Las Vegas Sun

October 13, 2015

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If mayors are city’s lifeline …

Will Oscar Goodman’s successor continue his flamboyant style or take all-business approach?

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In this mobile phone photo, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman shows reporters a robe brought to him as a gift recently by a visiting dignitary from Uzbekistan. "I feel very royal and regal," said Goodman, who is leaving office in 2011 after 12 years because of term limits. Goodman says he expects the field to be crowded for those wanting to succeed him in next spring's municipal election.

Jan Jones

Jan Jones

Voters in next year’s Las Vegas mayoral race will decide whether the city trades its hot pink heels for sensible loafers.

Since the early 1990s, the city has been led by colorful characters — two to be exact — with outsize personalities and a vision of the job as equal parts government leader and municipal cheerleader.

First was Jan Laverty Jones, a dynamic blonde in short skirts and big earrings — the city’s first female mayor — who governed with vivaciousness and candor. She was followed by Oscar Goodman, the gin-drinking, showgirl-toting, self-proclaimed “happiest mayor in the universe.”

Before them, mayors were from a different mold — serious businessmen, friendly and schmoozy but polished. Ron Lurie first campaigned using only his last name so voters would think his father, a well-known businessman, was running instead. Bill Briare was a soft-spoken family man who clashed with Las Vegas’ adult industries. Oran Gragson had a stutter, leaving him ill equipped to be an off-the-cuff orator.

Jones and Goodman “aren’t the first to be outgoing and gregarious, but they are the first to be flashy in doing so,” Nevada historian Michael Green said.

Now, with Goodman term-limited out in 2011 and a cadre of hopefuls angling to take his job, voters will decide whether City Hall returns to its more reserved roots or personality prevails.

To be sure, no candidate will duplicate Goodman, a former mob lawyer who has gained international attention for his outlandish statements and unapologetic ways. Nor should they try, political analysts say.

“There’s no way anyone can fill those shoes,” said Jim Ferrence, Goodman’s political consultant. “He’s a truly unique individual. The next person is going to have a unique persona of their own.”

Still, after 12 years of Goodman, Las Vegans will likely have a hard time transitioning to a boring suit.

“Unlike most races, which come down to policy and campaigns, this one will likely come down more to personality,” Republican political consultant Ryan Erwin said. “It’s more of a marketing job than it is a leadership job.”

The city is run primarily by the city manager. The City Council sets policy, which the manager executes.

The mayor is a member of the City Council and presides over its meetings, but has no more say in its decisions than any other council member. Therefore, the mayor’s influence arises more by being the face of city government, representing Las Vegas worldwide and trying to entice people to visit and settle here.

But gone are the boom years that Jones and Goodman (at least for most of his tenure) presided over. The city is facing record unemployment and foreclosures, dwindling tourism and a general dissatisfaction among residents.

The next mayor will be tasked with turning that around, if not in reality then in perception.

The tough times might demand a more sober, policy-oriented approach. But without actual power to bring about change, the future mayor will likely rely on personality to push forward any agenda.

In attempting to strike that balance, the next mayor shouldn’t mimic Goodman or Jones, strategists say, but create his or her own public persona.

So far, only two people have officially declared candidacy: Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown and Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross. The field is expected to grow, although without a game-changing entry, insiders think the race will be fought between those two. Candidates must file for the election by February. A primary will be April 5, and if no one receives a majority of the vote, a runoff between the top finishers will occur in the June 7 municipal general election.

Brown and Ross, both Democrats, seem to be taking a policy-driven approach in their campaigns.

On his website, Ross promises to make job creation his priority, “hold bankers’ feet to the fire ... to make sure they do everything they can to keep families in their homes” and “monitor the booming ‘easy loan modification’ business that’s sprung up around town like weeds in the spring.”

Brown said his priority will be the city budget.

“It’s going to be a serious job before it gets back to being the ambassador position,” said Ferrence, who is managing Brown’s campaign.

Although widely described as strong candidates and good people, Brown and Ross, along with the handful of people considering running for mayor, don’t appear to have the same over-the-top charisma as Goodman or Jones. That may not be a bad thing.

“In some ways, it may feel like the next person is boring,” Green said. “But given the economic situation and the problems we need to deal with, it may be that change might be good.”

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