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Decision-making publicity suits Goodman just fine

Updated Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 | 12:50 p.m.

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Oscar Goodman

As Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and his wife, Carolyn, strode through the doors of the City Clerk’s office Tuesday, they seemed surprised to find two TV camera crews and a couple of newspaper reporters.

“We’re just trying to sign something,” Carolyn said, shrugging off the attention.

That something was a voter-registration form. Goodman was changing his party affiliation from Democrat to nonpartisan, a necessary step if he decides to run as an independent candidate for governor next year — something he’s been hinting at for months.

“This is a slow news day, I can tell,” Goodman said, smiling.

The couple made their way to a conference table, where they filled out forms under the watchful eye of the clerk. A few feet to the right sat a glass display case, full of custom Bobble Heads. There’s Elvis Oscar, Hawaiian Oscar, Tennis Star Oscar, Movie Star Oscar — and last, but not least, Mob Lawyer Oscar, complete with baseball bat.

The question on everyone’s mind: Is Governor Oscar next?

The short answer: He’s still thinking about it.

Goodman, seemingly sensing a collective rolling of the eyes, insisted he wasn’t playing games with the media.

“I’m taking this very seriously,” he told reporters, noting that he hadn’t issued an official news release or invited the press. “I didn’t call you folks here today. You’re here on your own, and that’s the fact.”

Make no mistake: There was nothing natural about last Tuesday’s visit to the City Clerk’s office. Goodman himself had whipped up interest in the event by calling John L. Smith, a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist, who promptly alerted the Las Vegas Valley in an online report, complete with the time of the signing.

Goodman knows he’s news and he knew the press pack would take the bait. Years of criminal defense work have made him a master of working the public stage. Filling out the paperwork took less than three minutes, but it made for great TV and another day of headlines.

To be sure, Goodman says it’s a tough personal decision, one he wrestles with day and night.

“I think the state is in a lot of trouble,” he told reporters. “I think it’s going to take a tremendous amount of effort and an awful lot of luck to turn the tide. I love my family. I love living here in Las Vegas. I love my community. And whatever I would run for would take me someplace else.”

Still, Goodman is leading in the polls and should he decide to run for governor episodes like last Tuesday’s make for free media. Moreover, political observers say dragging out the decision process gives Goodman greater political power.

Kenneth Fernandez, a political scientist at UNLV, said the delay helps Goodman test the political and financial waters and keeps him above the fray. “Once you enter the race officially, you are up for grabs,” he said. “People can start attacking your policy, your performance. You’re going to be the target for everyone out there.”

Michael Green, a historian at the College of Southern Nevada, said that although many political figures have been the subject of rampant speculation over the years (notably former Gov. Kenny Guinn), none has promoted himself like Goodman.

“I think he tends to have the belief that the worst publicity is no publicity,” Green said. “He gets to cause speculation and agitation. But there’s also a degree of making power brokers nervous and possibly a little more willing to pay attention to the mayor of Las Vegas than they otherwise would be.”

The national parallel is former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, whose quadrennial dithering about a run for the presidency earned him the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson.”

Experts say the longer Goodman delays the more valuable his potential endorsement becomes.

If he decides to run, Goodman must gather 250 signatures and submit his petition of candidacy as an independent by Feb. 4.

If last Tuesday is any indication, the cameras will be waiting.

CORRECTION: The day Goodman changed his party affiliation has been corrected. | (December 20, 2009)

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