-By Valerie Miller
On a recent morning, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman sits behind her desk on the top floor of Las Vegas City Hall, with a picturesque view of downtown’s revitalization behind her. Greeting a reporter, the mayor takes pride in the development outside her windows. “I wanted to continue Oscar’s vision,” she says about her immediate predecessor — and husband – former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.
Carolyn Goodman has certainly accomplished that, and much more. Now six years after taking office, and halfway through her second term, Mayor Carolyn Goodman tells Vegas Legal Magazine that she is “without question” running for a third term as mayor in 2019.
The mayor is especially proud of what is happening in downtown Las Vegas, which was always a central focus of her husband’s during his 12 years in office. The mayor turns to look out her office windows, and points to the development that started out as “Oscar’s vision,” but has now become their shared vision, as well.
“In fact, the only reason why I ran for office was because 17 people filed to become mayor,” she recalls, as she admires the view of new development. “And, my family came to me and said, ‘Mom, you have to continue on with Dad’s dreams and visions.’ At that time, everything you are seeing here in the mayor’s office — outside the windows — they weren’t here.”
Downtown Las Vegas revitalization has become a passion of both Oscar and Carolyn Goodman. Carolyn takes a lot of pride in downtown’s new growth during her tenure. “We have seen a huge surge of improvement and growth in the hotel industry downtown, with the Boyd (Gaming) group putting $30 (million) to $40 million into renovation for the California (hotel-casino). The Plaza (hotel-casino) is coming online. The D (hotel-casino) is (now opened) there and, of course, (D owner Derek Stevens) just bought the Las Vegas Club,” she points out. “We have these high rises, and we are getting a lot of marketing on those, where people are coming into live.”
Oscar Goodman’s plans for downtown slowed during his last term as mayor, when the recession hit, starting in late 2007, his wife of 55 years explains. A few projects managed to stay on track during the economic downturn: Downtown’s Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, both opened in Symphony Park shortly before Oscar Goodman left office.
“There’s still more to accomplish for the city,” she says. Carolyn Goodman sees her five decades in the community as an asset, in that she has seen just how far Las Vegas has come. “I love this town … So many people come in to buy land, or think about opening a business,” the mayor says. “Or (they may be) coming here to look (for a place) to live, or book a convention, and they need to know a little history. I have been here, goodness, 50-plus years. It is going to be 53 years come August. We have seen the town grow from 100,000 to 2.2 million (people). “
Mayor Carolyn Goodman has seen the small-town Vegas of old bloom into “an entertainment and gaming mecca,” complete with an internationally recognized Las Vegas Convention Center. She points to the some 43 million tourists coming in a year. Those visitors need to know who they can call in a strange city, she explains. And Mayor Carolyn Goodman wants to remain that point person for the next six years.
“If you travel internationally, and you don’t know who to contact, you always call up the mayor of the city,” she says.
“She’s Her Own Person”
Carolyn Goodman, however, didn’t initially want to fill the mayoral big shoes of her husband Oscar. The first Mayor Goodman was a great showman and hugely popular. Oscar Goodman is praised as a “one-man PR machine for Las Vegas” by Alan Stock, who is a local radio talk show host and political analyst. But Stock sees Carolyn Goodman as “more of a traditional mayor, and more low-key,” he adds.
Stocks contends that a lot of people thought they would see the fourth term of Oscar Goodman when his wife was elected mayor, but she has governed with her own style. “It wasn’t ‘Oscar four,’” Stock opines. “It was ‘Carolyn one,’ and then ‘Carolyn two.’ And if she’s elected to a third term, it will be “Carolyn three.’”
Carolyn Goodman, like her husband Oscar, is now non-partisan. She says it’s preferable for mayors while in office. Stock gives credit to Carolyn Goodman for not being a “political mayor,” ala the controversial New York mayor, Democrat Bill de Blasio. “She doesn’t do controversial things,” Stock notes.
