Topic: Las Vegas
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February 17, 2012 at 6:48 AM
LAS VEGAS – The first thing I noticed were his earrings. Drew Williams, 61, sports diamond studs that could cut through glass. He was nursing a bottle of Corona with a wedge of lime, an untouched basket of chips and salsa on the table. When he smiled, his gold incisors sparkled. Williams wore a watch the size of a corsage and a baseball cap with his first name stitched across the front.
He was killing time at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant while waiting for his car to be fixed at a nearby mechanic.
Williams knows a thing or two about time.
When we met a few weeks back, he told me he arrived in Las Vegas to start a new chapter of his life, after eight years of incarceration for robbery at San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest and most notorious correctional facility. While in San Quentin, Williams was part of a different 1% than the one most referred to these days: In the United States, one of every 100 adult Americans is in jail or prison. As The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, sang this about San Quentin, “I hate every stone of you.”
Williams is all too familiar with some of those stones. He explains to me that two of those eight years were spent “in the hole,” otherwise known as solitary confinement. Author Adam Gopnik, in his recent article for The New Yorker, reports that each day, “at least fifty thousand men — a full house at Yankee Stadium — wake in solitary confinement.” During those 730 days of limited human contact, Williams describes how his neighbor taught him how to play chess through the walls of their cells. They played one another through the power of their imagination.
Once released, “I turned my life around,” Williams says. For the last 17 years, Williams tells me he’s worked in the Las Vegas Distribution Service Center for Levi-Strauss & Co. He is active in the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 711. He thumbs through his cell phone to show me photos of his newest grandson.
When I ask Williams about the upcoming election, he speaks with a realism that in part stems from the total of his life experiences. “I’m a Democrat,” he says. “Obama faced many challenges, and I think he could have done some things better.” But Williams takes the long view, and says that one man cannot change a system overnight.
“It’s going to take time,” he says, “It’s going to take a miracle.”
I take his words to heart. The man knows about time.
February 5, 2012 at 6:30 AM
LAS VEGAS — Media and punditry buzz over Sheldon Adelson hit a crescendo this week. Time, then, for us to get an insider’s view of the impact of this multi-billionaire casino mogul and entrepreneur — literally.
We did, thanks to a UW alum in the desert.
We decided to go to a place that has received a great deal of attention: the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus (AEC), where the highest-profile Republican caucus in the state was held last night, after other caucus sites were closed, for citizens whose religious faith precluded them from caucusing during Saturday daytime.
What we found was not Adelson, but a Jewish community centerpiece.
UW Election Eye colleagues David Domke, A. V. Crofts and I drove north from downtown, to an area of gated communities and tan, Spanish-style buildings. This had manicured written all over it, and I questioned if we would be able to enter the campus. Recollections of my own time at a Jewish Day School in Bellevue told me to expect a protective fence.
And we found one, a tall, strong fence, with a security guard in front of it. With a school logo on his jacket, the guard asked to see our credentials. He crosschecked the schedule of visits — the three of us knew we weren’t on it, and we braced ourselves to be summarily dismissed. Not finding our name, the guard called into the school to check if someone there was expecting us. That was going to be another no-go, we knew.
“We have about a 30 percent chance of getting into this place,” Domke said. I thought this was wildly optimistic.
Soon an employee emerged from behind the fence and curtly told us that we did not have an appointment, and informed us in no uncertain terms that we would not be entering — unless we wanted to return for the public caucus.
Domke asked if there was any possible way to talk to someone else. The guard mentioned a name and said we could call her. He did not offer a phone number, but I had it. Domke dialed, and while he did, I snuck away to snap whatever photos I could of the elusive school. We would be leaving in about 60 seconds, I figured, so I’d get what I could.
Moving along the tall shrubbery, I caught glimpses of the buildings inside. A glass dome, artfully flanked by palm trees, marked the school’s entrance. In front of the doors, twin metal doves arched their wings skyward atop an outdoor statue. As I contorted to try to get the best photo angle of the flying Israeli flag, Domke called me over.
