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October 22, 2017

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In writing his book, Oscar Goodman ‘found myself to be a hero’


Christopher DeVargas

This year marks the 51st anniversary for former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman and his wife, Carolyn, the current mayor.

Oscar Goodman

Las Vegas Mayor-elect Oscar Goodman is congratulated on June 8, 1999 after beating City Councilman Arnie Adamsen in the mayoral race. Goodman has served three consecutive terms as mayor of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »
The cover of former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's book "Being Oscar."

The cover of former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's book "Being Oscar."

Oscar Goodman’s autobiography, “Being Oscar,” is being released Tuesday by Weinstein Books. The former three-term Las Vegas mayor sat down with me for an extensive interview that covered topics including representing the mob as a lawyer, his 12 years at City Hall and his half-century love affair with his wife, Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

Oscar Goodman on Thursday hosts a dual launch party for “Being Oscar,” first at his steakhouse, Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads, then continuing to the nearby Mob Museum.

He said writing the book was actually that: He wrote it long-hand.

“There is no secret about it. I am computer illiterate, so everything is written out long-hand on yellow pads.”

And in writing “Being Oscar,” which he predicts will be made into a movie, Goodman said he learned a lot about himself.

“I had a good time writing it, remembering it all. There was lots of self-introspection and self-evaluation. It was a good experience for me. I found out who I was and became a better person as a result. I found myself to be a hero.”

The former mayor also calls “Being Oscar” a love story.

“Throughout the book, you will see that Carolyn is interwoven, and she becomes part of the very fabric of my life, keeping me straight when I was representing the mobsters. She would always say they are colorful, and they were. Each one had a nickname, and they would surround themselves with beautiful women. They always had the best of food, always the best tickets, and they treated me, because I was their lawyer, like them.

“She said you have got to be very careful that you don’t become your client, and I really didn’t know what she meant in the beginning. As time went on, a lot of lawyers who represent that romanticized type of individual, they become that person because they fall in love with the lifestyle, and that is where their life begins to unravel. The client doesn’t want you to be like him; the client wants you to be different. I am not going to say a cut above, or a cut below, but different than him.

“The client wants the lawyer to be respected by the courts, respected by the opposition, and if you lose that respect by being the same as they are, because they are not respected in that yo-yo, you become worthless to them. Even though I represented them, and I was with them on a daily basis and I had dinner with them while we were trying a case, I never became part of them.”

Other excerpts from the interview:

Mike Smith's Oscar Goodman

b&w,pop culture,Oscar Goodman,Las Vegas Launch slideshow »

Would you or could you have become part of them if it wasn’t for Carolyn?

It’s Carolyn who kept me on the right track throughout that. It’s funny, when Carolyn was elected mayor, one of her council people told her, “The difference between you and Oscar is that we were all scared of Oscar.” And she said, “You better be scared of me!” Don’t worry. Carolyn is taking care of herself; she hasn’t lost a vote yet.

What was it like, representing people who were involved in some pretty, by reputation, shifty stuff?

I didn’t realize how lucky I was. It took a little bit of time. The type of person I represented, who was reputably a mobster and a bad person, was looked at with great disfavor by the public, even though there was a fascination with the mob. When you get into court, the mobster is glorified. The government had the best investigators, the best FBI agents, the best IRS agents and the best drug enforcement agents trying to make a case against them. They brought in the best government lawyers to try to get a conviction.

Click to enlarge photo

Defense lawyer Oscar Goodman, left, in court in with Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, the Chicago mob's feared overseer in Las Vegas. Spilotro controlled the crime family's rackets empire here for more than a decade.

Usually judges were able to get the case as a “plum” into their courtroom. So you had the best of everything that the system provides on the other side of you. It was almost like David and Goliath. I loved it. The wiretap statutes went into effect virtually when I got licensed in 1967; the first wiretap case took place, and I was involved in it. The search and seizure laws with a warrant were being liberalized; I had the opportunity to litigate them.

Did your conservative family upbringing pave the way to be a lawyer, and did lawyer training prepare you to be mayor? And, if so, what quarter of life are you in?

My dad was a lawyer, and I had a great deal of not only love and respect, but admiration for him, too. I saw him in court on one occasion that I write about in the book. Basically, I was very taken by that. You can do a lot of good as a lawyer; you can help people. But I’ve fired clients.

Would the city of Las Vegas and Clark County be a lot better off if they were one instead of two administrations?

Yes, consolidated. It should be the city and county of Las Vegas. We should change our form of government here; we should have a strong mayoral form of government because the way the system works, there is no one person where the buck stops. There a lot of different people, and it’s very difficult to assess responsibility as a result of that. I think a strong mayoral form of government, with a mayor being responsible, is the best way to resolve that. If they don’t like what the mayor’s doing, vote him or her out, but to have county commissioners fight with one another, it’s always a 3-to-2 vote.

Let’s go back to the day that you first arrived in Las Vegas and what you saw.

It was Aug. 28, 1964. Everybody knows the day they arrived in Las Vegas. Two young kids, my wife and myself. We were young, leaving behind a very conservative upbringing, both of us. Driving over the mountains up in Boulder City, coming across the dam and looking out seeing a couple of those twinkling lights in the desert and a tumbleweed, which I hadn’t seen outside a Western movie, rolling across the car. Carolyn said, “Where have you brought me?”

Click to enlarge photo

The Goodman family gather around a bronze bust created in his likeness of Oscar Goodman, Monday March, 12 2012.

Then it was just 60,000 people, not knowing a soul and looking forward to conquering the frontier. That was then. Now I do have a vested interest. My four kids returned to Las Vegas after being educated. I have six grandchildren here. There is so much work to be done to make this into the world-class city that I’d like to think it will become.

You’re obviously proud that you revitalized downtown, but what do you wish you could have accomplished if you could have run for another four-year term?

Well, the only thing I failed at doing was the arena. I really wanted to bring the NBA and NHL to Las Vegas while I was mayor. For a lot of reasons, it didn’t happen, but I am hoping that it happens under Carolyn’s watch. That would be wonderful. That’s primarily the reason she ran, because she wanted to see that part concluded.

Is there anything about your life you would have changed?

Yes. I would have been a better father. I rationalized while Carolyn basically raised the kids. My life, people don’t realize that most of my cases were not in Las Vegas; I was running all over the country. I would leave Sunday to the airport, fly some place, try my case until Friday, take a late-afternoon flight back to Las Vegas, and Carolyn would meet me, and we would go to a place for pizza. It was like a honeymoon.

That is why the marriage lasts as long as it does, because really those years it was like a honeymoon. We truly like each other. Then Saturday morning, I would get up really early and go down to my law office and look at my messages from the entire week, open my mail; I would get home about 11 in the morning, be a good father, go to soccer games, violin concerts, ballet lessons.

I would rationalize that I was a qualitative parent rather than a quantitative parent. The truth of the matter is they didn’t miss me because Carolyn was such a good mother, and they all turned out fine. I missed those events that I think are part of the enjoyment of life, dealing with your children and seeing them involved in things. I cheated myself.

Do you miss being the mayor?

Every day. I say in the book’s last sentence, ‘I miss it every single day’ — but it is better sleeping with the mayor! You do miss it because it takes up all your time, and I was very lucky because I was popular. It was adulation out there that you don’t see with most elected officials. People would come up to me and say, ‘You are doing a good job’; that doesn’t happen any place else.

It is a long time before it happens, but what is the epitaph going to read?

He loved every day.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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