Carolyn Goodman has continued Oscar Goodman’s vision for Las Vegas, but she has also remained her “own person,” according to Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor.
“She is not Oscar Goodman, and nor should she be,” says Green, who happens to sit on the board of the Mob Museum with Oscar. Before being elected mayor, Oscar Goodman had worked as a well-known defense attorney for clients accused of being involved in organized crime. As mayor, Oscar Goodman had long hoped to open the museum. But the Mob Museum became a reality under the tenure of Carolyn Goodman.
“People forget now that, in 1999, when Oscar Goodman first announced he was running for mayor, a lot of people said ‘the wrong Goodman is running for mayor.’ They actually thought Carolyn should have run,” Green recalls.
Of course in retrospect, most Las Vegans now view Oscar Goodman’s 12 years as mayor as a success. And in 2011, while Carolyn Goodman started out as a very reluctant candidate for mayor, she did throw herself all into her campaign. Carolyn Goodman’s initial reservations were partially based on her already-full schedule.
“I had no intention of running. I had been involved in education here for over 26 years and founded the Meadows School. That took me 24-7 all the time, plus my family, and I was a happy cat.”
Carolyn Goodman decided to run for the office when she saw the list of candidates hoping to take over for her term-limited husband Oscar. “I didn’t need to rock the boat. And then it became very clear that while they were all well intentioned — the people that wanted to become mayor — they would have a vision that was theirs. They didn’t want to carry on the vision of Oscar Goodman.”
At the pleading of her family, Carolyn Goodman threw her hat into the ring to be the next mayor of Las Vegas in 2011. And, as was generally expected, she won. In 2015, Carolyn Goodman won re-election to a second term.
While Las Vegas mayor, Carolyn Goodman would still like to bring a major league, professional sports team to the actual city of Las Vegas. That was also a dream of her husband while he was in office.
Now, of course, the National Hockey League (NHL) has expanded into the Greater Las Vegas area with the Las Vegas Golden Knights team. Meanwhile, the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders’ owner Mark Davis has since inked a deal to move to the Las Vegas metro area – once a new $1.9 billion stadium is completed in a few years.
“I will continue to pursue Major League Soccer, the MLS, and I am sure we will get an NBA team here within the next decade because I have a very good relationship with Adam Silver, who is the (NBA) Commissioner,” she explains. “I also have a very good relationship with the MLS Commissioner (Don Garber).” Mayor Carolyn Goodman also sees great locations for professional basketball or soccer, within Las Vegas’ city limits.
“I am looking to develop Cashman Complex. It is a 5-acre parcel. We see a huge potential there for sports. So, that will happen,” she promises. “My only hope is that I live to see it all happen, because I am going into my seventh year next year.“
Looking to the future, the mayor is hoping for re-election to a third term. Those four more years could give her enough time to fulfill those big-league sports dreams, Carolyn anticipates. “So, I only have one more year, or so, on this term. Then I get a chance at one more term after that. “So, I have like five to six years to get it all done.”
Vegas Legal Magazine: What can you share about new projects, and plans, in the works for Las Vegas?
Carolyn Goodman: A new project that the City is piloting is a much-needed one. As mayor, I have been advocating for it well over a year: a free circulating bus shuttle which will move people around easily and comfortably, on a fixed route, in the four-square-mile downtown core. Its purpose is to afford the tourists, residents, and employees, convenient and regular connectivity to businesses, downtown hotels and apartment buildings, (along with) restaurants, shops, galleries, museums, and entertainment venues.
As we work to build a more pedestrian-and-bike-friendly city, the “Downtown LOOP” portends to make a huge difference in achieving this goal. Other cities around the country provide similar free shuttle services in their inner cores, and our hopes are that our businesses will enjoy the increase in visitations that they have seen occur. In its initial plan, the LOOP will operate seven days a week, nine hours a day. (It will) have stops at Bonneville Transit Center, the Arts District, the Las Vegas Premium Outlets, the Plaza Hotel and the Fremont Street Experience (both its west and east entrances). [It will also stops at] the Mob Museum, the Fremont East Entertainment District, and the Pawn Plaza (home of the Pawn Stars). We will be monitoring ridership and the popularity of the shuttle with an eye to the future.
