Las Vegas Sun

April 27, 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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  1. Las Vegas is a cash driven City. We need a mayor that will promote business and leave the flash to the Nevada agencies that specialize in promoting Nevada and Las Vegas with Flash with credibility.

    The City Council under Mayor Goodman and Gary Reese are limited in vision and ability to expand and diversify the Las Vegas economy. The mayor has hit his limits, Gary Reese has stayed too long. Las Vegas deserves new ideals, new faces on the City Council. Replacing the Mayor with Mrs. Goodman or another who will continue the status quo will place Las Vegas far behind other cities competing for new business and not allow Las Vegas to develop into a diverse economic.

    Simply, we need new thinkers, new ideals, and mainly new leadership on the Las Vegas City Council.

  2. Longtimevegan,

    well said.
    Oscar is a wonderful ambassador for the city.
    However, at this time, we need a leader, not a cheerleader.

  3. Chunky says:

    Painting Mayor Goodman as a "gin drinking..." implies he's drinking on the job or an alcoholic which as far as Chunky knows he's not.

    Mr. Goodman has been a great ambassador for Las Vegas at the right place and the right time. Chunky likes Mr. Mayor's sense of humor and candor in the face of criticism even though our political views rarely align.

    As to what we need next in a mayor, we certainly don't need a pencil pushing MBA CEO type akin to the Wall Street goons who have run our casinos into the ground and have nickel and dimed our visitors to death.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  4. Please, show me a person this time around that will run on repairing the issues and helping the city. No hyperbole nonsense about doing the jobs of the Fed's. (dealing with banks) or issues that are power of the state.

    Who will be the first to step up and really address the issues of the city?

    Who is going to present a REAL PLAN with FACTS AND FIGURES to back it up?

    Who is going to be the first to stoop to slinging garbage at their opponents?

    I know the public loves the drama and the BS but is there enough voters out there that really care about our city and want a real person in office that has a real plan?

  5. Thank goodness I live in Henderson. We may not have a flashy mayor or sassy city council folk, but they're quite good at getting the job done and keeping our city functional.

    Otherwise, I wish y'all the best of luck in getting a Las Vegas city government that the good people of Vegas truly deserve.

  6. I pray it will not be a yawn fest. After what I heard on KNPR last week I am most definitely worried. Mr. Larry Brown and I are going to have to sit down and talk. Mr. Brown this is an open invitation to coffee at the Beat Downtown. Topic - Downtown revitalization, redevelopment, the arts, economic diversification...

  7. Voting is a public, baby pacifier... a placebo.

    After that last, "absurd excuse for an election," how can anyone STILL not understand that?

    The only vote that will send a message to the highly confused and totally delusional "upper class" is NO turnout at the polls and pollsters getting "no comment" right back in their faces from "the people."

    It would translate to "no vote of confidence" in any of the future morons offered (by the puppet masters behind the curtain), as "representatives of the people."

    This is the ONLY, viable option at this juncture of the current collapse.

    The only other (historical) recourse to the current "crime wave" in politics and banking is a violent, armed revolution, which would only create a NEW elite.

    That would mean that we get to do this all over AGAIN...and we're running out of time, boys & girls.

    So a violent revolution is "not on the table"...not an intelligent option.

    "Recessions, depressions...are sound bytes to cover up system frailty collapses that eventually "heal" with contrived, system tweaking.

    This quagmire is not going to go away, as it has so many times before in American history.

    The cumulative damage from these other "recessions & depressions" has stacked so high that the American dollar and any slivers of American morality are already essentially bankrupt.

    Trouble is...the upper class has the guns.

    ...and very little reluctance to use them.

    Any suggestions...or just more bogus, complex tangents and denial?

  8. Las Vegas cannot afford a boring mayor, nor should it have one. The homogenization and dumbing down of Las Vegas is a bad idea. It ignores who and what we are. It pretends that our history doesn't exist. As in Austin, where the campaign is "Keep Austin Weird," the future of Las Vegas is in its authenticity. Keep Vegas Wild.

  9. Ah, I see. We're going to stick with the "tangents & denial options."

    Well, I think it was Einstein that said something about doing the same thing, the same way over and over again, expecting different results is classic insanity.

    Guess the only thing to do wait for the Daily Beast's new listing for the "Most Insane Cities."

  10. So, the answer is revolution? Good luck with that.

    It is "insane" to ignore the nature of something and try to reinvent it as something else entirely.

  11. James...WHAT revolution are you talking about?

    And this...'It is "insane" to ignore the nature of something and try to reinvent it as something else entirely.'

    WHAT are you talking about?

    Your post says 5:19 P.M. You got started early.

    It's not illegal, but you should not drink & type.

  12. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Oscar "Mighty Mouth" Goodman fooled me once - never again. The fact that he proved to be a clown was not a big factor. The biggest factor was his endorsement of alcohol. What was he thinking? The abusive over-use of alcohol claims more casualties, more innocent victims, than the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan combined many times over. And, for 30 pieces of silver, "Mighty Mouth" extolls the virtue of being a booze-hound. He's a disgrace!