Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman might never emerge fully from the shadow cast by her more famous husband, former Mayor Oscar Goodman.
But after one year leading Nevada's biggest city, she is beginning to carve her own legacy, that of a persistent persuader as opposed to her husband's boisterous battering ram.
Her first year in office has included the opening of a new City Hall, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and a Mob Museum in the former federal building and post office, all projects that started during her husband's three terms as mayor.
"I had 12 years side-by-side with my husband, and we are very close," she said. "I sort of felt a piece of the city with me, so that is a huge advantage."
Carolyn Goodman's own list of mayoral accomplishments is modest by comparison.
She touts a partnership with Wells Fargo in which the bank will spend $7.2 million to help people buy homes in the city, persuading the U.S. Conference of Mayors to hold its 2013 annual meeting in Southern Nevada, and pressing the Cleveland Clinic to continue developing medical facilities to complement the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
Also, the city recently joined Clark County, North Las Vegas and Henderson in issuing regional business licenses to contractors who work across Southern Nevada.
"All these things that I talked about or was queried about during the campaign, they are still very viable here," Goodman said.
Her critics say the list of achievements is sparse, at best, and that Carolyn Goodman rode her husband's coattails into office and hasn't done much of anything since.
"She hasn't even put up a new stoplight," said Derek Washington, chairman of the Stonewall Democrats of Southern Nevada, a political interest group for gays, lesbians and transgender Democrats.
Washington, who supported Goodman opponent Chris Giunchigliani in the mayoral election, clashed with the mayor over her ongoing refusal to sign a proclamation of support for gay marriage, something he says would boost tourism by highlighting Las Vegas as a diverse and welcoming destination.
"I am as unimpressed with her as I have ever been with any politician," Washington said. "She is coming up on a year later, and she still doesn't know any better. It is ridiculous."
VOTING WITH FRIENDS
Just as Oscar Goodman's groundwork in many ways laid a framework of success for Carolyn Goodman to follow, it also played a small role in two high-profile controversies.
One was a decision to approve nearly $4 million for former Councilman Michael McDonald to develop a low-income, senior housing project.
The other was a vote to change land use rules to make it possible to reopen the notorious Crazy Horse Too strip club, where in 2001 tourist Kirk Henry was paralyzed in a fight with club workers.
In the case of McDonald, the council voted 5-1, with Councilman Bob Coffin voting against, to approve $3.9 million in city and federal funds for a housing project near Vegas Drive and Decatur Boulevard.
McDonald and his consultant, subsidized-housing developer Frank Hawkins, another former councilman, hoped to leverage the vote into support for state tax credits that would increase the direct and indirect subsidies to about $11 million.
The problem was that both McDonald and Hawkins had brushes with the Nevada Ethics Commission while in office and the project they proposed wasn't part of an open bid. In fact, city staff recommended that the council reject the bid because, they said, the project was too costly for the number of housing units delivered.
Others criticized it as folly for the city to spend any money on affordable housing while Southern Nevada remained mired in its worst-ever residential real estate depression which means home prices are already low.
When asked recently about the vote, Goodman defended the decision, citing her and her husband's longtime association with McDonald, who has been dogged by financial and political difficulties.
"I have known Michael McDonald since he was councilman or before under my husband's tenure. I know he has had a lot of issues," she said. "Very often people who have had issues can make something great happen if just given the opportunity."
She also said the involvement of Hawkins, who has successfully developed several subsidized housing projects, increased her confidence in the proposal, which still hasn't received the state tax credits it needs.
"I thought, oh my gosh, this really could happen so let's give them a chance," Goodman said. "It would be a grand thing for Michael finally to have a piece that has become very successful for him."
CRAZY HORSE TOO DEAL
In the case of the Crazy Horse Too, the council voted 6-1, with Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian voting against, to approve an exception to land use rules that had rendered the club's entitlements for booze and topless dancing obsolete. Tarkanian said her constituents would not like another topless club in town.
The club, formerly owned by Rick Rizzolo, who has been suspected of having ties to organized crime and had once been a client of Oscar Goodman, is now owned by Canico Capital of Southern California.
The new owners not only sought to revive the entitlement, but also offered to make a $1.4 million donation to the city, an amount similar to a fine levied against Rizzolo that remains unpaid. The decision was controversial in part because of the club's checkered past and for the unprecedented donation the new owners offered, which Goodman and others stressed was not part of a quid pro quo.
Canico could hire an operator to run the property as a strip club or sell it. Either way, having the opportunity to again use the site as a topless joint makes it more valuable to the owners.
During discussion, Coffin repeatedly stated that as much of the donation money as possible should go to Henry and that the city bore some responsibility for malfeasance at the club because it failed to shut it down sooner despite reports of violence and illegal activity.
Rizzolo was already ordered by a court to pay Henry $10 million, but has only made good on about $1 million.
Carolyn Goodman, in a subsequent interview, downplayed the responsibility previous city officials had for the out-of-control club.
"That was five years ago or so, and we cannot go back through history and right all the wrongs that are out there," she said. "Our job today is to take care of the issue today, which is the purchase of that property, and to do everything we can for the citizens to make this community all that all of us want it to be."
She said giving the new owners an opportunity to maximize the value of the property could mean a vibrant business replaces a shuttered building and the donation could help the city.
"There is a huge need everywhere," Goodman said.
'I WANT TO BE RIGHT IN THERE'
Although Goodman works in the shadow of her husband's accomplishments and controversies, people who have worked with her say she has a unique style of her own.
For starters she describes herself, and others concur, as a leader who dives into the details of projects.
"She approaches things with a business practical sense," said Jennifer Lazovich, a lobbyist who has worked at the city, county and state levels.
Lazovich worked with Goodman in an attempt to eliminate city rules that prohibit pawn shops on Las Vegas Boulevard between Charleston Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.
The rule change didn't pass, but Lazovich said Goodman delved deeply enough into the effort to go beyond stereotypes about the pawn business and consider what she thought would be best for the broader community.
"She did not have any of the negative connotations toward pawn shops; sometimes we have to fight those perceptions," Lazovich said. "She was supportive of it being a business that can work well near a neighborhood, that can work well on Las Vegas Boulevard."
Others praised her as a consensus builder for the council as a whole.
Councilman Bob Beers, a former state legislator, said Goodman compared favorably to effective committee chairmen and women in Carson City.
Beers said the key is Goodman's effort to distill the discussions of the seven-member council into a coherent vision for City Manager Betsy Fretwell and other staff members to follow.
"It is an abstract measure, but it has to do with the ability to pull the body within the development of a consensus," Beers said. "If you ever worked in a position with more than one boss, you know what I'm talking about."
Goodman attributes her skills in part to her relationship with her husband and family. In addition to founding and leading the development of the Meadows School, Goodman did much of the day-to-day work raising the couple's four children.
"You don't raise children and be with them without being able to mediate problems all the time as they fight among themselves," she said. "If there are ever issues and a dialogue with the council, and they can't make up their minds what they are doing, I want to be right in there in mediating it."
Just how long Goodman wants to continue shepherding city government remains unclear. She says she enjoys promoting Las Vegas and being part of its economic recovery, particularly when it comes to the fast-paced development downtown.
But when asked about whether she will seek another term in office, she doesn't show the same zeal as her husband, who stepped down after three terms only because he couldn't find a way around Nevada's term-limit law for public officials.
"I'm not sure," she said about the potential to run again. "I'm no baby. I'm 73. But I will tell you I really love it."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.