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October 31, 2014

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As Las Vegas mayor, she is her own Goodman

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Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times / MCT

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, right, happily works in the shadow of her predecessor and husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman, Nov. 21, 2013.

The Goodmans in Office

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, left, poses for portrait with predecessor and husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman, Nov. 21, 2013, with their bobble head dolls. Launch slideshow »

Mayor Carolyn Goodman has a visitor.

Impeccably dressed in a pricey blue suit, he gazes smugly past the mayor and her oversized desk inside the new Las Vegas City Hall — admiring commanding views of downtown and ocher-hued hills on the horizon.

"This used to be my office," he announces.

"No, you never worked here," she says dismissively.

"Well, I designed the balcony. As my refuge for a martini and a cigar."

The mayor eyes this cross-to-bear caller. Over the next hour, she alternately describes him as a "big buffoon and phony," a "narcissist" and a "snake-charmer," along with "outlandish" and "brilliant."

All with a loving smile.

It's the daily banter between this city's two famous Goodmans — husband and wife for half a century, a union that produced four children and six grandkids. For 12 years, until he was termed out, Oscar Goodman was mayor here, a one-time mob lawyer with a showman's panache that proved a perfect counterpart to this gambling mecca — the consummate sinner running Sin City.

The post is largely ceremonial, but Oscar emerged as Las Vegas' chief promoter and defender.

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Former Mayor Oscar Goodman and his wife Mayor Carolyn Goodman hand out flags during the annual Veterans Day parade in downtown Las Vegas Monday, Nov. 11, 2013.

Then in 2011, Oscar swore in his wife to take his old job. Though critics predicted she'd be little more than Oscar's mouthpiece, City Hall insiders say Carolyn has become a quiet force of her own.

She has worked to further his agenda of bringing new economic vitality to a city still smarting from a lingering housing crisis, championing tax credits to lure more Hollywood filming projects.

One challenge has been to establish her own public image. In the parlance of the Strip, Carolyn's following a comedian who just killed the audience. Both 74, they're as different as strip poker and afternoon bridge.

But when they're together, it's the Oscar and Carolyn Show — both finishing and interrupting each other's sentences. And mostly, when Carolyn talks, Oscar assumes a strange position: silence.

Carolyn calls herself a "we-our-us" person, saying he's a "me-I-my" guy who "makes things up as he goes along to make himself look better."

As mayor, he never touched a computer, preferring to scribble on yellow legal pads. On her first day in office, she sent her staff a group email to announce she was Carolyn Goodman, not Mrs. Oscar Goodman. Oscar wore makeup before the TV camera; she wouldn't dream of it.

His office included a throne — a gift from supporters. Hers is low-key, the only holdover from his work space a sign reading, "Welcome to Fabulous Mayor Goodman's Office."

Known as the Martini Mayor, Oscar is rarely seen around town without his glass of Bombay Sapphire gin — straight up. He once told a class of grade-schoolers all he'd need on a desert island is a bottle of gin.

Carolyn, who founded a nonprofit college preparatory school, rarely mixes alcohol with business, and playfully chastises her husband for "schlurring" in public after a few drinks.

She never gambles. He does: "I'll bet on anything that moves. If there was a cockroach here, I'd lay a wager on whether it skittered left or right."

Oscar is now the official ambassador for the city's convention and visitor's authority. He calls himself "the queen's consort" because there's this small rub: He makes no bones about still wanting to be mayor.

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The Fremont Country Club grand opening attended by Mayor Carolyn Goodman and husband and former Mayor Oscar Goodman and with entertainment by Louis Prima Jr. in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

But, cracking a gimlet-eyed smile, he also says, "Sometimes it's better to sleep with the mayor. I'm proud of her. She has the testosterone of a couple of bull elephants. She calls it as she sees it."

No kidding, politicians here say. "Oscar's meetings were three minutes long," says Mayor Pro Tem Stavros Anthony. "When Carolyn has a meeting, it's a meeting."

Tom Cochran, chief executive of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, has seen the pair dissect city business. "He's bombastic; she's the opposite," he says. "He'll lean back and spout, 'Well, if I were still mayor, I'd do this and that.' Carolyn will wait patiently and finally say in her nicest voice, 'Well, you're not the mayor anymore.' It's beautiful."

The pair met while attending college near Philadelphia — she went to Bryn Mawr, he attended Haverford. So, was it love at first sight?

"I was very good-looking," Oscar begins.

"Do you mind if I answer the question?" Carolyn interrupts. "Then you can talk about you."

Carolyn says she wasn't interested at first. But Oscar was. "He was passionate about my legs," she says.

He showed up smelling like alcohol on their first date. They went to a bar ("Where else?" she says) and drank scotch and beer. Oscar was a womanizer, and Carolyn's dorm mates begged her to dump him, just as he'd dropped them. But she liked him: "I have this thing for strong men."

They got married, moved to Las Vegas and raised a family. He became a criminal defense lawyer who represented wiseguys. In 1999, he was elected mayor, continuing his flair for the outrageous. He attended many functions flanked by showgirls and once threatened to cut off the thumbs of graffiti taggers.

The media relished him. But not even Oscar could finagle a law change to allow him a fourth term.

Carolyn, who stayed busy running the Meadows School she founded in 1983, was urged by her children to run for mayor. At first Oscar encouraged her, then changed his mind, saying he wanted to protect her from all the "mean-spirited pundits."

On the eve of the candidate filing deadline, she still couldn't decide. Oscar fretted all night, but she slept well — and woke up deciding to go for the post.

"I listened to his opinion," she says, "and then discarded it."

"Nothing unusual," Oscar fires back.

She won with 60 percent of the vote.

Once inside City Hall, Carolyn's female friends urged her to use Chippendales dancers as escorts to counter Oscar's showgirls. But she decided to go her own way.

These days, pillow talk at the Goodman residence rarely involves her seeking wisdom from the grand old sage. If he's too many martinis gone, she waits until morning to talk, she says, rather than "waste my breath."

Carolyn recently announced her run for a second term in 2015. As Oscar wraps up his recent visit to her office, she tells her scheduler to cancel her 5 p.m. meeting.

"We just want to go home," she says.

The visitor finishes her sentence.

"And drink."

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