Updated April 23, 2020 - 12:01 am
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, stunning the anchor at times only a day after she told NBC’s Katy Tur that competition would stamp out the businesses that had coronavirus outbreaks.
“I’d love everything open because I think we’ve had viruses for years that have been here,” Goodman told Cooper, amplifying her desire to put people back to work. “I want everything back.”
Do you agree with Mayor Carolyn Goodman that Las Vegas hotel-casinos should reopen immediately?
— Las Vegas Review-Journal (@reviewjournal) April 23, 2020
In a revealing and controversial interview, Goodman said that she might have contracted the coronavirus in January, that it was up to businesses to figure out social distancing guidelines and that it was not the job of elected officials to improve testing and contact tracing.
“The amount of support and the amount of hate that’s coming in from around the country is overwhelming,” Goodman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a brief phone interview, adding that she could not handle the number of calls she had been receiving.
But Goodman said that as a “cheerleader” for Las Vegas, she did not mind the criticism, because she sees it as her role to promote the city and underscore the needs of scores of jobless residents.
“Anybody who wants to have a different opinion, that’s their right,” she said. “So if (City Councilman) Brian Knudsen or anybody else is opposed to anything I’ve said, that’s their right.”
When Cooper sought to show the mayor how Chinese researchers had determined the contagious virus could spread quickly, the mayor said, “This isn’t China. This is Las Vegas, Nevada.”
“Wow, that’s really ignorant,” Cooper replied.
Goodman also told Cooper that she wanted the city to be the control group, or “placebo,” to test whether social distancing was truly working. When Cooper said the group that receives the placebo generally gets the “short end of the stick,” Goodman said, “You don’t know.”
The mayor, who has urged Gov. Steve Sisolak to lift his order shutting down nonessential businesses nearly from the start and criticized the media for hyping the coronavirus, was publicly condemned by fellow elected officials and even television host Jimmy Kimmel.
“Carolyn Goodman is an embarrassment for our city,” Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag #notmymayor. “Her comments are insulting to both the citizens and the businesses in Southern Nevada.”
In a statement, Commissioner Michael Naft said Goodman’s “defiance of Governor Sisolak’s stay-at-home order is reckless and dangerous.”
The commission oversees the Las Vegas Strip, which is in unincorporated Clark County and not Las Vegas city limits.
Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she understood frustrations but stressed patience and noted that social distancing guidelines were working to slow the spread of the virus. If the reopening process is rushed, she warned, many more could become sick and die and hospitals could become overwhelmed.
“None of us who have been engaged in this conversation want to risk that and we certainly don’t want to be a ‘control group’ for some out-of-left-field school science project,” she said in a statement.
Annette Magnus, executive director of the left-leaning group Battle Born Progress, called the mayor’s comments “deranged.”
“What Mayor Goodman said on national television today was not only foolish and ignorant but insulting to the working families who drive Nevada’s economy,” Magnus said in a statement. “In spite of having no jurisdiction over the casinos comprising the Las Vegas Strip, she suggested sacrificing the health and lives of casino workers as a demented experiment to test the veracity of the disease.”
And the largest labor union in Nevada, Culinary Local 226, pointed to 11 union members who have died from COVID-19, saying Goodman’s statements were “outrageous.”
“We want people back to work, but it has to be safe and secure and we don’t want workers to be part of an experiment,” union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said in a statement. “Workplaces need to be safe and healthy — not a Petri dish.”
Sisolak strongly disagrees
Gov. Steve Sisolak told the Review-Journal that Goodman’s public statements “seem to become more outrageous as she goes on more and more shows.” The governor said his office has “been inundated with phone calls and texts and emails about what she said.”
“A lot of the national network shows are calling in wondering if this represents Nevada and the city of Las Vegas, and I’m trying to go behind her saying, ‘Look, this isn’t what we stand for,’” he said.
The governor ridiculed the mayor’s comments about the city being used as a “control group” for virus testing.
“You cannot allow our citizens, our folks, to be used as a ‘control group’ in this unscientific experiment that she’s talking about, relating to the spread of the virus. That’s just simply not allowable,” he said. “I mean, there is no way I would even permit the discussion about using the city of Las Vegas as a control group in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. That’s beyond the pale. I can’t even imagine someone even contemplating that.
“Do people want to get back to being able to go out to dinner or go to a restaurant? Certainly,” he said. “But that being said, they don’t want to risk their health because they want to go out for a spaghetti dinner. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. You know, you shouldn’t have to choose between your health and a paycheck.
“The confusing message that she sends out there is troubling,” Sisolak said. “I mean, the mayor of Las Vegas, the office, not the person, the office comes with a certain amount of credibility that’s associated with it,” he added. “And people listen when the mayor of Las Vegas is mentioned. I don’t think it’s helpful to deliver what she’s saying, clearly. I wish she would get on the same page, most other elected officials are on that page, and agree with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Council members respond
The largest city in Nevada, Las Vegas has often been an outlier in responding to the pandemic when compared to other major local governments in the state.
When Sisolak directed nonessential businesses to close, the city attorney initially said Las Vegas would not enforce it. When other valley cities taped off their playgrounds, Las Vegas stepped up cleaning efforts. And when others closed meetings to the public, the city persisted with new precautions in place.
But City Councilman Cedric Crear, who supports Sisolak’s efforts to control the outbreak, said that city staff and management were putting in a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure Las Vegas was safe.
“It’s unfortunate that that message didn’t get out,” he said, “because there are a lot of hardworking, dedicated people who as we speak are working diligently” so the city can safely reopen.
Like Crear, Knudsen said that public safety must come first, adding that while Goodman’s position embodies the “heartbreak” of the virus and the damaging effect on the city, Las Vegas should listen to health officials.
“She chose to avoid or not to follow their guidance,” he said.
Knudsen also said the pressure on city staffers is “incredible” as they try to balance the governor’s directive with the will of the majority of the council.
Councilwoman Victoria Seaman said she supported a “controlled reopening” of small businesses in stages, following proper hygiene and social distancing protocols, and with casinos and tourism-related establishments reopening last.
Seaman did not provide her thoughts on Goodman’s comments, and messages left for other council members were not immediately returned.
‘Survival of the fittest’
Speaking with Tur on Tuesday, Goodman said she assumed everyone had the virus and that it was possible to keep people safe even after Tur pointed out that the city’s economy is rooted in bringing crowds together, such as in casinos.
“Let the businesses open and competition will destroy that business if in fact they become evident that they have disease,” Goodman said, touting the cleanliness of the city’s tourism industry. “They’re closed down. It’s that simple.”
That prompted Tur to respond, “That’s some modern-day survival of the fittest that you’re laying out.”
Kimmel, who attended Clark High School and UNLV, called for Goodman to resign. And Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., sought to distance the state’s hallmark stretch in unincorporated county from Las Vegas’ top official.
“We have to listen to the scientists and right now they tell us we must continue to stay at home as much as possible,” Titus said in a statement. “Businesses in Las Vegas will only be able to recover if we take this pandemic seriously. The mayor does not represent the Las Vegas Strip, literally or figuratively.”
But for Goodman, who has framed the coronavirus as not unlike any other disease confronted by people in the modern era, the reopening of the economy is a must in order to maintain the livelihood of workers who stand to lose everything.
“What do we do to keep our people working, to keep our parents being able to put food on the table, pay rent and keep a roof over their head?” she asked Tur.