VIDEO: Crypto, gun control and a housing rights protest: US mayors descend on Reno

VIDEO: Crypto, gun control and a housing rights protest: US mayors descend on Reno
Protesters outside the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Reno, Nev. on June 4, 2022. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

Photos by Eric Marks

RENO — Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve is touting public art and blockchain technology as part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which brought to Reno hundreds of city leaders this weekend. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday kicked off the event.

Schieve welcomed council members to the stage at the conference during an introductory talk on Saturday.

“I work with tremendous people. I am very blessed,” she told the audience. “We really are a region that comes together and works as one.”

Absent, however, was Council member Jenny Brekhus, Schieve’s bitter rival who is frequently at odds with the mayor and the rest of the council, and whom other council members regularly berate on social media. 

The conference wraps up tomorrow, but already the mayors are pushing mental health and gun control initiatives.

“We urge you to call the Senate back to session now to take up and pass these bills to help reduce gun violence and the terrible toll it takes in our cities and our nation,” they wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. It was actually the second time the letter was sent to Congress. 

The letter was originally sent by 255 mayors in 2019 calling for stronger action on gun violence. 

The Space Whale NFT. YouTube screen shot.

Space Whale NFT effort advances with few details

Schieve announced Saturday to the mayors that Reno’s Space Whale would become an NFT, or non-fungible token, a digital representation of the downtown sculpture. 

Reno officials announced on Friday the U.S. Conference of Mayors would be advancing the NFT project for the whale. They could not provide more information and did not respond to a follow-up inquiry today.

Schieve has been promoting cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. She said last year she wanted to save the sculpture by turning it into an NFT

“It … is a great way to attract more tech developers to our region since it shows innovation and a city willing to encourage test cases,” she wrote in an email last year to EDAWN’s Mike Kazmierski. “We will also be the first city to create an NFT which again will give Reno a leg up in creating blockchain initiatives attracting talent. Not sure how much excitement the whale will create but I think it could do rather well being the first city to create a non fungible token.”

At the time, the NFT was pitched to Schieve as a potential to generate millions in sales. 

The process, according to Chris Lawlor of a blockchain company that “is leveraging technology to build tools and experiences on the Tezos blockchain,” would involved creating “a 3D digital art representation of Space Whale (we can work with a digital artist to ‘ghostwrite’ the artwork) – this will be a unique digital work of art, which are highly collectible and gaining traction, with ~$100m in sales in the last month alone.”

Schieve responded, “Omg!!! I love it. I think it’s brilliant.”

Instead, the city used general fund tax dollars to purchase and repair the sculpture. It was a reversal from how the whale was originally presented to the public upon installation at City Plaza. 

The latest NFT effort reportedly will benefit Reno’s public art. A U.S. Conference of Mayors spokesperson did not respond to an information request about the project by the time of publication. 

Schieve gave a copy of the NFT of the whale to all mayors who attended the conference.

“This can be sold on a secondary market, so they become very valuable, but you’re getting the very first public art piece of this whale … and you can sell it on a secondary market,” she told the other mayors.

Government adoptions of blockchain tech have been a mixed bag. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been pushing the technology – and facing criticism for doing so.

He’s been accused of being a word-salad spewing grifter with respect to blockchain.

“Only Miami’s mayor has thrown his full endorsement behind a CityCoin-branded cryptocurrency so far. After promoting MiamiCoin to residents and investors since its launch in August, the city of Miami received millions of dollars through its agreement with CityCoins,” Quartz reported May 16, 2022. “Over the last nine months, however, MiamiCoin has lost nearly all of its value, falling about 95% from its September peak to just $0.0032 as of May 13.”

That led a researcher to comment, “The city did 0 diligence, and anyone who listened to Suarez is paying the price.”

The City of Reno announced last week it partnered with a blockchain company to put the city’s historic registry onto the blockchain. City officials said it would increase transparency and accountability.

Protesters greet mayors at bowling stadium

A group of about a dozen protesters chanted outside the downtown National Bowling Stadium Saturday evening. They screamed at mayors and their staff arriving by the busload to a disco party hosted by the city.

“Just like Reno, disco and music have evolved over the decades,” the conference agenda noted. “Lose yourself to the music in the Silent Disco, sample custom-crafted cuisine, and specialty cocktails, and take a new headshot in the neon glow.”

The two dozen protestors outside the event had a different message. 

“End the war on the poor!” they yelled as hundreds disembarked tour buses into the stadium. “We can’t pay rent with NFTs.”

One sign read, “enjoy your schmooze-fest, assholes.”

The demonstrators demanded accountability and support for the working poor and homeless in the Reno area. They cited the more than 50 homeless and indigent people who died last year, a year-to-year increase in homeless deaths in the region.

Reno mayoral candidate William Mantle was one of the demonstrators.

“Reno has the highest rent of any mid-sized city,” he said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to that and not have parties while people are dying.”

An expert on housing, who is attending the mayors conference, said Reno is experiencing a housing crisis similar to many major western cities.

Teresa Bryce Bazemore runs a federal home-loan bank and has more than 25 years of experience in mortgage banking. She said she wants to help provide more affordable housing. 

“We have a lot of people who are already paying 50% of their income [in Reno],” she said. She said the supply of housing needs to be addressed.

“We don’t have enough housing to support the population,” she added.

This Is Reno photographer Eric Marks was removed from the bowling stadium by police after trying to take photographs inside. He was initially greeted by Schieve, but somebody from the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority later had him removed.

“Evening events aren’t open to the press,” said RSCVA’s Ben McDonald.

This story was originally published on This Is Reno.