Gov. Goodman?


On weekends, the Einstein Bros. bagel shop at 6770 N. Durango Drive in northwest Las Vegas is packed throughout the morning hours. The line to order is typically 10 to 15 customers deep, and those who don't take their food to go are forced to spy on the seated patrons to figure out who might be leaving soon so they can grab a table.

During the work week, however, the shop has a more subdued atmosphere. That is, except for last Friday. On that morning, Oscar Goodman was scheduled to hold court in the shop. To commemorate the "Breakfast with the Mayor" event, colorful balloons were tied to the chairs.

When Goodman arrived, all heads swiveled and the mayor turned on the charm. "Whose birthday is it?" he asked the room, grinning. Spotting a little girl, he asked, "Is it your birthday?"

Goodman smiled for a picture with the nonbirthday girl, then chatted with several oldsters who had something or other to tell him. He worked his way over to the shop's incomparable manager, Wendy, and more picture-snapping ensued. He was handed a coffee.

At last, Goodman sat down at a reserved table, and the people who had come for an audience with him queued up. A few codgers with nothing but time bent the mayor's ear longer than their fair share, but Goodman was patient and appeared to listen intently to each of them.

Many people in line held manila envelopes to present to the mayor. Who knows exactly what was in each one -- a business plan, a resume. But no matter what it was, Goodman showed interest, and occasionally instructed an aide to take the person's information and set up a meeting.

This scene in the bagel shop was not unusual. Goodman meets casually with the public fairly often. But what struck me about Friday's event was people's reverence for the man. It's not simply that Goodman is a celebrity. It's that he's seen as someone who can make things happen, or at least will work tirelessly to try to make things happen.

Downtown Las Vegas remains a work in progress, but where would it be today without Goodman's tenacious efforts? Would there be a brain research center, a busy outlet mall, a performing arts center ready to break ground?

Now consider: What other living Nevada political figure has a reputation for making things happen?

And then consider: What is required to seriously tackle the state budget crisis? Does anyone who casts votes in Carson City have what it takes to push through a bold agenda to fix the mess we're in?

George Skelton, a Los Angeles Times political columnist, isn't optimistic that our western neighbor will solve its budget fiasco anytime soon. His prediction: "More punting, 'kicking the can down the alley' and numbers rigging."

Sound familiar?

Skelton adds: "Budgets for the foreseeable future, as they increasingly have been, will be painful patch jobs stitched with gimmickry."

He might as well be talking about the Silver State, not the Golden State.

Nevada desperately needs someone -- a political hero, if you will -- to take charge and confront our budget crisis. He or she must be skilled at building consensus, but also capable of knocking some heads together to get things done.

This person must recognize that politics ain't pretty. It's a knock-down sport in which everybody gets a little bloody. You know you've accomplished something when nobody's completely happy with the result.

I don't see any political heroes in Carson City today. Sure, there are some smart, well-intentioned politicians, but who among them has what it takes to convince the people and their fellow decision-makers to buy in to the difficult solutions to our fiscal problems?

Goodman has been talked about as a possible gubernatorial candidate for a few years now. He's asked about it practically every day. It's clear that he's given it some thought, but he hasn't revealed his intentions. One would think he'd need to make a decision in the next month or two.

It can't be an easy call. For one thing, Goodman is a Vegas guy through and through. He isn't likely to suffer through Northern Nevada winters. He'd have to take the job with the understanding that he'd spend the bulk of his time in Las Vegas.

For another thing, he'd be seeking the post at an ominous time: the worst economic period in state memory. And yet, the financial crisis actually could make the job more enticing to someone like Goodman. After all, serving as Nevada governor during a time of economic prosperity can be a little boring. I recall long periods of Kenny Guinn's tenure when I all but forgot we had a governor.

It's not clear whether Goodman could win a statewide campaign or whether his municipal successes could be replicated at the state level. At City Hall, he needs to herd only six cats to get what he wants. In Carson City, he would have 63 feisty felines to contend with. But still, he may be the only politician in Nevada with the charisma and audacity to lead us out of this deepening morass.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications. His column appears Friday.

 

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