Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 10:20 p.m.
Mayor-elect John Lee earned a big victory Tuesday night, but now the real battle begins — fixing North Las Vegas.
Lee afforded himself a moment of celebration as he watched the municipal primary results update live with about 70 other friends and family inside his home. When results from about 85 percent of the city’s precincts were counted showing him with more than 50 percent of the votes, he let the reality sink in. He won.
Lee finished with 53.6 percent of the votes to defeat incumbent Mayor Shari Buck, and bypass the general election.
Now he has 12 weeks to prepare to lead a city devastated by the recession, marred by housing foreclosures and only one year removed from declaring a state of financial emergency to close a $30 million budget gap. He promised he could revitalize the city; now he must prove it.
“North Las Vegas has suffered an image problem,” Lee said. “By a change of leadership that will solve some of the issues. Then as mayor it is my job to set the tone and direction of the community so other local governments can see the things we are doing and join us as we pull out of the malaise we’re in.”
Buck has until July 1 to finish out her term. Lee said he doesn’t want to interfere with her work until then. Instead, he said his first step is to monitor the city council meetings and assist the North Las Vegas lobbying effort in Carson City.
“It’s a transition period,” Lee said. “It just all depends on when we want to start that process.”
Once in office, Lee must untangle a knot of problems. He’ll have to deal with a series of potential lawsuits, prioritize which amenities it can afford to keep open in the summer and set the city’s direction in addition to a plethora of financial issues.
Lee said it is too early to determine which problem he’ll attempt to address first, but he knows the biggest issue he faces is fixing the city’s image.
He said he is looking into different economic development projects, including one with the Federal Aviation Administration, which will create jobs. He also hopes a new direction and an improved economy will win back people who left the city during the recession.
Even knowing the mountain of problems he faces, Lee is certain he can turn the city around in one term.
“If you give me four years from beginning to end, you will find a stronger, more vibrant community, a lot of potential will turn into reality,” Lee said. “It’s going to be like a phoenix — it will fly again high.”