Saturday, April 16, 2011 | 4:43 p.m.
Carolyn Goodman used every opportunity available in the first general election mayoral debate to criticize opponent Chris Guinchiglini for being a career politician, and a failed one at that.
Giunchigliani, a Clark County commissioner and former state Assemblywoman, defended her record and relied on her knowledge of government to substantively answer questions.
Saturday's debate, hosted by the Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP, set the stage for what's to come preceding the June 7 election.
Goodman presented herself as an outsider who will learn on the job and follow her husband Mayor Oscar Goodman's lead, while Giunchigliani argued she has the experience and knowledge to get things done.
"We are a package deal," Goodman said of her husband.
"I'm proud of my record," Giunchigliani said.
Both candidates filled the Pearson Community Center with supporters, but Giunchigliani appeared to have the upper hand with the largely minority crowd.
Several audience members asked Goodman pointed questions about her husband's treatment of Las Vegas' minority communities. Many said they felt left out of redevelopment and economic diversification projects.
"Where was your political interest when your husband was allowing black and brown communities to fall apart?" a woman asked Goodman.
Goodman acknowledged problems in the city's lower-income, minority wards but rattled off a list of public safety, school and health care projects completed during her husband's tenure.
"With all the improvements, we're on a road and a climb up," she said.
Goodman received the harshest criticism for wearing a Kente cloth scarf featuring African colors. It was widely seen as pandering to the black crowd.
One audience member called her on it.
"Did you wear African garb to pander to us?" the woman asked.
"That is so insulting," Goodman replied. "This was a gift to me. I wore this to honor you with a gift I was honored with."
Goodman also invoked the name of City Councilman Ricki Barlow four times, describing him as a friend and ally. Barlow is black, which raised more accusations of pandering, but he also represents the neighborhoods Goodman talked about.
Throughout the debate, Goodman stressed her commitment to Las Vegas' west side, saying she understands the "pulse beat" of what residents need.
She also mentioned working in the community. When she first arrived to Vegas several decades ago, Goodman worked for two years in a West Las Vegas branch of the U.S. Department of Labor trying to get blacks good jobs in the segregated city.
Goodman showed a better knowledge of issues than she has in the past but continued to answer questions in generalities. She admitted several times that she couldn't offer specific proposals because she's not in government and needs to learn how the city works.
Giunchigliani offered much more concrete ideas. She repeated her calls for school mentorship programs, revolving loans for small business entrepreneurs and a streamlined business permit process.
She seemed to grow annoyed with Goodman's digs.
"She appears to be trying to take something from Victor's campaign," Giunchigliani said after the debate.
Defeated primary challenger Victor Chaltiel came down hard on Giunchigliani for being a career politician.
Giunchigliani, who has widespread support in the minority community, acknowledged that Goodman was better prepared for this debate but maintained that she has no real understanding of the issues facing Las Vegas.
Both women remained cordial to one another, and each kept her composure under fire.
Goodman at one point invoked her husband's sense of humor in answering a question about open meeting laws.
When asked how they would make city government more transparent, Giunchigliani proposed moving council meetings to evenings so the working public could attend.
Goodman suggested that politicians who hold secret meetings be "flayed open" or have their fingers cut off. Her husband once recommended that graffiti artists be punished by having their thumbs severed.