Dateline: Reno, Nevada.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Bright and early today at the Reno Municipal building downtown, the first candidate to file for the mayor’s office was greeted by a small but enthusiastic crowd of supporters. Just over 50 people had gathered at 7:30 in the morning to cheer and wave signs at passing traffic. The man they had come to support on this chilly AM was local Reno businessman, George “Eddie” Lorton.
Lorton himself was everywhere it seemed, shaking hands, answering questions and evincing the perennial good cheer which has made him such a favorite with the local people of Reno. Most of Lorton’s of supporters appeared to be local business people; the kind who are accustomed to getting up early and working late. There was also a political writer for the local paper the Reno Gazette Journal, as well as film crews from two local TV stations.
Lorton’s excellent business reputation was established because he too, is the kind of person who understands the value of getting up early and working late. In a recent interview, Mr. Lorton explained that from the age of 19 until he was 41 years old, he was accustomed to working sometimes 20 hour days. When he applied that work ethic and business model to capitol and real estate investments, he discovered he had a knack for analysis. By filing his candidacy for the the Reno Mayor position today, he hopes to bring that acumen into city government.
As a small businessman, owning properties within the Reno city limits, Lorton made it his business to understand codes, zoning and tax law. His initial concern was merely that he and the business people who rented spaces in his buildings, were treated fairly by City Hall. If a fire code or city ordinance for instance, was applied to a large casino one way, it should be applied to small businesses exactly the same way. He believed that the city government should not be used as a tool to combat competition for the big casinos; the smaller players are equally important to the local economy.
Lorton made himself a fairly regular feature of Reno City Council meetings, voicing his opinion as a private citizen, and speaking for the hundreds of local business people who were just too busy to show up, themselves. He also, as much as a private citizen is allowed to, looked at the way city council was spending Reno’s money. 12 years ago, city coffers were flush and there was even a small rainy day fund. Today, the city is $600 million in debt, with an additional $300 million in unpaid city employee benefits, looming over its head.
As a business analyst and a concerned citizen, Lorton was able to identify every fiscal mistake the city fathers had made, over the past 12 years. However, as a private citizen, there was only so much effect he could have on city policy. That realization is what prompted him to decide to run for the Reno mayor position, in 2014.
On top of the fiscal mismanagement, Lorton learned that a number of current or former city council members intended to extend their political careers, well beyond their lawful term limits. By running for mayor themselves, those politicians would be breaking Reno’s term limit laws which were passed by overwhelming margins in 1994 and 1996.
When he presented that information to the city attorney, the current Mayor and City Council proclaimed that filing a lawsuit to stop those candidates from running should be engaged in by a private citizen. The “City of Reno” was not really in a position to afford such a lawsuit.
What transpired in the following months established case law for the state of Nevada. The Nevada Supreme Court, in a five to two ruling, wrote a 27 page decision delineating their reasoning for disallowing the candidacies of politicians who have already served 12 years in the same governing body. The Reno city charter as well as the Nevada State Constitution are very clear about term limits, and to whom they should apply.
The case itself create a lot of notoriety for Lorton, despite negative press and Internet articles claiming it was a “parlor trick” destined for failure. Ultimately, all of that supposedly negative press served primarily to rally other business people around Lorton’s cause. Lorton himself attempted to remain “above it all” and allowed the Nevada Supreme Court to do his talking for him.
After Lorton purchased a round of hot cocoa for his supporters and they all left, Marsha Berkebigler arrived to file her candidacy for the Reno Mayor position. She too was greeted by a somewhat smaller and more subdued crowd of perhaps ten supporters, who feel her political experience on the Washoe County Commission will serve her well as an elected official.
Later today, and as late as March 14, many other candidates for the Reno mayor position are expected to file. Lorton’s Supreme Court case served to eliminate the “establishment” career politicians, who would have discouraged others from running simply by virtue of the money they had already raised.
By Ben Gaul