Other projects underway — but not yet out of the Development and Planning Departments — are in Symphony Park, in the Cashman Complex, the Medical District, and in the booming northwest. Building proper infrastructure support, and streetscapes, are integral to every one of these projects we are undertaking. Having sufficient garage space and accessible roadway connectivity are other critical facets of preparation to building wisely, safely, well, and successfully.
VLM: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the City of Las Vegas, now and into the near future?
CG: The challenges of addressing a growing homeless population have been evident for far too long in our community though we are not alone in facing this movement. Cities around the country, and in particular in the more moderate climate areas such as ours, are each facing the impact of homelessness and the residual effects of their residency.
The recent recession with the enormity of the foreclosures in Southern Nevada, of course, added to our homeless population. But fortunately, as we are seeing an economic rebound, many of those who lost jobs and homes are back on the road to recovery and housing. In the general homeless population, we see persons who have lost jobs and/or are abandoned by families, a population of veterans, individuals who are mentally challenged and ill, addicted individuals, and even human-trafficked persons. Each group and each individual has special needs and problems. So, the challenge is ongoing and, of course, costly to assist with — and provide for — all of the wrap-around necessities that each requires.
While the impact the homeless population has on local businesses, homeowners, roadway traffic, our hospitals and care centers (just to mention a few areas) is mindboggling, fortunately, Las Vegas is supported by incredible social service providers and unique charitable organizations. [These services and organizations] donate to help address the multitude of issues this population demands. These not-for-profits have bonded together to provide housing/beds, medical care, sanitation, meals, counseling, job training and placement —just to mention a few services they offer. And, many of these services are afforded in the City’s Corridor of Hope in Ward 5. The struggle and planning have been going on 24/7 for years, and we will not quit until we have found success for each human being, and addressed his/her need. But the enormity of the undertaking is exhausting. Yet plans are afoot … [and] visits to other cities with successful programs continue, Best Practices are sought out, evaluated and implemented where appropriate, and solutions come slowly.
Addressing mental health issues, and providing funding, for fixes are not just Las Vegas problems. [These] are national problems that federal and state health care must provide. Our [Nevada] Legislature and Governor [Brian Sandoval] can and must help. And, readers need to know we each need to do our own part.
Another challenge that has been with us for so long is the specter of Yucca Mountain, and the nuclear waste being transported through our city. The infrastructure in this country is beyond in dangerous disrepair often rated a “D-“ in national civil-engineering studies. To consider transporting nuclear and radioactive waste along roads, over bridges, into tunnels, or on rail anywhere, and at this time, is appalling. That these highly dangerous materials will be rolling throughout the nation at times unknown, on routes undisclosed and passing through and past population centers challenge even the least caring. It is time to repurpose, deactivate and research new ways for disposing of this radioactive and nuclear waste. A waste site at Yucca Mountain is more than a Nevada issue, it is of huge national safety concern. Yucca Mountain has always been a flawed proposal for many reasons. As mayor of Las Vegas, like everyone else, safety is my number one priority. This is not a risk I am willing to take for my city or for our country.
VLM: Looking at the wrap up of the current 2017 Nevada legislative session, which (potential) new laws do you think will have the most impact (if any) on the future of Las Vegas?
CG: It is hard to say, but three specific areas are legislatively critical: First, the overhaul and reorganization of the Clark County School District is singularly one of the most important issues that new legislation must address. Those reasons [include] developing a responsively qualified and well-educated workforce; and preparing all CCSD children for productive and meaningful lives, for college entrance, and/or for vocational readiness.
Second, another critical legislative area that must be addressed is that of matching Medicaid reimbursement rates to those of neighboring states. These rates directly affect private insurance reimbursement rates, and without an adjustment to a competitive standard, Nevada will never be able to retain and/or attract the finest physicians to our State. Third, [another issue is] property tax adjustments to [put] both a cap and bottom level [limit].
