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Sheriff’s choice of successor undecided

Here’s an idea: let’s draft former Sheriff Ralph Lamb to climb back into the saddle and take the reins of the Metro Police Department. Since the surprise announcement a few weeks ago by current Sheriff Doug Gillespie that he will not seek a third term, there’s been a flurry of behind the scenes activity by would-be successors and political power players, but the picture is far from clear. Maybe we need rough and tumble cowboy like Lamb to step in and put things right.

This election tussle is unlike any in recent memory for the office of sheriff. Back in the ‘70’s, when the powerful Lamb was upset by an upstart challenger who lasted only one term, the political muscle in town has always coalesced around a single candidate for sheriff in the belief that the job is simply too powerful, too important to be left up for grabs. Since the days of Sheriff John Moran, the successor for the position has always been chosen with the blessings of the incumbent and a small cadre of political consultants whose advice is given considerable weight in the boardrooms of the casino industry. The successor is often groomed within Metro and prepared to one day take over the top job.

But things aren’t close to being as well organized this time. Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the number two man at Metro and the choice of Gillespie to take over the position, is still undecided about entering the race. Lombardo was pretty close to making a formal announcement according to those close to the situation, then he reportedly decided he didn’t want to run, and—according to those who know him—he is now in the undecided category again. He’s a confident guy and feels sure he could handle the job, but like a lot of career cops, he really doesn’t look forward to the topsy-turvy world of a political campaign, one that would likely involve five or more opponents in the primary. Bill Young had the same reservations before he made the decision to run. Gillespie has made no secret of his disdain for political fundraising.

Former Sheriff Young initially said he might run if Lombardo did not, then he backed off because he thought Lombardo was in. I’ve heard that the two of them are at an out-of-town retreat to hash out the pros and cons of entering the race. The uncertainty has left all of their potential campaign supporters—and campaign operatives—standing on the sidelines, trying to figure out what they will do. If Lombardo and Young both take a pass on the race, it means the Big Money forces who always put their dough behind one agreed-upon candidate won’t have a dog in the fight, which is an absolute jaw-dropper.

Political insiders have told me there isn’t much enthusiasm among power brokers for the other announced candidates. When former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody came out swinging at Metro and his former boss a few months ago, he pretty much took himself out of contention for the kind of financial backing that could seal the deal. Moody was a well-known figure at Metro for many years and will certainly be able to raise some money on his own, but I know for a fact that a lot of knives in anticipation of a bloody primary. Officer Laurie Bisch is making a third run for sheriff but, like Moody, she’s never going to get the backing of the establishment folks because she has been so critical of her bosses and the department. Former constable Bobby Gronauer is a popular guy who can raise money on his own but he lost a lackluster race to John Bonaventura so he would be unlikely to get much support from the Strip.

Captain Larry Burns is a wild card in the race. I’ve worked with him on several complex stories and investigations over the years and know him to be honorable and uber-competent. Most of all, he has the respect of officers on the beat. If Young and Lombardo stay out, and if no other designated candidates enter the race, Burns would likely be the one to beat. The Big Money folks might have no choice but to back him. So far, though, there isn’t much enthusiasm being expressed for Burns in the corridors of power, though I’ve heard very few negative assessments either.

As the would-be sheriff’s have been jockeying for early position, a few of the advisors to Gillespie have been whispering in his ear that it’s not too late to change his mind and run for a third term. They are not entirely serious, but not entirely joking either. I’m guessing that the sheriff might even be second-guessing the wisdom of announcing his decision to forego a third term right before a crucial vote was held about the More Cops sales tax increase. The county commissioners who turned thumbs down on the 6-cents-per-day tax increase so that metro could hire more cops might have been less inclined to say no if they knew the guy who was asking for the money would be around for another 4 years instead of just 14 months. Gillespie isn’t finished fighting for more cops though. It will be his primary focus for the rest of his career in public service.

But, if there’s a stalemate, if the big boys can’t decide who to back or which candidate might be best, my suggestion still stands. Ralph Lamb is tanned, rested, and ready.

Other Stuff:

The arrest of court-appointed guardian Patience Bristol for allegedly stealing piles of dough from the accounts of the elderly people she was supposed to protect is truly the tip of a very large iceberg. The guardianship racket that has been sanctioned by local courts has allowed untold numbers of people to see their bank accounts fleeced by unscrupulous thieves. There is SO much more to come.

The venerable Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings is celebrating its 100th birthday this Saturday with day long festivities, the dedication of a special plaque, and—I would guess—quite a bit of drinking. Not many Nevada bars can claim to have been around for a century.

More than 150 well-wishers turned out this past weekend at the Vegas Sands Ranch in the northwest valley to say goodbye to Dave and Barbara Kent. “Friendly Dave” was a bail bondsman, caterer, and political operative for decades in Las Vegas, a guy who really did know where the bodies are buried, and an amazing character. When his beloved wife Barb died this summer, Dave went into a medical tailspin of his own and passed away just a few weeks later. Friends and family partied at the Kent’s ranch and told many stories that can’t be reprinted in a family newspaper.

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