Shamefaced, we begin with an embarrassed mea culpa for our colossal — nay, gargantuan — civic and social faux pas.
"You’re the only person who’s come up here who hasn’t brought a gift for me," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman — ensconced in his thronelike chair in his City Hall office, wearing that smile that never seems to wane — tells a reporter.
Goggle-eyed at the memorabilia-stacked back end of his office, crammed with posters, pictures, clothing, hats, Oscar likenesses and an eclectic array of tchotchkes marking his mayoralty, the reporter repents, (facetiously) promising to return with a show of largess.
"Hopefully, a libation," he quips.
Well, certainly. Our mayor imbibes. We know this. Why object to a little glug-glug? "I don’t know why (people) hand them to me, but nobody ever charges me, which is great — although I am a big tipper," he points out. "My edict is I’m the only one allowed to drink in City Hall. That’s one of the perks of being mayor."
Eight floors down from his 10th-floor kingdom, at the Bridge Gallery, an exhibit of photos snapped by the Las Vegas News Bureau that chronicles his hat-trick, three terms includes several in which Bombay gin (or other alcohol content) accompanies his mayoral grin.
"We tried to be a little careful about that, we definitely could have put more," says Jeanne Voltura, gallery coordinator for the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, who co-curated the display with the News Bureau’s Brian Paco Alvarez. "We wanted to show him at his happiest and not posed happiness, where he really looked like he was having a great time."
How hard could that have been? No politician in America has appeared to relish his political career more than Oscar Goodman. That’s evident in this exhibit in a gallery space that — though it’s essentially a walkway connecting City Hall hallways — snared employees and visitors passing by on a recent morning, clearly not intending to break stride, but diverted into the realm of "The Happiest Mayor in …" what is it again?
Happiest Mayor in America?
"Nope," he says.
Happiest Mayor in the World?
Happiest Mayor in the Universe?
"That is it."
Happiest mayor-elect describes photos of Goodman, a huge red rose and carnation sprouting from his lapel in June 1999 on the night of his first win, then being sworn into office surrounded by ex-Mayor Jan Laverty Jones and Councilman Gary Reese. "That was awesome for someone who had never been elected to anything other than school positions," he remembers. "I came into the race with the illegal line being placed in the sports books at 17-to-1 underdog. … To say I was elated was an understatement."
Quickly, Goodman set the Oscar-ish tone to his reign, as depicted in an October 1999 shot of him in London, flanked by the ever-present, feathers-and-velvet-clad showgirls during a promotional trip. Admitting he can "take some license" with this story, he recalls being in a cab with the gals on the way to a reception by the mayor of London, when a firetruck sped along the other way, sirens flashing.
"They look down, see the showgirls and come to a screeching halt," he says. "All the firefighters take out their little cameras and phones and start taking pictures. Over my right shoulder, I saw the flames coming out of the building."
Yet Goodman isn’t quite on fire when official duties took him into the sports realm, reflected in photos of him tossing out first pitches at Cashman Field — of course with showgirls who were either watching from behind the mound or playing shallow shortstop. "I’ve thrown two strikes on 26 pitches," he says, shrugging over his lack of mound magic. "But the mayor of Cincinnati, (Mark) Mallory, his pitches are worse than mine. He was the worst pitcher I’ve ever seen."
Switching to basketball doesn’t improve his athletic cred, as a 2006 photo captures him taking a shot during a news conference to debut the NBA Monorail. "The ball goes about 2 feet," he says. "It’s very embarrassing."
Yes, there are the civic highlight photos: Goodman signing the "topping-off" beams for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the new City Hall, as well as the mayor wielding a bat (and ex-Sen. Richard Bryan swinging a crowbar) for the "smashing ceremony" at the Mob Museum. Speaking of which …
Bleeding for the city? Goodman’s done it, as he recalls a 2005 photo, the mayor receiving his first clean shave since 1979 for the Helldorado Days’ Whiskerino Contest from now-mayor pro-tem Reese, owner of the Plaza Barber Shop. "He nicked me and I started to bleed," he says. "I screamed and yelled bloody murder and he said if he wanted to hurt me, he could have hurt me. He said, ‘You got no stitches, so don’t complain.’ "
Never one to avoid vivid photo ops, Goodman smiles broadly for a portrait among ornately costumed, white face-painted pals for the dedication of the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Centennial Mural in 2005. "That was a very unhappy evening for me, because they had given me a beautiful red robe and I love robes, and a wonderful hat," he says. "By the end of the night they were both stolen. Never got them back."
Equally amusing is a 2010 photo of Goodman with Tempest Storm, Dixie Evans, Holly Madison and Miss Exotic World Las Vegas Kalani Kokonuts (yes, Kokonuts) at the Burlesque Hall of Fame opening, cutting the frilly pink ribbon.
"They had the oldest burlesque dancer in the world, I think she was 300 years old and I’m not sure she was moving," he says. "Tempest Storm, she was a very classy lady. When I was a high-school kid (in Philadelphia), I used to sneak into a place called the Trocadero and saw her perform, but that’s another story."
Naturally, there are the bartending photos — our mayor serving it up to patrons in 2006 at the Golden Nugget, recognizing National Tourism Week. "I was pouring a lot that night. Everybody was sloshed, including the bartender."
While his wife, Carolyn, campaigns to succeed him, Goodman says he’s fielding post-mayoral options, including offers for reality TV shows. (Could he team with Jones for "Real Mayors of Las Vegas"?). Should she triumph, will he be Las Vegas’ First Husband?
"No, I’m going to be her First Showgirl," he says. "I’ve got the moves down perfectly."
That’s it — the gift!
Orange feathers, lavender headdress and spangled thong.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@review journal.com or 702-383-0256.Preview
What: “Classic Goodman: A History in Photographs of Mayor Oscar B. Goodman”
When: 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday through June 30
Where: Las Vegas City Hall Bridge Gallery, 400 Stewart Ave.
Cost: Free (229-1012)