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Young Sanders organizer fights public funding of proposed stadium

Posted at 11:43 AM, Aug 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-04 00:05:07-04

Alex Leichenger, a 23-year-old former Bernie Sanders field organizer in Nevada, is trying to generate opposition to public funding of the new stadium proposed by billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Ed Roski for the Oakland Raiders. Leichenger, along with a friend who knows how to design brochures, already has sent a pamphlet to Nevada lawmakers, as KTNV first reported.

"Instead of spending money for a stadium in a special session (which would be needed to approve the plan), how about spending one on housing or whatever else is important," Leichenger asked in an interview Wednesday. "It's bothersome when all of a sudden the top item on the political agenda is how much money can we throw at a football stadium that easily could be financed by the developers."

Leichenger said the effort to stop the public funding so far is a two-man effort -- his friend, Andy Lee, designed the slick piece sent to lawmakers. But, he added, "I know there are efforts in the works on the ground in Las Vegas. There is a grassroots organization that is expected to be starting up in Las Vegas specifically."

He declined to give further details, but said he will provide "similar information guides in the future" to the ones sent to lawmakers. Leichenger, who clearly hopes to bring his Sanders experience to bear, said, "We are organizing on the ground. We are connecting groups interested in the issue."

Leichenger also said he also is concerned about "franchise owners leveraging cities against each other. That's what's happening now. Las Vegas is being leveraged against Oakland right now, and it's not fair to either city."

Leichenger said the issue began to interest him when he lived in St. Louis -- he went to school at Washington University -- and that city only recently dealt with a financing plan for a stadium. When he came to Nevada to organize for Sanders, Leichenger saw the similarities and on Wednesday, he showed his Berner bonafides. "It's amazing because these cities have a lot of challenges with education, housing, economic inequality and racial inequality," he said.

Leichenger said he is "a huge sports fan" and is not "anti-stadium in any way. But it should be done the right way because if it's not done the right way, eventually what you are saying is the enjoyment of professional sports has to come at the expense of things like education."

I asked Leichenger about the argument that stadium proponents use that while it is public money, it is really a tax on tourists, who would pay most of the $750 million the developers propose as the room tax share. "That makes it a little better because it's not out of the pockets of Nevada residents," he said. "But it could be bad because tourism is the biggest industry and raising taxes could hurt the overall economy. And it's highly unnecessary to do so when you have very wealthy individuals."

Adelson is worth an estimated $29 billion and Roski is worth about $4.4 billion.

Leichenger is up against the billionaires, a political system that Adelson has flooded with money and a newspaper that he owns. Some legislators, including the two state Senate leaders, already have appeared in a promotional video for Adelson's stadium.

Public sentiment is difficult to gauge on the issue. Proponents say if voters are told it is tourist money, the project has 60 percent approval. But what if they were informed that money could go for needs such as Leichenger described? A recent KTNV/Rasmussen poll showed strong opposition to the public money component.

"The effort that we're trying to do is really a nationwide one," Leichenger said. "My goal is to reduce or end public funding of stadiums nationwide."