“I’m the happiest mayor in the world!” Oscar Goodman bellows into the telephone after he’s greeted by a reporter and asked how he’s doing. As citizens of Las Vegas well know, Goodman, their mayor of eight years — in April he was re-elected in a landslide vote to his third and final term — is consummately enthusiastic.
Goodman also is a consummate showman, which is perhaps only fitting for the man who presides over a place in which what happens, famously stays. The spry 68-year-old often shows up at public events flanked by showgirls (“I take them everywhere with me,” he says. “I took them to Europe, to New York — whatever my gorgeous, trophy wife allows.”) and has flamboyantly proclaimed: “I drink to excess, I gamble with both hands, I’ll bet on anything that moves.”
Goodman’s bio is no less colorful. A former criminal defense lawyer to the mob and Playboy guest photographer, Goodman recently served as a spokesman for Bombay Sapphire gin (he donated his $100,000 fee to charity) and made headlines when he advocated televised thumb amputation as punishment for vandalism.
Flamboyance aside, Goodman also has been a tireless champion for Las Vegas and has assisted in the city’s transformation from a seedy, after-hours haven to a ’round-the-clock family destination. Goodman brought the first NBA All-Star Game to Las Vegas in February (the first time an All-Star Game has been played in a city without a basketball franchise), and is making headway in his dogged campaign to bring a sports franchise permanently to the city — NBA commissioner David Stern recently formed a committee of team owners to look at the feasibility of such a plan. (Stern has historically been opposed to the idea because the league’s games are part of the Las Vegas sports books.)
“It’s as close as Vegas has gotten to being considered as a major-league city,” Goodman says. “Now it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”
The city also is refining plans to build a sports arena downtown, with or without a home team.
On several levels, development has been a priority for Goodman, who led the city’s acquisition of 61 acres of the downtown’s Union Park district. The site will house a mix of residential, commercial and retail space (including a world jewelry mart) as well as the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, designed by Frank Gehry, which broke ground in February. The center will be devoted to the research and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and will also house a Museum of the Mind, a performing arts center and a Wolfgang Puck cafe.
Goodman compares his job to “playing Monopoly but with real money,” though he admits that it’s not always that simple.
“We have social problems, homelessness issues we’re trying to resolve, health issues,” he says. “And traffic issues — we don’t want to become gridlocked like Los Angeles.”
Ultimately, Goodman says, “Las Vegas is a tale of two cities. It’s the entertainment capital of the world — we’ve got the best restaurants, the best casinos and hotels — but it’s also a city of 1.8 million people who are yearning to have a world-class city. That’s where I’m putting my efforts — on the arts, on culture, on medicine and education. I’m not sure the work is ever done there.”
For the work he has done, however, he receives high reviews from Vegas locals.
“He’s a relentless promoter of our town, and he’s a mayor that’s made a difference and is not a typical politician,” says George Maloof Jr., owner of the Palms Hotel and Casino. “We’ve become a playground for Hollywood, and our mayor plays right into that. He’s a celebrity. He understands the value of promotion and the value of being positive about our town. He gets it.”