Alexa Solis/Nevada Sagebrush
Ward 2 candidate Naomi Duerr speaks to students at the first session of the Late Night With a Legislator series on Sept. 3. The forum’s venue, Starbucks, created a more relaxed and informal setting for students and candidates.

Candidate forum encouraged students to be political active.

By Jacob Solis

The Starbucks of the Joe Crowley Student Union briefly transformed into a political hotbed last Wednesday evening as four city council candidates pitched their ideas and themselves at the University of Nevada, Reno’s first Late Night with a Legislator session of the year.

Set in the style of a public forum, candidates Naomi Duerr and Elisa Cafferata, running for city council Ward 2, and Bonnie Weber and Paul Mckenzie in Ward 4, fielded questions from the student-populated crowd, giving answers in a comfortable, informal setting that stripped away a bit of the esoteric nature of local politics.

“I went because I heard there would be free Starbucks and so I could meet and talk with the candidates,” said journalism major Kelman Choice. “I was able to get a drink and really key in on the conversation…it was a bit loud because there were other people there, having their own conversations…but it was a nice little nook to host the event.”

Hosted by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Late Night with a Legislator is meant as a springboard for students at the university to interact with the politicians who influence their lives as Nevadans on a daily basis.

“Government impacts you every day, almost every minute,” said Madeline Burak, director of the department of legislative affairs for ASUN. “The more that [students] are familiar with their elected officials, the better.”

The candidates are in the running for two open seats on the city council, a nonpartisan office. As such, each of the candidate’s platforms subsists off the individuality that serves to separate one candidate from the other.

Duerr, running in Ward 2, has taken an approach of “build[ing] on our strengths” by supporting those who already reside in the City of Reno, but also creating an environment that would also draw new residents. This includes planning for the careful management of resources and “smart planning.”

“I [realized] many issues in our community are handled in silos,” said Duerr in her opening remarks. “The reason I’ve decided to step up…is so that I can bring our community together.”

Opposite Duerr in Ward 2 is Cafferata, who has emphasized creating a “smart government” that prioritizes technology and innovation, balancing long-term finance, and creates jobs through city policy initiatives. Moreover, Cafferata has emphasized “keep[ing] Reno unique” through support of local arts programs, creativity, and a focus on “local talent” stressing the need to support the university.

“I know exactly how hard it is for you [students],” Cafferata said. “We need to make sure that we in the city are implementing policies that are making it easier for you to finish your education…The city has a lot of things it can do to make your lives easier and to make sure that you can be a successful part of the community.”

InWard 4,Weber has put an emphasis on smaller government, noting a will to keep taxes low and a protect property rights. Furthermore, Weber wants to improve fire and safety policy, improve transportation across the city of Reno and balance the budget while bringing jobs to the city.

Weber was a bit more succinct in her opening remarks, summing herself up in saying, “I love what I do.” “I am very humbled by the opportunity to be able to serve…I work for you. I work for the city, for the community,” Duerr said.

Finally, opposite Weber in Ward 4, Mckenzie has created a platform based around three tenets: promoting local jobs through the creation of business incentives, supporting education through the creation and maintaining of public parks, libraries and other educational facilities and engaging the community.

“There comes a time when you’ve either got to lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way,” Mckenzie said. “Things are going a little bit sour in this town right now because of the debt we’ve got, and it’s time for somebody to step up and try to lead.”

The event itself drew a diverse audience through the promise of candidate interaction. One such draw was student Mohsin Alshammari, who is studying political science, finance, and business here at the university.

Originally from Saudi Arabia, Alshammari was particularly interested in the way politicians in Reno handle the city’s problems.

“I have seen a lot of way bigger problems back in the Middle East, [and] I would like to [see how things work] on the ground level.” It was this interaction with local candidates, the opportunity to go one-on-one with future policy makers, that ultimately made the event worthwhile.

“It’s easy to criticize government,” Burak said. “But I feel like you can’t really criticize unless you know who the people are who are making the decisions.”

Jacob Solis can be reached at rhernandez@sagebrush.unr.edu.