We were going in.
It turns out that the school’s Director of Development is a 1997 University of Washington graduate. When we agreed to focus on the school and not the caucus, she agreed to give us 10 minutes, but with no quotes on the record.
She ended up giving us 45 minutes, a tour, and a recorded interview.
February 4, 2012 at 6:56 AM
LAS VEGAS — A couple of undergrads were horsing around in the hallway when I entered the building.
At the Latter Day Saints Institute of Religion Student Center on the campus of University of Nevada-Las Vegas, young Mormons have heated discussions about politics over ping-pong and candy. Lots of candy. Several baskets of candy — in bowls on the front desk, on a coffee table, in the hallway.
I grabbed a piece as I asked the receptionist if I could speak to someone about Mitt Romney and Mormon politics. “LDS,” she kindly corrected me with a smile. I blushed. From that moment on, I’ve used LDS -— not Mormon —- when talking with members of the Church.
She led me to the office of Institute Director Garth Rasmussen, whom she referred to as Brother Rasmussen. The LDS Doctrine and Covenants book, labeled and marked with color-coded tags, lay open on his desk. Within minutes, Brother Rasmussen was openly sharing his gospel with me.
Here’s the thing, though: Rasmussen said he was happy to talk with me about politics, provided I knew that they were his opinions and not those of the LDS Church writ large. I said absolutely, and we started discussing political issues from healthcare to welfare. About the latter, he got particularly passionate, and shared with me a Mormon parable called the “Gullible Gulls.” (more…)
February 3, 2012 at 11:32 AM
LAS VEGAS — Ground zero in the nation’s housing crisis can be found near the intersection of Ann Road and Clayton Street in North Las Vegas. Those crossroads are smack in the middle of the 89031 zip code, which had more home foreclosures last year than any other in America.
That’s where we met Pacita Valerio.
Valerio is a single mother with two children, and she bought one of the first homes in her subdivision in 2005, for $255,000. Valerio said she moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas three years earlier so her daughter, then 18, could attend college on the mainland. To make the home downpayment, Valerio cashed in her retirement savings.
“I was one of the first to move in,” said Valerio, 55. “When you passed by here six or seven years ago, you didn’t see hardly anything. Then the homes grew like mushrooms.”
The subdivision was built by Pardee Homes, which according to a recent report has built homes for more than 40,000 families in southern Nevada since 1952. Unfortunately, many of the homes in Valerio’s neighborhood never filled because the economy slowed and then went into freefall. To make matters worse, a large number of those who did buy eventually found themselves unable to make the mortgages.
This double whammy decimated market prices. Today, Valerio’s home is worth $95,000 according to her 2011 tax assessment, she said.
“There are probably 300 homes in this community, and I walk around and I see a lot of signs and empty houses,” Valerio said. “Maybe 30% of the homes have people in them. The home two doors down they bought for $110,000 not long ago. It’s better, bigger than mine. I pay $1500 a month (for a mortgage). They pay $700.”
It’s a story that is all too common in the Las Vegas area.
February 2, 2012 at 4:18 PM
LAS VEGAS — The competition for opulence on the fabled Las Vegas strip is fierce, and the towering Trump International Hotel, with its twinkling gold-plated exterior and plush interior design, plays to win.
The hotel’s namesake and owner, business magnate Donald Trump, thinks he’s betting on a winner as well.
If there was any lingering belief to the rumor that had circulated widely yesterday evening that Trump was throwing his weight behind Newt Gingrich to be the next U.S. president, the enormous “ROMNEY” sign that greeted us in the pressroom off the ornate Trump International Hotel lobby buried that notion.
The pressroom was draped in velvet blue curtains with no fewer than six snappy American flags acting as a stately backdrop. Special guests were seated in rows closest to the podium, including the former First Lady of Nevada, Dema Guinn. A gaggle of press photographers stood poised on an elevated platform behind the guests, their gigantic camera lenses all pointed to the front of the room. After a friendly black Labrador Retriever took a preventative sniff of our bags, we made a beeline to the first row of seats reserved for the press and soaked in the scene. Mitch Potter, Washington Correspondent for the Toronto Star, turned to us from his chair next to ours and said of our environs, “It looks like a final episode of The Gong Show.”
