” he said. “I’m looking for ways to get our debt paid.”

Though Schieve won the primary election with 26 percent of the vote, that election was somewhat skewed by the number of candidates—18, one of them dead—running for mayor. Pezonella, who won 18 percent of the vote, said he’s confident that he’ll be able to make up the difference by election day.

But Herzik doesn’t hedge his bets when it comes to predicting who will win the race. “I’ll be surprised if Schieve doesn’t win,” he said.

Though Herzik credits Pezonella as a quality candidate, his prediction for a Schieve victory is based on her victory in the primaries, appeal to a more diverse electorate, and an energetic campaign.

Though both campaigns declined to share internal polling numbers, Herzik said Pezonella’s chances improve with lower turnout. In a non-presidential year lacking dramatic statewide races, it could be easier for more conservative and older populations that support Pezonella to dominate at the polls.

Schieve has raised four dollars for every six raised by Pezonella— $80,530.10 to $131,700.

“With low voter turnout, anything can happen,” Schieve said.