Councilman Isaac Barron stands at the large windows of his ninth-floor North Las Vegas City Hall office, or "roost" as he calls it, and points out the markers of his upbringing.
He looks to the north and points out his old neighborhood, where, as a teenager, he fought and lost a battle against an apartment development that he thought would exacerbate problems in a high-crime area.
Born in 1969 in Las Vegas to immigrant parents from Mexico and graduating in 1987 from Rancho High School, Barron teaches social studies at Rancho, where he also advises the Hispanic Student Union.
In June, he was sworn in as the first Hispanic to serve on the North Las Vegas City Council.
Barron had considered running for office for a few years. But he felt former Councilman Robert Eliason was a good representative, and so Barron waited for him step down before running. As soon as the 2012 elections wrapped up and voters turned from presidential to local elections, Barron launched his campaign. In the dead of winter, limping from a replaced hip and damaged right foot due to rheumatoid arthritis he had at age 12, Barron went door-to-door asking for support.
He was elected to serve the Ward 1, which has the largest concentration of Hispanics in North Las Vegas. The ward also includes the downtown area, which is targeted for redevelopment. Besides development efforts, Barron is focused on a plan for graffiti removal and abatement, a program to display art and hold cultural events in unused city hall space, and working with the Regional Transportation Commission on improvements in the city.
The Sun sat down with Barron to discuss his transition into government and his vision for North Las Vegas.
Your father came to the United States during World War II as part of the Bracero program, which imported immigrant labor. What advice do you think he would have given you about serving in government if he were alive today?
My dad was a very pragmatic guy. He would definitely tell me to keep my day job as a teacher. And, I've done that, because I think being a teacher gives you good background. When you're a teacher, you have to accept each and every kid who comes through your door, whatever the background or baggage they've got, whether they are a valedictorian or a kid with an ankle monitor. Each and every constituent that shows up at my door, I have to address their needs. I think teaching keeps me well grounded.
Have you gotten a lot of feedback and support from the Hispanic community after winning the election?
There was one lady, she literally met me at the door with tears in her eyes. She is a Latina. It still touches me deeply. (Choking up) She came out and hugged me because she never thought she would see a Latino politician come and ask for support at her door. As a matter of fact, after we won, people asked me: "How do you feel being the first Latino?" And I said, "It's about time." Ward 1 is a majority minority ward, and Hispanics live throughout much of the rest of our city. We haven't had that voice. I want to give a voice to everyone, but particularly that segment that has been under-represented.
Are there certain issues you want to address from the stance of minority representation and input?
I'd like to see a little more diversification in our police force, fire department ... in every department in our city. I'd like to see more hiring in our city of people from our high schools. Some day we are going to fill out our city staff, and I'd like very much to hire from within the city and to see a more diverse workforce, something that reflects the city we have.
You are in charge of a ward that spreads from downtown North Las Vegas up north toward Apex. What's your vision for such a diverse district?
I made this analogy during the election. If the four wards of the city were a litter of puppies, I'm getting the pick of the litter. People may not believe that because parts of downtown are a little rundown. ... There is no place in the state of Nevada with a future as bright as Ward 1. This is going to be the place to be. Not only do we have the historic part of North Las Vegas, which is going to be redone, but my ward also includes the I-15 corridor past the speedway and out to Apex. There will be an interchange built at I-15 and 215 that will help growth, and there is the Veterans Affairs hospital, as well. That will be a catalyst for a lot more investment in the medical industry. There is an ammunition company coming in, and other businesses are looking at moving into Ward 1 ... Nowhere else has the potential that we do. On our part, it will take a little bit of guts, some vision, some hard work and lots of money, of course. That will come. I think the business community will notice that the bumbling North Las Vegas is a thing of the past.
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Original headline: For NLV's first Hispanic councilman, the time is now
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