Oscar Goodman’s legacy is issue in mayoral debate

Mayoral hopeful Chris Giunchigliani said Thursday that departing Mayor Oscar Goodman gets more credit than he deserves for downtown redevelopment, a charge meant to chip away at his legacy and perhaps advance her campaign against Carolyn Goodman, the mayor’s wife.

"What’s occurred in 12 years is two blocks," said Giunchigliani, a Clark County commissioner and former state legislator, at a breakfast forum of several dozen people. The event was organized by the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

She defined Oscar Goodman’s legacy as two blocks of new nightclubs on Fremont Street and the beginnings of a club scene in the downtown Arts District, a characterization other observers said was extremely limited.

She stuck by it in remarks after the forum. Credit for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Symphony Park should go elsewhere, including to her for facilitating state legislation that provided funding, she said.

The city shouldn’t have backed a Mob Museum, she added, and Oscar Goodman has wasted time and effort trying to bring home a sports arena with a professional NBA or NHL team. If it were feasible, she said, the private sector would have done it by now.

"It’s a good start," Giunchigliani allowed of the projects that have happened. "But in 12 years we should’ve done better. And a lot of that is because of an over-focus on a stadium."

Carolyn Goodman said her husband’s list of accomplishments is much longer and includes the Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic Center for Brain Health, also in Symphony Park, a new city hall building, the Mob Museum, scheduled to open later this year, and an agreement with online retailer Zappos to move its headquarters into the existing City Hall when the city moves out next year.

The city has been negotiating with an arena developer for more than a year, but Oscar Goodman has acknowledged that there probably won’t be an agreement before his term ends this summer.

"When you’re running for office, they’ll chip away at something anywhere, anytime," Carolyn Goodman said. "I know what he’s done. The reason I’m running is because of what he’s done."

Oscar Goodman, who travels with showgirls and flaunts his love of gin and the good life, has his detractors, but he is widely credited as the driving force that has attracted development to downtown Las Vegas even as the economy depresses activity across Southern Nevada.

Politically, he has been able to coast, winning his last two re-election bids with about 85 percent of the vote.

Larry Ruvo, founder of the foundation behind the Ruvo clinic, said Oscar Goodman was instrumental in persuading him to locate the clinic downtown instead of in the northwest part of the city.

"It wouldn’t be there without him," said Ruvo, who supports the Goodmans but said he hasn’t donated money or been part of the campaign. "If Mayor Goodman did nothing else, he would be acknowledged for his foresight."

Republican power broker Sig Rogich, who supports both Goodmans and has raised money for Carolyn Goodman, said Giunchigliani is trailing and trying to gain traction.

"It clearly shows you that Chris G. is considerably behind," he said. "It’s a real sign of desperation."

Perhaps not, said Mark Peplowski, a political scientist at the College of Southern Nevada.

"Chris is simply trying to show that the policies of the Goodman years didn’t necessarily take the city where it needs to be," he said.

It could help her appeal to people who view Carolyn Goodman’s campaign as merely a fourth term for the term-limited mayor — at least, those who see that as a negative, he said.

"It’s going to make the race very interesting," Peplowski said. "She’s not running like a person who is afraid to lose.

"People like that will either get beat down hard, or they will come through and win. But people will remember them."

Giunchigliani said she has got downtown revitalization credentials too.

She pointed to a 2005 bill she successfully sponsored in the Legislature that provided for smart-growth policies in development plans, such as having mixed-use developments, mass transit and pedestrian-friendly development and related policies for urban cores such as the one envisioned for Las Vegas. It’s part of state code governing regional and local planning.

She also worked on and supported legislation that provided a funding source for the Smith Center. It’s a tax on rental cars in Clark County that was used to secure bonds for part of the $470 million project, which is under construction.

Because of the economy, though, the tax did not raise as much money as planned, and the city’s redevelopment agency had to put in more funding to keep the project on schedule.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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