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Truly and refreshingly, Rep. Shelley Berkley is an open book

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Senator? Rep. Shelley Berkley hasn’t ruled out a run.
Photo: Justin M. Bowen

If there’s one complaint we in the media have had about the thrill ride that has been this political season in Nevada, it’s that neither Harry Reid nor Sharron Angle likes us very much.

We journos oughta cheer up, though! Come November 3, the hourglass flips and a new cycle begins, one that, God willing, will star the state’s most voluble, press-loving politician who doesn’t drink on the job.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley hasn’t yet decided whether she’ll run for Senate in 2012, but even at this stage she’s more open and direct than is de rigeur for modern politicians. She’s deliberating—get this—in public, telling one rabbi on Rosh Hashanah: “I’ll be talking to you and seeking your counsel. After this election, I’m going to really think about this. I wouldn’t have a primary. I would capture the Democratic primary without a problem. ... I have to decide if I’m willing to forgo a sure thing to go for the gold. If I lose, then I’m out. I’d be risking a lot.”

That’s Berkley’s appeal to wretches like me: She answers pretty much any question, however politically imprudent. I spent that Rosh Hashanah day with her hopping from one Jewish gathering to the next, never once having her refuse to answer a question or ask to go off-record.

Among the tidbits:

• She told a constituent that she believes President Obama has “blown it” with the Jewish community. She softened that a bit when I asked later, saying: “Nothing is irretrievable, but right now he’s in a very bad place with the organized Jewish community.”

• I asked whether Rep. Dean Heller, her likely rival for Senate in 2012, is lazy. “Would that be the right word? Let me see. I will say that he used to be so moderate that we were trying to get him to change parties. That’s how moderate he was. I don’t know what happened to him.”

• In 1970, she declared Harry Reid politically dead. As a Democratic activist at UNLV, she attended a fundraising event for his successful lieutenant governor bid at the Union Plaza and later told her mom: “This man doesn’t stand a chance. I have never met anybody like this. It was torture. Nobody talked. It was so uncomfortable. Oh, this poor guy! This is it for him.”

• Berkley’s also no fan of former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former House colleague with whom she barely spoke. When I expressed surprise that he’s so loathed by Jewish leaders given that he’s also Jewish, she replied: “Yeah, so what? And Clarence Thomas is African-American. I don’t think you’re going to see too many African-Americans who think he’s great.”

• She recounted her battle with Sheldon Adelson, even though “I hate even talking about him.” She was a Las Vegas Sands executive before Adelson fired her for objecting to his union-busting efforts and then viciously tried to undermine her 1998 bid for Congress. To this day, she hasn’t set foot in the Venetian or Palazzo. Of Adelson, she said: “I’m not into psychoanalyzing people, I don’t have the background for that, but he just doesn’t seem particularly happy with everything and every success that he’s had.”

• She denied telling Steve Wynn that the health reform bill was crap, as he reported to me. But she did admit she told him that not voting for the bill could cost her her seat on the powerful House Ways & Means Committee. Said Berkley of the chat: “He called me on my cell and as he’s yelling at me and I’m thinking, ‘I really love the fact that Steve Wynn is on my phone yelling at me.’ It’s just great.”

Steve Friess will host Vegas headliner Rita Rudner and her husband, Martin Bergman, on his podcast, The Strip, as part of the third annual Vegas PodcastaPalooza from 4-6:30 p.m. on October 30 at the Flamingo. For more information, go to vegaspodcastapalooza.com.
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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