Saturday, July 9, 2011 | 2 a.m.
During his last full day in office, outgoing Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman talks of his achievements while in office and the options he's entertaining as he returns to life as a citizen. Also, circus performer Gregory Popovich brings to feline stars to the studio for a taste of what his "Pet Theater" production feels like at V Theater.
Four Sun journalists -- Delen Goldberg, David McGrath Schwartz, Joe Schoenmann and Michael Squires -- who covered Mayor Oscar Goodman during his 12 years in office look back on his tenure and discuss what they think will be his legacy.
The car is a Mercedes-Benz sedan. It is clean and gleaming, bearing a license plate reading “LV1,” and it belongs to Oscar Goodman.
Goodman curls his weary body inside the car and twists the ignition key. The engine hums, and in a way the soothing purr is an ideal way to cap one of the Las Vegas mayor’s final days in office.
“Nice ride,” I remark. “What year is it?”
Goodman pauses for a moment.
“I have no idea,” the soon-to-be-supplanted mayor says, chuckling. “I’m not a big material person.”
Then he peers forward, arching his eyebrows and squinting over the steering wheel at the car’s illuminated dashboard.
“It only has 10,000 miles on it,” he says, his voice rising as if in genuine surprise at the car’s youth. “All I do is drive back and forth to work. I’ve never taken it on a road trip.”
“You have never taken this car out of Las Vegas?”
The vehicle, like the man, is all Vegas.
The unexpected veer. Maybe that’s what you take from Oscar Goodman’s winding road as mayor of Las Vegas, three terms over 12 years and never a dull moment. It was a stunner that he ran in the first place, a self-styled “mob attorney” who employed his forceful personality to beat then-Las Vegas City Councilman Arnie Adamsen.
It was a runoff between a textbook politician and a Las Vegas attorney most famous for representing reputed mob figures such as Meyer Lansky and Tony “The Ant” Spilotro. He also portrayed himself in the film “Casino,” a nifty bit of casting, but not exactly the best way to vault a mayoral campaign. Still, the election was no contest, voters overwhelmingly picking a classic Mercedes over the sensible but staid efficiency of Adamsen’s Ford Escort.
“I don’t need this job. I want this job,” Goodman said during that campaign. “There’s a big difference.”
No one wanted to be mayor of Las Vegas more than Oscar Goodman, that can be said. Goodman has often been asked if he would have sought a fourth term and continued his mayoral run, and his answer is, “Absolutely! I would be mayor for life if I could. I love it.”
When his wife, Carolyn, first considered running for the position, Goodman warned her of the high demands of time. The mayor is always running at high rpm, of course, often making a half-dozen appearances in a single day.
But Goodman allows that the madcap schedule he followed as the city’s mayoral spokesman was largely self-inflicted.
“Yes, it has been that,” he said. “But this is not a job for a brain surgeon, OK? I basically have accepted every invitation that has come my way other than when I have had a time conflict. I am very busy. It is not work for the brain, but I have never been idle up here (in City Hall).”
Goodman was met with a job description allowing him to navigate a wide-open road.
“The only description of the mayor’s job in our city’s charter is he or she runs City Council meetings and declares emergencies,” he said. “Nothing else is defined. That’s why it’s a part-time job, but I made it into a full-time job.”
He considered upping the horsepower and making a run for the Governor’s Mansion in 2010. During that period of reckoning, when Goodman seemed to be revving his engine just to see who would jump, one of those also seeking the gubernatorial office flatly said, “He’s not running.”
That person was right, but the idea of Goodman campaigning in rural Nevada while wearing his pinstripe suit and carrying a canteen filled with a Bombay Sapphire martini was too tantalizing to ignore.
Goodman loved the idea of campaigning, but not the idea of running the state from Carson City.
“I think I would have done very well in places like Winnemucca, Elko, Ely. They would have loved to have me visit them and see me,” he said. “But I love Las Vegas too much.”
If the state capital were Las Vegas instead of Carson City? What then?
“I would have run, no question,” he says. And his own internal polling showed that, had he run, he might well be the governor of Nevada today. Suffice to say, the man who bets every day on sports would not have bet against himself.
