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October 30, 2014

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Preferring a barista over a bar, Carolyn Goodman gets out of the mayor’s office

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Danielle McCrea / Special to the Sun

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman hands 6-year-old Ashlee Meza her business card, a custom poker chip, Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Updated Tuesday, March 19, 2013 | 9:54 a.m.

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Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman looks over the work of local artist Dorothy Turner on Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Enthusiastic chatter replaces the usual low-key coffee shop soundtrack at the neighborhood Starbucks. The tables are full, people are standing and everyone’s looking at the same woman, a tall blonde in dark glasses.

She's bending down to a little girl and handing her a poker chip. And now she’s shaking hands, working the room. Her makeup is pristine, dark mauve lipstick matching her mauve shirt-skirt ensemble. Her platinum locks are blown out in Marilyn Monroe fashion. She’s stolen the attention of the room.

Even those who appear not to know who she is are sneaking glances. This is Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman's meet-and-greet, “Coffee with the Mayor.” It's her version of her predecessor's “Martini with the Mayor.” But instead of her husband's gin martini, she sips a skinny vanilla latte, with a straw.

Goodman, who on July 6, 2011, succeeded her husband, Oscar, as mayor of Las Vegas, plans these get-togethers about every six weeks, each meeting in a different ward. The idea is to make herself accessible, to stop in on the neighborhood and say hello. Today it’s at the Starbucks on Rancho Drive at Bonanza Road.

The first eager constituent to sit down with the Mayor is 6-year-old Ashlee Meza. She is dressed in her school uniform and is positively giddy. Her father is holding a video camera and handing her a microphone as she catches up with Goodman, barely able to eke out words between shy giggles.

The poker chip the mayor handed to Meza is her business card. The passing of this chip is a ritual that’s repeated throughout the morning. “This chip is for health and good luck, not for gambling,” Goodman says.

Ashlee, as her father, Marco Meza, tells it, is passionate about helping people. At age 3, when she learned that Santa Claus did not exist — “I didn’t want to lie to her,” her father said — Ashlee decided she needed to fill in the gap of his myth and give herself. She donated 10 inches of her hair to Locks of Love at age 4 and at age 5 started her own charitable foundation, If I Win We Win.

The youngster is interviewing Goodman, asking her innocent questions like “What’s your favorite thing to do?” and “Who’s your favorite person?”

Goodman responds with sweetness and charm; most answers reference love of her family — Oscar Goodman, her sons, her grandchildren. Her closing remarks leave Ashlee glowing.

“I wish everybody in the world, especially everybody in Las Vegas, would be as kind and thoughtful as you are, Ashlee,” Goodman says.

In the next hour and a half, Goodman visits with 15 more people, some sitting down in pairs.

There’s Alejandro Alvarez and his business partner, David Marchak. They pitch their passion to create a thriving downtown cultural center for Las Vegas’ Hispanic community. They’ve brought their business plan, a mock-up of their version of the Cashman Center redesign. Goodman coolly listens, nodding her head and agreeing that it’s a proper and good idea. She tells her assistant, Lora Kalkman, to give them a business card and offers the names of the people they need to get in touch with. Again, she passes her chip.

Melinda Gonzalez and Tony Vandhieri, two young representatives from ITT Technical Institute, sit down. They ask the mayor to speak at a graduation ceremony. She agrees upon one condition.

“As long as it’s not at night. Last time I did an event at night, I could feel the wind start to push me over. Plus I have a husband to go home to,” Goodman says, the three of them sharing a moment of laughter. “Life has not changed in our home since I took over his job.”

Next up is Brooklyn, N.Y., transplant Linda B. Feldman who is elderly and uses a walker to maneuver around the crowded coffee shop. She’s dressed in a crisp blue suit and her makeup is done, hot pink lipstick and bright blue eye shadow, and she has pure white curly hair. She simply wants to meet the mayor.

“I have a niece that lives in Elmont, Brooklyn,” Goodman says. Their conversation is immediately intimate. They’re sitting side by side, Goodman leaning in close to hear soft-voiced Feldman. She wants a picture. For the first and only time of the morning, Goodman removes her dark glasses.

Throughout the rest of morning, Goodman meets with two local artists, a new transplant who asks for her advice on what there is to do in Las Vegas, and a mother and son who simply want a picture. In a break between constituents, Kalkman reminds the mayor that she’s meant to do a shtick serving the Starbucks customers.

“No. We can do that at the end. The people come first,” Goodman says. She never gets around to pouring coffee.

Getting face time with the mayor seems motivated by little more than the chance for a friendly chat, for bragging rights, or to ask a small favor or endorsement in a personal project or business endeavor.

Few share concerns, plea for change or express anger over bad municipal decisions. People with significant issues or requests usually make appointments to see the mayor privately at her office.

At precisely 9:30 a.m., Goodman walks toward the door. Before she can make it to her car, she’s stopped three times by coffee shop patrons.

“Are you the mayor?” asks a group of young, college-age women. She passes out her chip.

A young man flamboyantly dressed in a fur vest pitches her his furniture business. She passes out her chip.

And as she opens her car door, another woman asks to have her picture taken. The mayor is happy to oblige as she reaches for a chip.

Danielle McCrea is a UNLV journalism student.

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