Goodman considers his political future

A little less than a year ago, Carolyn Goodman, whose husband is the mayor of Las Vegas, told a cheering crowd that people should lie down on Sahara Avenue to protest the term limits that will keep her husband, Oscar, from running for a fourth term in 2011.

That election is still two years away, but attention has already focused on Oscar Goodman's political future, be it a try for the governor's chair or some machination that would allow him to keep his 10th-floor office in City Hall.

One idea he's put forward involves a 1996 attorney general's opinion that would require changing the city's charter, taking away the mayor's vote on the City Council and adding another council member.

That would be a big change in the way the council operates, as well as an additional expense, as it would add a council seat at a time when salaries for both council members and the mayor's office are scheduled to increase.

Plus, it would take an act of the Legislature to make the change that would remain in effect after Goodman finally leaves, unless the Legislature reverses it.

"It does change the rules," the mayor said, stressing that nothing formal has been proposed and that he just mentioned the idea to Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas. "There's no guarantee that anybody would be interested in changing the rules. There's no guarantee that the Legislature would be interested in changing the rules or that the current council would be interested.

"This was just a very brief exchange that I had."

The 1996 attorney general's opinion set forth which local offices would be subject to voter-approved term limits.

Generally, it said that "decider" positions, those in which officials have the final say on spending and policy, are subject to term limits, while those with only advisory or recommending power are not.

In Las Vegas, the mayor has a vote on council business.

If a legislative change to the city's charter managed to pass, the mayor's role could be altered to a purely executive function, and a seventh City Council seat could be added so that votes couldn't end in a 3-3 tie.

The mayor elected in 2011 also will be eligible for the raise council members approved in November 2007.

The pay of future mayors was set at 180 percent of a Clark County commissioner's salary. That number hasn't been fixed yet for 2011, but based on current commissioner salaries it would be at least in the $125,000 to $130,000 range, more than twice the existing mayor's salary.

Council pay is slated to go up as elections are held for each seat. The first three of those will take place this spring.

While Goodman wouldn't have voting power under such a system, he would still preside over meetings, promote the city and push redevelopment projects he's championed.

"I would be fibbing to you if I said I hadn't spent the last nine and a half years of my life with certain aspirations and goals as far as the city's concerned," he said. "Through no fault of anybody, much of the progress has been delayed.

"I would like to be around when these projects are completed, and that's the reason for this kind of talk. But there will be other people there if I'm not there to make sure that we follow through."

Does he need to be mayor to keep being a cheerleader, much less one with a six-figure salary but no council vote?

"I think the position of mayor is one that is respected, and I think you have a certain bully pulpit from that place," Goodman said.

"I will always love Las Vegas and I will always do what I can to make it a better place, but I think the mayor's position is such that people do listen."

People also vote for him. He got 64 percent of the vote in 1999, 85 percent in 2003 and 84 percent in 2007.

Goodman could "potentially" damage his political popularity by pushing for a fourth term, but the consequences of that may not matter to him, said David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"Probably, the way he sees it, he's not going to run for any other office, so this is it," Damore said. "He's not poisoning the well for anything else. It's probably worth spending whatever capital he has."

He also noted that changing the city charter would be hard work, as would be changing it back.

"Is this sort of a one-term thing, or does this change the nature of the mayorship down the road?" Damore asked. "Is that really the best thing for the long-term needs of the city?

"The City Council probably likes it. It gives them more power. They can throw him out there to deal with the public, while they hold the real power."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.