Photo Credit: BILL HUGHES
Patrick “Pirate” Watson owns a 1955 Cadillac and a 1929 Hudson rat rod he built at Cactus Flyer, his friend Mike Kelley’s shop.
Photo Credit: BILL HUGHES
Junkyard Pirates shows off their flag at Rat City Rukkus car show. The group was founded by Patrick Watson, Scott Hill and Kelly Humphries.
Richard Cherchio didn’t plan to speak. The former Ward 4 councilman had been watching his former colleagues at a June 1 meeting where they would vote to declare a state of emergency. Mayor Shari Buck turned on her microphone.
“It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating: None of us could have predicted the economic tsunami that struck our community,” Buck said. “But, we can do something about it. And it starts by setting aside any differences we might have had and focusing collectively on saving our city.”
It was definitely scripted. A little robotic. But it employed the right language to support an effort to stretch a state law that was supposed to cover earthquakes and wildfires into a cure for poor economic planning. After Buck’s statement, the council declared the emergency. Then Cherchio approached the podium.
“I have to take exception to a very well-scripted speech mayor,” he said. “I support the stand you are taking today. It needs to be done. But I also know that a year-and-a-half ago, when I was on council, speaking in unison with the other three council people, you were out there doing 30-second sound bites in front of police stations and in front of fire houses.”
Unlike his former colleagues, Cherchio had a three-minute time limit. While only a few feet separated him from the dais, that distance represented real power. And Cherchio ended up there, on the wrong side of the banister, because of one vote in Ward 4 that pushed his opponent Wade Wagner over the top.
Now Cherchio is watching from the outside as the council slowly dismantles North Las Vegas to prevent its takeover by the state. On the June 20 meeting, the council voted to close the detention center. Cherchio didn’t speak at that meeting because he had a prior engagement at the Culinary training center. But since his loss to Wagner, and his decision not to challenge several votes, Cherchio has been a vocal critic of the current council, appearing at meetings and on NPR. It’s a role that doesn’t have a lot of actual power, even if it does keep him sitting near the table.
The demotion to gadfly doesn’t sit well with Cherchio. You can talk at a council meeting until you’re blue in the face — as long as you don’t exceed your time limit — but you still don’t get a vote.
“It’s a little frustrating at times, knowing what I know and how we got to where we are,” he said. “As vocal and as concerned as I still am, I could have had that voice at the table and possibly brought the unions closer to avoid any potential layoffs.”
Cherchio and his wife moved to North Las Vegas in 2001, and planned a quiet retirement. After 9/11, Cherchio hung an American flag on his house, and promptly ran into trouble with his HOA, which ordered him to take it down. That launched his civic career, as his efforts to bring neighbors together turned into a general concern with the growth of the community.
Back then, North Las Vegas was growing like a cancer. City services couldn’t keep up. Cherchio became a kind of municipal volunteer, removing discarded shopping carts and pulling signs off telephone poles. All of these issues affect the quality of life in North Las Vegas. They are typical municipal concerns.
When he began contemplating a run for office, he never could have imagined that would be dealing with one of the most unprecedented crises in the history of Nevada cities.
North Las Vegas faces a $33 million budget gap for the upcoming year. When the housing market collapsed, it took the city’s finances with it. In addition to zoning changes and trash schedules, the city council has been considering mass layoffs and service reductions. The closure of the detention center will eliminate dozens of jobs.
Cherchio was appointed to represent Ward 4 in 2009, after the former representative, Shari Buck, won the mayor’s race. He only served for two years before Wagner won in 2011.
The economic recession was in full swing by the time he took office. Cherchio, a retired union man, was critical of the generous salaries and benefits awarded to public safety employees. That raised the ire of police and fire unions, who campaigned against him.
As it turns out, his opponent didn’t protect union contracts either. He voted for the emergency declaration and to close the jail.
In the meantime, Cherchio still does what he can. He attends city council meetings and carries a roll of blue tape wherever he goes. When he finds a streetlight that has gone out, he puts a piece of tape on it and calls the city. On council, he asked if city could label every streetlight with a number, so citizen concerns could be easily fixed. The proposal never went anywhere. Now, North Las Vegas barely has the staff to fix broken streetlights, and labeling them might be out of the question.
So Cherchio does what he can, trying to make a difference from outside the council.
“Where the city goes from here, I’m not too sure,” he said.