Ward Three’s Rising Star
The last City of Las Vegas election was highlighted by a fight over rich people’s first world problems.
The residents of Queensridge booted out their sitting councilman because the golf course enhancing their views might go away. No meals would be missed.
The concerns of this year’s Ward 3 election are shall we say, more third world. “That’s what they called my grade school, ‘third world,’” George “Mingo” Collaso tells me as the happy hour crowd streamed into his eponymous establishment in the Arts District. “I didn’t even know what people meant when they called it that.”
GROWING UP IN WARD 3: “LAS VEGAS’S STEPCHILD”
The school Collaso referred to was Walter Bracken Grade School at Sorrell and Eastern. “Just outside the projects,” he explained. Born in 1980, although he looks much younger, Collaso has spent his entire life, with the exception of three years, living in Ward 3. He attended Roy Martin Middle School and went on to attend Vo Tech, earning certifications in business and accounting. He proudly says he graduated on time. It was no small feat.
Living with his single mother, after her divorce from his father, he describes the hellish experience of living on the edge of homelessness. “We moved 40 times,” he said. “We would be evicted every three to six months, and I had to dropout of high school.”
While his mother jumped from one abusive relationship to another, her son decided, as difficult as it was, to complete his education to make a better life for himself. A better life he has. After his short stay in Seattle, Collaso returned to work at the Hard Rock Hotel, set up the accounting department at the Red Rock Casino, and then went on to open the critically acclaimed La Madonna and Mundo restaurants.
The struggles to open Mingo really opened his eyes to dealing with the City of Las Vegas. City bureaucrats seemed to apply city codes arbitrarily, giving him and his partners problems with signage and other architectural issues. The result was months of delays.
The current Ward 3 councilman, Bob Coffin, has been no help. However, it is Coffin’s recent inattentiveness that spurred Collaso to run for the retiring councilman’s seat. A board member of the HIV/AIDS group Golden Rainbow, Collaso reached out to his councilman to deliver a proclamation for the Dining Out For Life® event. Coffin ignored his constituent for six months and Collaso found someone else.
“Coffin shows up for ground breakings, when he can get some press,” says Collaso. “Otherwise, he ignores us.”
Coffin is (soon to be was) a career politician. Collaso tells me more than once, “Change will only be made by non-politicians.”
Things must change he says. For now, “Ward 3 is Las Vegas’s stepchild.”
“I’M HISPANIC, CHINESE, AND GAY: I AM WARD 3”
Like much of the country hasn’t participated in America’s recent prosperity, the Las Vegas and Clark County boom has left Ward 3’s 100,000 citizens behind. The City of Las Vegas Ward 3 is peculiar connection of triangular and rectangular areas.
The right triangle opposite side is Main Street and I-15. The adjacent side is Sahara from I-15 to nearly Boulder Highway, with the hypotenuse running principally along Fremont.
The rectangle’s bottom side runs from Fremont to Nellis Blvd. The northern side runs along Owens from 20th Street to Nellis. The westerly boundary stair-steps south from 20th to 8th, jutting eastward along I-95 to Fremont.
Hispanics comprise 65 percent of Ward 3’s population, with 4.5 percent of residents being Asian, and only 18 percent white. In the whole of the city of Las Vegas 46 percent of residents are white. Both Collaso’s parents worked in housekeeping on the Strip. Collaso joked, “I’m Hispanic, Chinese, and Gay: I AM Ward 3.”
In the city of Las Vegas 28 percent of residents work in service occupations, while in Ward 3 that percentage is 42 percent. Only 62 percent of Ward 3 residents are high school graduates considerably below the city as a whole with 84 percent high school graduates.
The disparity continues for college graduates with 8 percent of Ward 3 residents holding college diplomas, while 23 percent of Las Vegas residents have a college degree.
I mentioned to Collaso that I had driven west down Charleston to his restaurant. “There are too many tire stores, right?” he said. “And no grocery stores.” He lives near his establishment. When I asked how far the nearest grocery store was, he pulled out his phone. “The nearest store is 1.5 miles, but I won’t shop there. It’s too scary,” he said. “The nearest one I’ll go to is 2.1 miles from my place.”
A NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE
Collaso became sick in 2014. He is not a big man to begin with and he lost weight and strength. He looked to be a ghost of himself. Many of his friends believed he wouldn’t make it. He wasn’t so sure himself. Finally, in 2015, he was diagnosed with Lupus. He changed his diet and is on the proper medication. Now, in good health, “I appreciate the things I have and I want others to have these things as well.”
The kid who grew up with nothing, after dodging death’s door, says, “I want to give back.” He tells me he stopped by Goldfarb Elementary school during Nevada Reading Week to talk to students. “I tell them I’ve been where some of them are. I’m someone like them who made my way out with education.”
Consider this: In Ward 3, English is spoken in less than 36 percent of homes, with other languages spoken in 64 percent. This is the exact opposite of the statistics for the entire city where English is spoken in 2/3rds of homes.
Part of that giving back is running for the Ward 3 council seat. He’s not a politician and doesn’t particularly care for them. While Collaso is registered as a Democrat, he’s apolitical. “I run a business. I’m fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.” I told him he might actually be a libertarian, but he doesn’t want to be labeled. While he serves on the Gay Softball League Board of Directors, he mentioned he had voted for Republican Bob Beers.
Crime and safety is first on Collaso’s list. Criminals can easily blend in with the homeless. There are so many abandoned buildings in Ward 3 which harbor drug dealers and other criminals. He believes building owners who are land banking, waiting to be bought out through redevelopment, should pay a blight tax, with the money going to homeless services. He believes mental illness adds to the homeless problem and those people need services.
Infrastructure and roads are the next problem in his ward he considers important. Improvement in these areas would drive “revitalization without displacement.” To Collaso’s point, while over half the homes in the City of Las Vegas live in homes built between 1990 and 2009, only 15 percent of Ward 3 housing was constructed during those years.
The City has contributed to the problem by making Charleston less pedestrian friendly. He mentioned a new fence has been erected in the Charleston Blvd. median, impeding foot traffic. This, in an area where nearly a quarter of the residents are without a vehicle, according to City of Las Vegas statistics.
Collaso would give builders incentives to construct housing if a portion of the projects were set aside for low income buyers or renters. Again, statistics support the candidate’s view that affordable housing is needed. The Ward 3 median income is $29,994, far below the City of Las Vegas’s median of $51,569.
Collaso explained, “businesses must change all the time to attract customers, government should be willing to change as well.”
“Ward 3 is more than the Huntridge,” Collaso told me, referring to the old theatre that is much talked about along with Circle Park. Green space is a priority for him, but he stressed that bringing existing parks back to life should be considered first. He expressed doubt that having round-theclock police presence at Circle Park (on Maryland Parkway) is economically feasible.
Ward 3 desperately needs new businesses and small businesses. The permitting and licensing processes should be streamlined, Collaso said, having been through the process himself. Plus, license fees should be payable in installments, rather than 100 percent upfront, so that new businesses aren’t strangled in their crib.
With 31 percent of Ward 3 residents living below the poverty level, compared to just over half that percentage in the entire city, Ward 3 needs capital investment and jobs. “The City must improve its technology and become more user friendly to business owners,” Collaso said.
When asked about his competitors, Collaso, again, said a business person should be elected. He is the only business person in the race. None of the others is even close and most are either politicians or government employees.
One candidate inexplicably dropped her state assembly position, seeing this seat as a better political opportunity. Another, just returned from serving in Washington D.C. ,saddled with ethics issues. One works for the federal government in the Department of Veteran Affairs, while another served as a park commissioner for the city. A special education teacher is running along with a hotel guest services employee.
Collaso has plenty to do already. This post will be no political stepping stone for him. One of his competitors dispensed an underling to try and convince him to get out of the race and run for something else. He said, “No, I’ve lived in Ward 3 all my life. I want to make it better. This is all I care about.”
Collaso will never forget where he came from. He showed me the tattoo on his arm, “A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.”
“I’m dedicated to communicating with and working for constituents,” he said. “I want to be part of the solution.”
I’m certain Mingo Collaso is already is part of the solution. As the sun set on the Arts District, I left the certain darkness of Mingo, knowing I’d spent time with a star.