The discussion turns to the now-in-transition mayoral office, being occupied by Carolyn Goodman. Oscar Goodman says, “You can’t do this job for any other reason than you love the place, you love Las Vegas. That’s the standard, as far as I’m concerned, and Carolyn has that.”
As Goodman departs the office at age 69, his mental acuity and personal charm are still in showroom condition. Recently, three representatives of a Las Vegas hospice facility visited Goodman at City Hall. The group had won a silent auction bid at a charity event, the prize being 30 minutes with the mayor.
One of the officials told Goodman, “My family has always been fans of yours, and we’re not even from Las Vegas. We’re from Utah.”
Goodman asked, “What city?”
“Oh, that’s not Utah!” Goodman laughed. “That’s Las Vegas!”
Goodman later asked the group, “Would it be a fair statement that if somebody goes into your facility, they usually don’t come out?”
When told that is not always a case, he said, “Good. Because I’m having a good time. I don’t want to die. I mean, I really don’t want to die.”
In his return to citizenry, Goodman will still run across potholes and speed bumps. His wife’s relatively obstacle-free path to the checkered flag in this year’s mayoral race came at a price: Former Las Vegas Councilman and current Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown has not spoken to Goodman since the night before Carolyn Goodman announced her candidacy.
Brown, also a candidate and a longtime colleague of Oscar’s, was caught off-guard by Carolyn’s late entry.
On the first day of Carolyn’s campaign, Oscar used all of his tenacity and personal appeal to reach out to Brown, telling a common acquaintance of the two during an animated phone conversation, “I have a phone call in to Larry, and he has not returned it. Can you tell him I’m reaching out to him, that I want to talk to him? When I came in this morning, he was the first call I made. This isn’t going to ruin our friendship, that’s for damn sure.”
This week, Goodman said he hopes the two will talk, eventually, saying, “Forever is a long time.”
Goodman can be effectively self-effacing, quick to downshift and poke fun at himself. It’s a quality that is often lost in the splashy appearances with Bombay martinis, sequined showgirls and the rampant promotion of the city (and, yes, himself) that has marked his reign as mayor. He’s asked about the deal that uprooted Zappos and its CEO, Tony Hsieh, from Henderson to the current City Hall building. The arrangement will draw hundreds of Zappos employees to downtown Las Vegas.
“I didn’t know anything about Zappos, to be honest,” Goodman said, referring to summer 2010 when he first received overtures that the company was seeking new headquarters. It is suggested that he wasn’t fully aware of Zappos’ wide reach because he does not surf the Internet, and Zappos is one of the world’s predominant online apparel retailers. The pairing of an online visionary and mastermind like Hsieh with a true throwback public official like Goodman is exceedingly rare.
Goodman considers that assessment and says, “I am an old codger. I have never typed anything in my life. Everything is handwritten. I’ve never dictated to anybody. I’ve never used a dictating machine. Here at City Hall, I have always written little messages on paper.”
Which direction Goodman steers himself in his post-mayoral life is still unfocused. Producers of a show akin to “People’s Court” or “Judge Judy” have met just this week with Goodman to discuss using him in a judge-as-celebrity role that seems rife with potential. Law firms have requested his time, possibly to lure him back into some form of legal counseling. Casino companies also have sought an audience to bring Goodman on as a high-ranking executive, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has enlisted Goodman to serve as the city’s “brand” spokesman.
Goodman is particularly excited about his downtown speakeasy concept, an idea he has been extolling for months.
“You can go to the Mob Museum, then come to my place for a couple martinis, a little bit of pasta, and we’ll send you on your way,” Goodman said. “It’s a very simple, basic thing.”
Moments later, Goodman makes a phone call on his cellular — one of the few concessions he makes to 21st-century communication technology (he owns no computer of any kind).
You hear a muffled voice asking what he’s doing after work.
“Well, remember the woman who made me the martini and the olives? At 5 o’clock, I have to see her at Triple George, so I’ll be coming home after that. I’m buying her and her friends a round of drinks there. They drink beer, and I’m going to buy four beers!
“I’m all set. Oh, I’ll be home — I’m only going to stay there until 5:15 at the latest.”
It’s the mayor, answering to the next mayor, refusing to sit idle. One thing to be said for Oscar Goodman as he shifts gears to a life as the happiest ex-mayor in the universe: The fuel gauge reads “full.”