Wednesday, June 8, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Carolyn Goodman met expectations Tuesday and won an easy victory in the Las Vegas mayoral race.
Always considered the front-runner despite having no political experience, Goodman, a former private school administrator, beat opponent Chris Giunchigliani by a 3-to-2 margin.
Her win came as no surprise. She benefited from a combination of factors that all but guaranteed her victory.
Here they are below:
Her last name
From the day she entered the mayoral race, Goodman was the candidate to beat, primarily because of her last name and family ties. Her husband, Oscar Goodman, who had to relinquish the mayor’s office after 12 years because of term limits, is one of Nevada’s most popular politicians, and voters’ goodwill toward him carried over to her.
Had she carried a different last name, Goodman would have been considered a dark horse even in the primary.
Goodman insists she’s her own person and will be an independent leader, but she has admitted that her name was an essential element of her campaign. In fact, she often introduced herself on the campaign trail as “Carolyn, Oscar’s wife.”
An uninterested electorate
Goodman made several missteps during the mayoral campaign, but voters didn’t seem to notice or care.
She refused to participate in some debates. She botched questions about domestic partnerships and the Dream Act involving immigrant students. She issued few policy positions and regularly admitted that she couldn’t answer questions, promising instead to learn on the job.
Yet she remained popular and led the majority of polls. The few voters paying attention to the race seemed unfazed about electing a mayor with no political experience.
Why? Again, Goodman had the right last name.
Municipal elections typically attract relatively few voters, but turnout was higher than expected in the mayoral race. Four years ago, about 30,000 people voted. This time around, about 54,000 voted, about the same number as cast ballots in the primary. That almost certainly benefited Goodman more than Giunchigliani.
Although Giunchigliani is a fierce grass-roots campaigner and effective at get-out-the-vote efforts, the majority of mayoral voters were expected to be older and white, demographics that favored Goodman.
Of all the candidates who ran for Las Vegas mayor, Giunchigliani was the most liberal and pro-government. That didn’t sit well with many voters.
Anger at unions and public employees is roiling as public workers’ pay and benefits increase while cities grapple with deficits.
Giunchigliani, a Clark County commissioner, came under fire over county firefighters’ sick leave and overtime abuses. Fair or not, Giunchigliani was perceived to be in a position to stop the fraud, and voters often asked her why she did nothing to curb the scam.
Goodman capitalized on that anger and Giunchigliani’s left-leaning sensibilities to earn Republican and conservative votes. Oscar Goodman clearly has been a part of government as well, but voters seemed to clear him of any blame.
The role of Las Vegas mayor is far more ceremonial than governmental, and many saw the job as a waste of Giunchigliani’s wonkish talents.
The city is run primarily by the city manager, not the mayor. The mayor is a member of the City Council and presides over its meetings but has no more say in decisions than any other council member. As a result, the mayor’s influence comes more from being the face of city government, representing Las Vegas worldwide — a role in which Oscar Goodman shined — than by strong-arming policies.
Carolyn Goodman was seen as the person best able to continue her husband’s larger-than-life personality, even though in reality she is subdued. Giunchigliani was viewed as being stronger with policy than public relations.