By John L. Smith
The Las Vegas Legends breakfast is usually a lighthearted affair.
Held every few months at the Omelet House on West Charleston Boulevard, dozens of longtime locals gather to talk about the Las Vegas they knew, and normally the heaviest topics of discussion at the table are the enormous egg dishes served up by owner Kevin Mills and his staff.
Friday morning’s event was jammed and as usual began with a lot of handshakes and hugs. The politics were playful despite the presence of so many current and former elected officials and candidates for public office. The crowd was, to say the least, diverse with pig farmer Bob Combs and former Meyer Lansky associate Bernie Sindler entertaining old friends and a few newcomers.
Then it was former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s turn to speak. A longtime mob attorney who managed to transform himself into a popular local politician before again morphing into a martini-sipping mascot for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Goodman was recently shellacked in a front-page article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The story called him out for using security staff as designated drivers for many of his public appearances. (That ain’t Voss water in Goodman’s enormous martini glass, pal. It’s Bombay Sapphire.)
The newspaper is, of course, owned by multi-billionaire casino titan and political kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, who views the LVCVA as competition for his behemoth convention business. It’s a point noted at the bottom of each of the journalistic skewers the newspaper has run through the convention authority in recent months.
Goodman, 78, wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet during his long legal career in service of accused killers, hoodlums, and mugs known for their colorful nicknames. Nor was he the strong, silent type in three terms as mayor.
So it’s probably not surprising that he wouldn’t let the insult pass. I’ve followed his public life for decades, wrote a book about his career called “Of Rats and Men,” and in all that time I’ve never seen him let a fly go past his nose without swatting at it.
Friday morning found him swatting away at the newspaper, my former employer. (Adelson once sued me into bankruptcy before the lawsuit was dismissed.)
“Good morning, everybody, I’m Oscar Goodman,” he began, “and usually I’m the most optimistic, outgoing person you’d ever want to meet. But I hate the Review-Journal.”
More than a smattering of applause followed, enough to make someone suspect the newspaper still has room for improvement in the community outreach department.
“When you call somebody a liar, you better have your facts in line,” Goodman said, referring to what he considered a misleading headline on the story. “They say, ‘Free rides cost taxpayers.’ Well, I don’t know what taxpayers they’re talking about, probably the Californians, or some people from Arizona, but it doesn’t cost one person in this room one dollar for the monies that the convention authority spends which provides us with a quality of life second to none with the money that comes in we pay for parks, we pay for roads. We pay for schools. We pay for everything. And then comes a real bad fella, a fella with his own personal agenda, a competitor of the convention authority, who uses his newspaper that he bought for his own personal benefit.”
Although he took a swipe at the story’s reporters, he saved the most vitriol for the headline, which he said “stunk.” “The headline was a lie,” Goodman said. “Taxpayers did not pay for one ride that I beckoned since I’ve been working for $72,000 a year on behalf of the convention authority because I love the city.”
He didn’t say he planned to continue the love-fest but start calling Uber and instead segued into familiar territory about his love of Las Vegas and his morning banter with his wife and sidekick, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. He added that a large percentage of the community benefits from the jobs and dollars generated by the conventions and meetings that meet here each year.
Then it was back to the business of blasting Adelson without exactly naming him.
“To have a person come along who’s a misanthrope. … it means somebody’s who’s a hater,” Goodman continued. “This guy wakes up in the morning, I just hope his wife is a misanthrope too. … He gets up in the morning with his agenda to try and hurt this city.”
So much for that lighthearted breakfast.
You don’t have to be a longtime local to recall Goodman has often taken issue with the newspaper. It goes back to his first run for mayor, when an RJ editorial was headlined, “Anybody but Oscar.” He recounted the slight and reminded his fellow breakfasters he rubbed the editors’ nose in it after being named “Most Popular Politician” in the newspaper’s readers’ poll.
From there, the politics gets thicker. Goodman has long suspected Adelson has carried a grudge since the former mayor declined to attend an event at the Adelson-owned Venetian during a Sands’ dispute with organized labor. And it’s not much of a stretch from there to late Sands board member Victor Chaltiel’s failed but well-funded entry into the 2011 mayoral primary won by Carolyn Goodman as a reminder Adelson was still thinking about Team Goodman.
None of that prevented current Mayor Goodman from cooing and fawning over the Adelson-backed, $1.9 billion Las Vegas Raiders stadium proposal, which — irony alert — takes advantage of the same gold mine of room-tax dollars that provides the LVCVA’s handsome budget.
You can argue whether Las Vegas needs a martini-swilling mascot dressed in a pinstriped suit and flanked by feathered showgirls. But the revelation that Oscar Goodman drinks gin on the job and then asks for a free ride home ain’t exactly Watergate.
If free rides home constitutes a waste of tax dollars, what’s a new stadium using $750 million of those same tax dollars rate?
As it turns out, mostly favorable coverage.
I suspect this isn’t the last you’ll hear of the Adelson-Goodman dustup.
Maybe they ought to hold those breakfast meetings more often.
John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.