For mayor, Mob Museum’s potential is as obvious as a bullet in the head

You know, some days I don’t know whether to drop dead or jump in the lake.

Mayor Oscar Goodman says I can do both if I fail to appreciate the bent-nose beauty of his Mob Museum, which officially goes by the name the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. (Around here the mob always receives top billing.)

When it comes to the gentle critics of his museum plan, the mayor’s a tough guy, see. He don’t appreciate dirty press rats, see. If Goodman had his way, he’d line ’em up against the newly acquired St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall and put it to good use, see.

The jarring symbolism of a Mob Museum is too much for some members of local and federal law enforcement I’ve spoken with. But few will utter a critical word publicly, at least in part because it’s been embraced by such mainstream community players as former FBI Special Agent in Charge Ellen Knowlton and retired U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan.

Last year, reactions to the mayor’s museum idea ran to disbelief. The refrain was, “He can’t be serious.” Former federal prosecutors and current top brass from the gun-and-badge fraternity privately bet neither the business community nor the average taxpayer would go for the plan.

They were wrong.

As time passed, no angry mob of citizens or Italian-American support groups stormed City Hall to demand an end to the mob-themed museum. More people laughed than complained.

Today, the critics’ astonishment has given way to a wincing resignation. The fact Goodman has received such sparse opposition speaks not only to his political popularity, but also to the realization the museum might pump a little vitality into a suffering downtown.

For Goodman, the business potential of the Mob Museum has been as obvious as a bullet in the head. From the start he has rejected attempts by staff to soften his rhetoric. For some strange reason, they thought conjuring images of murderers, extortionists, pimps and drug dealers would be a bad thing.

Tuesday’s official start of renovations at the historic federal courthouse featured Goodman and former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan wearing fedoras and sporting a baseball bat and crowbar like a maniacal Martin and Lewis. (Bryan wouldn’t be the first Nevada senator accused of having mob ties, but he appeared to be role-playing.)

On background, a number of law enforcement officials say they don’t think much of the museum’s potential to caricaturize ruthless killers and thugs.

As ever, Goodman has the right to remain silent — but not the ability.

“You know what I say to my critics?” Goodman barked Thursday. “They can drop dead. What else can I say? I’m not going to make any excuses for it. When I see this kind of publicity, and the world’s looking at Las Vegas, and this is going to be a moneymaking venture, and it’s going to bring 600,000 people into a downtown that needs it, and create jobs and opportunities, I’m not apologizing to anybody. They can jump in the lake. Maybe drop dead is too nice.”

Isn’t 600,000 annual visitors just a little optimistic?

Who crunched that estimate, the people at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve?

Unlike some naysayers, I’ve never been offended by the idea that tax dollars might be used to create the museum. Through the years I’ve watched endless millions pour into government edifices of questionable use and repute. Next to the shoddily constructed Alan Bible building, the Buster Keaton-inspired Regional Justice Center, or the glorious monuments to the power of the state known as the Clark County Government Center and the Lloyd George U.S. District Courthouse, the Mob Museum seems downright quaint. And its creation guarantees the preservation of one of downtown’s undeniably historic buildings.

What’s my beef with the museum?

Its creation threatens to send a false and dangerous message that organized crime is a relic of our notorious past and not an undercurrent in present Southern Nevada society.

So, will the Mob Museum glorify evil?

Will it practice ethnic stereotyping?

Will it send the message that organized crime exists only in the past tense?

We’ll see.

With that, the gentle critic is led to the museum’s final exhibit, where he is gagged, bound, and stuffed into the trunk of a waiting Lincoln Continental.

You know, just for old time’s sake.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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