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Knapp: Why Sheriff Gillespie won’t run for re-election

<p>George Knapp (Portrait by Jeferson Applegate)</p>

George Knapp (Portrait by Jeferson Applegate)

Tongues are wagging within Metro and in political circles about the real reason Sheriff Doug Gillespie stunned the community this week by announcing he would not seek a third term. When it comes to gossip, cops are as bad as teenage girls, and by now all sorts of dark scenarios and fanciful tales are floating around.

They are baloney.

To say that the announcement came as a surprise is a masterstroke of understatement. No one knew, not even Gillespie’s closest advisors and personal friends, not until he made a few calls to his inner circle on Monday morning.

As it happens, I met with the sheriff at Dona Maria’s last Thursday evening to chat about assorted news stories, including his upcoming race. He spoke as if he was in the race to stay, which is what he has been telling everyone for months. But there were some pretty clear hints and subtle clues that he was struggling with the decision, which is why rumors that he might not run again have popped up over and over for most of this year. Within 48 hours of our meeting, he had made up his mind to bow out.

This Tuesday, I had the chance to sit down with the sheriff again, same restaurant but different booth, to see if he would share some of the reasons behind the decision. It will disappoint some people that there is no secret scandal or single overriding reason behind his choice. In a nutshell, he did it because he did not feel like he could go all-out for another four-year term.

Unlike some political positions, there are no down times for a sheriff, no breaks in the action, no days off. It’s a 24/7/365 job. The phone rings all day and all night, during family dinners, on weekends, during rare vacations. There is always a crisis that needs the sheriff’s attention, always a problem that requires his input to resolve, always a potential threat or visiting dignitary or departmental flare-up or tempter tantrum by an elected official or some other crisis-du-jour, and it really does grind a person down. Sleep consists largely of fitful catnaps.

“I still enjoy the job, and I still have a lot of work to do over the next 16 months,” Gillespie told me, “but when I asked myself if I can give it everything I’ve got for another four-year term, the answer was no.”

As he grappled with the decision last weekend, Gillespie consulted only one other person — his live-in devil’s advocate, wife Louise. The two of them hashed it out, went back and forth and made the decision together. Much to the chagrin of his political team, Gillespie then issued a statement, and that was that.

Is it related to some unspecified health problem? No. The sheriff received the green light from his doctors a year ago.

Is it because he was worried about the political fallout from the recent resignations on the citizen board that reviews use-of-force cases? No. Despite all the speculation about potential challengers who might exploit the uproar about use-of-force issues, Gillespie would have won a third term if he had decided to run, no matter who ran against him. His campaign team consists of the most experienced and savvy consultants in Nevada, and they would not only have raised all the money Gillespie might ever need, they would also have been able to effectively lock out any potential challenger from raising serious dough. That is simply a fact.

Is it because the sheriff is disgusted by the petty and gutless positions taken by elected officials concerning funding levels for Metro? Gillespie says that was not a factor, and he is too smart to tell a reporter what he thinks of the other elected officials who oversee his budget, but I am sure he has grown weary of appearing before various boards to grovel and beg for pennies or another helping of gruel. Somehow, our politicians expect and demand that Metro should be a world-class police department, but they express amazement that they have to come up with money to pay for it, as if they think free cops can be grown on trees, so long as one applies a proper amount of pixie dust fertilizer.

By stepping away from the race now, Gillespie will free himself from the political aspects of what comes next — namely, getting the More Cops sales tax increase approved. He intends to roll up his sleeves and give it his full attention. (The tax increase, by the way, amounts to about 6 cents per day for local residents. The fact that anyone is even arguing about whether we can afford such a burden in order to raise money to offset the $50 million that’s been chopped out of Metro’s budget is flat-out ridiculous.)

And by stepping way from the race now, the sheriff gives potential candidates a chance to think about the campaign. Former sheriff Bill Young has a great job in the private sector, but his name has been mentioned, and if he decides to run, he would likely have the full support of Gillespie and his political team. Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo is the only other potential candidate who stands to inherit the same kind of support, but his decision is inextricably tied to that of Bill Young’s. There are other names that will surface in the coming months — recently retired assistant Sheriff Ted Moody, for one, maybe former candidate Laurie Bitsch, but they — and anyone else — will be long shots at best.

Doug Gillespie is not a politician. He loves being a cop but does not care at all for the fundraising and glad-handing that come with running for office. So, for the next 16 months, he will be able to focus all his energy on some of the problems facing his agency, and when he finally leaves after 34 years as a police officer, he will know that he gave it everything he had.

FRIENDLY DAVE CHECKS OUT

Las Vegas has lost one of its most colorful characters. Dave Kent, known to longtime residents as Friendly Dave, quietly passed away a few days ago, less than a month after Barbara, his wife of 44 years, died. For 30 years, Kent was a bail bondsman, which meant he knew every prosecutor, defense lawyer and cop in town. He parlayed that into a behind-the-scenes political career. His company introduced those large sandwich-board campaign signs on wheels to local races, plus he ran a catering business that staged barbeques and other events for the campaigns of former sheriff Ralph Lamb, former U.S. Senator Richard Bryan, Mayor Oscar Goodman, judges Myron Leavitt, Don Moseley, and Joe Bonaventure, District Attorney Stew Bell, county commissioners Manny Cortez and Thalia Dondero — basically everyone. Dave loved to quaff a beverage or two and talk about his incredible collection of historic Las Vegas photos, and in recent years worked to promote business in the little town of Goodsprings. Sen. Bryan had this comment: “‘Friendly Dave’ was part of the old Las Vegas, one of the characters who made this such a fun place.” Dave’s son Mike is planning an event in October to celebrate the lives of his beloved mom and rascally dad.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.