Las Vegas Sun

July 3, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Mob Museum may be hit, but questions never a hit with Oscar

As the media generally gush over the Mob Museum and Las Vegas momentarily forgets Oscar Goodman is not the mayor anymore, here’s your Friday Flash with some musings on the National Museum for Organized Crime and Law Enforcement:

• What’s in a name? I still can’t get over the addition of “Law Enforcement” to the museum. How obvious is it that they were sensitive that this might just be a glorification of organized crime? Those last two words and the addition of former local FBI boss Ellen Knowlton were done for credibility, to intimate that this would show the good, the bad and the ugly. And from what I am told, that it does — the bloody violence, the innocents killed, the justice achieved. But it’s not nicknamed “The FBI Museum.” It’s the Mob Museum and always will be known as such because people are fascinated with la Cosa Nostra.

• Reserving judgment: I have not yet toured the museum — I figure I will do so when all the hype and media-escorted tours are over. The gushing coverage makes me wince, so I will judge for myself. I will say that I visited the Spy Museum in Washington with my daughter a few years ago and it was a spectacular, memorable experience. The Barries, Dennis and Kathy, know what they are doing. They also designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and are a delightful, obviously creative couple — I interviewed them on “Face to Face” and you can see it here: here.

The Barries can’t really answer why people who come to Las Vegas would want to go to a museum of any kind, and they acknowledge the inherent gamble of the facility being in downtown Las Vegas. Dennis Barrie also acknowledged that 200,000-300,000 people a year might be a better estimate than the city’s 300,000 or ex-Mayor Goodman’s 800,000 pronouncement.

He said that after I presented him with initial estimates of the Rock and Roll museum that indicated as many as a million a year could come — the biggest year was 477,000.

• Brooking no dissent: Some things never change, so I was not surprised when Mayor Thug reappeared when the Nevada Policy Research Institute questioned how the museum was financed. The questions were legitimate, even if you disagree with NPRI’s conclusion that it is a waste of tax money. The $42 million in financing was cobbled together from various public sources — the city even borrowed against its sewer fund at one point — in a desperate attempt to satisfy the ex-mob lawyer’s fantasy of reliving his glory days. He even criticized senators who thought that was a bad outlet for stimulus funds. But, as NPRI highlighted in a video, which you can view here, Goodman simply cannot abide being questioned, just as he couldn’t when he was mayor and descended into his Nixonian, or worse, thug-like fulminations and threats. He once publicly said someone should break a reporter’s legs after she asked about financing the Zappos deal, so I can only imagine what he threatened to do to non-sycophants in private.

And when questioned on the Mob Museum?

“Those are morons and idiots … all of a sudden these monkeys … They’re not going to rain on my parade,” Goodman ranted to a reporter when asked about NPRI’s criticisms.

Monkeys? Really?

No matter. He was The Teflon Mayor when he held the office and he will be The Teflon Ex-Mayor now.

It’s just Oscar, the paid ambassador to the world from Las Vegas by the convention authority.

• Where are Harry and Lefty? The Review-Journal’s Jane Ann Morrison asked the same question others have been asking, which is why there is no section in the museum reflecting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s tenure as chairman of the Gaming Commission, during which he took on the infamous Lefty Rosenthal. Dennis Barrie had said it wasn’t a good story, but even his wife, on “Face to Face,” acknowledged the video of Harry and Lefty we played was great. (Dennis Barrie said he had never seen the footage.)

Both said Reid didn’t make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. And you should have seen Dennis Barrie’s face when I suggested Reid was scarier than any of those memorialized in his museum. He was more than mildly skeptical. Oh, the stories I could tell you, Mr. Barrie.

The truth is, though, that the museum really is not Vegas-centric. It is about the mob in America, with only a glance toward its Las Vegas activities. It is meant to be universal, the Barries say, showing how the mob affected America and how, because of the frailty of human nature, we enable the mob.

That is a timeless story. We’ll know in a year or so whether people want to hear and see it.

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