Sign up for our newsletter
With a meager campaign budget of over just $1,000 — only enough to print his name on 500 yard signs and about 1,000 palm cards — and no one but himself to knock on residents’ doors, Daniel Corona in November 2016 found himself making history. At 25, he was elected as the youngest mayor in Nevada and the first openly gay person and the first Latino to serve as Mayor of West Wendover.
“It just so happens that I am these things,” Corona said, adding that he never thought of volunteering what his sexuality was when interacting with people but clarified that he was upfront and proud when they asked. “I learned to embrace that I am more than just my age and my sexuality. I ran because I wanted to make a difference.”
As a fourth-generation resident who was born and raised in West Wendover, Corona, 30, said he has always been committed to making his city a better place, a drive reinforced by the years he spent away for his university studies. Right after graduation, he went straight back home.
West Wendover, a city of 4,400 residents in Elko County, is located on the eastern border of Nevada and the western edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert. It’s often confused with Wendover, Utah. An outlier in a state that is 60% hispanic among the young population, with an average age of 31 years old.
“I think having more elected officials who look like the community they represent is important,” Corona, who is the first mayor in West Wendover who grew up in the city, said. “I know the people here. That gives me a unique connection with the community.”
During his time as mayor, Corona focused on building affordable housing, improving healthcare options, and diversifying the city’s economy—one that depended heavily on gaming and tourism.
A “Casino Town” Dealing With the Pandemic
This year, Corona is up for re-election, and while he said he was confident about his chances of winning a second term thanks to his momentum and a campaign fund 12 times more than what he had when he first ran, the pandemic has dampened the young mayor’s optimism.
“Covid-19 really put a wrench into our plans,” said Corona, who is also the president of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities. “A lot of the economic growth we were talking about was halted.”
For now, Corona is focusing on helping his city survive the economic crisis the pandemic brought.
While West Wendover only had a handful of positive coronavirus cases in early March, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak ordered “non-essential” business closed to stop the spread of Covid-19. This included casinos, which West Wendover had five of, along with hotels and restaurants.
According to Corona, each casino employed around 500 people, making them the largest job generator in a city known by many as “casino town.”
The devastating pronouncement only meant one thing: thousands of residents instantly laid off.
One of those who lost their jobs was Corona, who used to work in the gaming industry, serving as everything from a bartender to a poker manager.
“The food banks almost ran out of food,” said Corona, who filed for unemployment himself.
Initially, the closure was only for 30 days but the shutdown extended until the first week of June. Although the casinos are open now, the mayor said casino operators told him there is a huge chance they will not open again if another shutdown happens.
West Wendover was not the only community suffering. The gaming industry is also the state’s biggest employer and contributes the most to its economy. This is why, just a month after the governor’s decision, Nevada’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 28.2%, historically the worst unemployment rate nationally and two-times worse than the level during the Great Recession.
The state’s unemployment rate also eclipsed the entire country in April. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only Nevada, Michigan (22.7%), and Hawaii (22.3%) soared past the 20% mark that month.
According to state employment officials, business closures also caused Nevada to lose nearly 244,800 jobs in April, propelling the massive 21.3 percentage-point uptick in the unemployment rate, the largest one-month jump in the state’s history.
Still, the city council persisted to help its residents – voting unanimously to waive utility fees among other efforts.
As of July 25, Nevada has the highest insured unemployment rate at 23.6%, followed by Hawaii (21.1), Puerto Rico (19.1), and Louisiana (17.3 according to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
Corona for his part, urged residents to wear face masks, despite facing backlash, after Sisolak issued a mandatory face-covering policy for all Nevadans on June 24.
Sisolak on August 6 signed a bill that will “connect claimants to benefits faster and will extend the number of weeks Nevadans are eligible for unemployment benefits using only federal funds.”
“It has boggled my mind that this has even turned into a political issue,” Corona posted on his Facebook page on June 27. “My urging of you to wear a mask is not because I’m a “socialist,” ‘commie boot licker,’ ‘wannabe dictator,’ or ‘tyrant’ it’s because I DO NOT want another person in our community to lose their life because of this terrible virus.”
Gearing up for the National Elections
With the virus now dictating how Americans live their lives, Corona has no choice but to look ahead, especially with the elections less than 90 days away. The mayor wants to ensure that his residents will have access to the polls, especially since the city did not have any polling stations at all during the June primary elections this year. Corona said there were fears people would again have to drive hundreds of miles to cast their ballots.
But on August 5, the state of Nevada approved a law to send absentee ballots to all active voters this November, making the battleground state the eighth that will mail all active voters ballots ahead of the election.
The legislation will also extend the deadline for mail-in ballots to one week after Election Day.
The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit against Nevada over the legislation.
Focusing on the Present
Apart from looking for a couple more poll workers to staff the polling stations in November, and fulfilling his mayoral duties to his hometown, Corona said he is currently enjoying his new day job, which he took on just last month.
“I run a senior center,” he said, where he works as program director. “I have a passion for senior citizens. We [in West Wendover] don’t have a lot of services for our elderly citizens.”
The mayor said he is now working on a mobile food bank to distribute food to the elderly who feel unsafe or are unable to step out of their homes.
“This fulfills me,” he said.
If he doesn’t win, what does Corona plan to do? “Get more sleep?” he joked.
The mayor stressed that he never thought he would run for office to begin with.
“If I lose I will be fine with it,” he said. “You should only serve as long as you are wanted.”
Like this series?
Help us spotlight other local leaders. Is there a small-town mayor you’d like to see featured in the Daily Yonder?