Donald Trump, sporting reality television’s most talked about hair, entered the room closely trailed by Mitt and Ann Romney. The couple looked far more relaxed and well-rested since we had last laid eyes on them, in what was a difficult week for the Romney campaign in South Carolina.
“Mitt is tough,” said Trump. “He’s smart. He’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.”
Trump then turned over the podium to Romney. Romney thanked Trump succinctly, drew attention to the very real foreclosure crisis in Nevada, and his plan to reverse these kinds of trends. In closing, Romney recapped his credentials, not missing a chance to inject a bit of humor. “I spent my life in the private sector—Not quite as successful as this guy, [gesturing behind him to Trump] but successful nonetheless. Sufficiently successful to understand what it takes to get America to be the most attractive place in the world for innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators.”
While it was made clear that there would not be a Q & A segment of the press conference, Trump did reappear in the back of the pressroom after he and Romney exited the front of the room, and took questions from the floor. The following UW Election Eye video captured some of his comments about his decision to endorse Romney, as well as a little tease about his own presidential aspirations:
February 2, 2012 at 6:37 AM
On the road to Nevada and Colorado caucuses: Sin City, Super Bowl Weekend, Ted Haggard, and Tim Tebow
LAS VEGAS — Call us crazy. Our friends and families certainly do.
This morning we hit the road for another week on the ground of the presidential three-ring circus — er, campaign.
Our first stop is in the bright lights here to chronicle three days of Republican Party campaigning and Saturday caucuses in what are high holy days in the Sin City — Super Bowl weekend. To kick it off, Donald Trump will make a “major” announcement today at 12:30 pm at his eponymous Trump Hotel and Towers on The Strip. We’ll be there — not to see The Donald, but to see what surrounds him. Epic. Absurd. America.
In Vegas, we plan to report on the housing crisis in the nation’s worst-hit city for foreclosures, to examine how people of the Mormon faith thrive in a state known for gambling and legal prostitution, to get some up-close insight into famously inexpensive Las Vegas culinary culture, to shed some light on Newt Gingrich’s largest benefactor and Las Vegas hotel mogul Sheldon Adelson, and to unpack the Nevada Republican Party’s decision to release the caucus results via twitter.
On Saturday we’ll be tweeting results and commentary from caucuses all across Clark County, which houses 60% of the state’s Republican population. The final caucus of the day will be held at a school named for Adelson, which should be interesting.
At dawn Sunday morning we head to Colorado to spend three days exploring conservative (Colorado Springs) and liberal (Denver and Boulder) strongholds in a politically purple state. Mitt Romney has the GOP nomination momentum and is likely to do well in Nevada, but on Tuesday Colorado joins Minnesota and Missouri in voting, so it’s a test of whether Romney can cement national support.
We plan to attend former National Association of Evangelical president Ted Haggard’s new church, which began in a barn after his fall from grace following a sex scandal, and his former church, which meets in a building the size of an airplane hangar. We are set to talk to Air Force Academy cadets and other military members who populate the region. We will hear what Latino Republicans think about their candidates. We want to know what the Obama campaign is doing in this crucial swing state. And we won’t be stunned if we see Tim Tebow somewhere on the campaign trail.
On Tuesday evening we’ll be tweeting results and commentary from various points up and down Interstate 25, which runs from the border of New Mexico to Wyoming, smack through Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver, and alongside Boulder, Loveland, and Fort Collins. We’ll probably sing a particular John Denver song while we’re at it.
Please join us here for our posts. Crazy? Maybe. Compelling? Absolutely.
Continue after the fold for some scene-setting information on Nevada. We’ll provide similar context for Colorado on Sunday morning when we catch our breath.