Gibbons, Goodman are disappointed Obama didn’t say ‘magic words’

Both the governor of Nevada and the mayor of Las Vegas declared themselves disappointed Wednesday after President Barack Obama only sorta kinda said it’s good to come to Las Vegas.

They had been hoping for a stronger endorsement of business and convention travel to Las Vegas following Obama’s remarks in February criticizing federal bailout recipients who organized events here.

"You can’t get corporate jets, you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime," Obama told those receiving taxpayer bailouts.

“The remarks he did make, I think, were better than nothing,” said Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican. “They were also next to nothing in terms of the impact, the damage that was created by his original prohibition.

“If that’s the best he can do, it’s the best he can do. I’m disappointed he didn’t come out a little stronger.”

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman shared the disappointment, but also expressed more optimism about the impact of the president’s latest visit.

“The magic words didn’t come out,” Goodman said, which was “the bad news.”

“The good news,” he said, is that Obama “lived what I was asking him to do, rather than articulate it.”

The mayor meant that Obama came to Las Vegas, had a good time and conducted some important business — exactly what Goodman said business travelers should be encouraged to do.

Rep. Shelley Berkley released a beaming statement about Obama’s visit, noting that he had both a public appearance and a room on the Strip.

At a Tuesday night event, Obama basically gave Caesars Palace — where he stayed this week as well as during the campaign — a presidential stamp of approval.

“When the president of the United States comes to the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, the whole world knows it, and that is good for our number one industry, tourism,” said Berkley, D-Nev.

“I am more than just satisfied with his remarks. I am thrilled that President Obama made the trip to Nevada, and as a result of his visit, the words ‘Las Vegas’ are echoing around the globe. That is the kind of positive publicity that no amount of money can buy.”

The publicity that followed Obama’s previous remarks wasn’t the kind you would pay for.

At a February event in Elkhart, Ind., Obama took aim at bankers who received federal bailout money and also were planning conventions in Las Vegas.

“You can’t take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime,” Obama said at the time.

After those remarks, conventions and meetings started being canceled, including gatherings organized by Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and State Farm.

Gibbons says the state lost $100 million in business after the remarks, although on Wednesday he said you couldn’t necessarily draw a straight line between the president’s comments and the cancellations.

There were more than 400 of those canceled meetings, caused by both the “AIG effect” and recession-related travel cuts, said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The president’s visit could help repair some of that damage, Ralenkotter he said.

“Many times, someone’s actions speak louder than words,” he said. “The president of the United States came to Las Vegas. He conducted business here. He stayed in one of our world-class hotels. It brought a tremendous amount of attention.”

Obama, who travels on the taxpayer’s dime, arrived in Las Vegas Tuesday night to attend a star-studded fundraiser for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Obama also toured a solar power installation at Nellis Air Force Base Wednesday morning before departing on Air Force One.

“You know, it’s always a pleasure to get out of Washington a little bit,” Obama said. “And there’s nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week. Like millions of other Americans, we come to this beautiful city for the sights and for the sounds — and today we come for the sun.”

Cara Roberts, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said the “nothing like a quick trip to Vegas” line appeared to be catching on, at least in her Twitter feed.

“It seems to be resonating. For the president of the United States to say that is a huge endorsement of our city,” Roberts said.

It’s also important that Obama emphasized the solar power plant at Nellis, she said, since it shows that there’s more to Las Vegas than booze and betting.

“That’s great for Las Vegas to have that kind of endorsement as well, to be seen as a model city for new energy,” Roberts said.

Even Gibbons gave Obama high marks for that part of his visit, saying it helps Nevada in the state’s quest to become “the Texas of green industry.”

“It focuses the world’s attention,” Gibbons said. “If you’re interested in solar, come and look at Nevada. If you’re interested in renewable energy, come look at Nevada.”

Gibbons turned down an invitation to meet Obama at his airport arrival, saying the event would amount to no more than a “grip and grin” photo op with no chance for a serious discussion.

The governor said he had hoped to get 10 minutes of the president’s time to describe Nevada’s economic woes and how important convention business is to Southern Nevada.

Goodman, too, said he was reluctant to meet Obama at the airport because the president didn’t respond to the mayor’s concerns about the February remarks. But he went.

“It would be rude and disrespectful of me as a representative of the city of Las Vegas to decline an invitation from the president,” Goodman said.

 

Review-Journal writer Richard Lake contributed to this report. Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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