VLM: There has been much news coverage of the battle between some U.S. cities and the Trump Administration over the crack down on “sanctuary cities.” Clark County received a letter from the administration recently, as well. Can you talk about your efforts to make sure that the City of Las Vegas does not get caught up in this fight?
CG: It is really not a fight for the city, as we have been consistent from the previous administration to the new administration in Washington. The City of Las Vegas has no ‘sanctuary’ ordinances in place. We are in compliance with ICE regulations and continue to work with federal authorities as required. While Las Vegas is not a Sanctuary City, it is a sensitive and compassionate city. I’m passionate about finding a pathway to citizenship for the multitudes of undocumented individuals who live and work in Las Vegas, and are valued law-abiding, caring, participatory, and good people. That is, it. We comply with federal regulations in the city jail, and we want our representatives to iron out a pathway to citizenship.
VLM: You have said that you plan to run for another term as major. What is still left on your list of things to accomplish while in office?
CG: You haven’t enough space for me to respond!!!! I want this city to reach its potential of being WORLD CLASS! For starters: First [on the list is] expanding security and safety measures to a point of citizenry full comfort. Second, building out and FULLY staffing the [University of Nevada, Las Vegas] Medical School with appropriate, and complementary, adjunct growth. [That includes] the development of research and newly specialized medical care. Third, expanding the Cleveland Clinic-Lou Ruvo Institute for Brain Health. Fourth, fix the quality of pre-K – 12 educating for all segments of the population. Fifth, enhancing the cultural arts. [That includes a new art museum for Symphony Park]. And sixth, bringing in a [Major League Soccer] franchise and the NBA.
VLM: Your previous career was in education, founding the Meadows school. Can you give your opinion on the state of public, and private, education in Southern Nevada? What do you think could be done to improve the school system?
CG: It’s all about the quality of teachers, about the mission/purpose of the program, the academic/curricular programming, providing for extracurricular activities, and having more than adequate funding available to meet all of these goals. When we talk about educational funding, now, more than ever, we have to ensure that we are putting every dollar into the per-pupil student allocation. There is no way that $5,500 currently allocated per pupil is near adequate to attain goals of high-quality education. At a minimum that number needs to be at $10,000, because buildings don’t teach, teachers teach.
Attracting, and retaining, the finest means per-pupil allocation must be raised to meet that mark. Back in the 1990s, when our population was growing so fast we couldn’t keep up, we needed capital projects and new school facilities. What was forgotten was the quality of the education, and providing appropriate per-pupil expenditures. Today we see the results of that poor planning.
Changes are coming to the Clark County School District, but that is a process, and it will take time. While the city is not responsible for, nor empowered to be integrated into CCSD, it is moving forward to fill in the gaps in our children’s educations. [That is done through] before-and-after-school programming. This is being led by our Department of Youth Development and Social Innovation, which is providing supplemental and support programming like Safekey, Batteries Included and Strong Start, to name a few.
We are Reinventing schools in our urban core, creating hubs that serve as centers for not only a student’s education, but also as a point where a family can access services and programs. Our Downtown Achieves, and Las Vegas My Brother’s Keeper, programs now operate under the Re-Invent Schools umbrella.
By giving children a strong start and getting them reading before kindergarten, we have the chance to improve our high school graduation rates, and revitalize our communities.
We are also teaching students and their families how to be healthy through our Healthy School Healthy Life Program. This has been a model program which the U.S. Conference of Mayors recently recognized with an award for its childhood obesity prevention efforts. The city was awarded a $150,000 grant to expand this program to additional schools and continue to improve the health of our residents.
Valerie Miller is an award-winning journalist based in Las Vegas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Firm, P.C. is a boutique Las Vegas law firm founded by Preston Rezaee, Esq. Preston Rezaee is also the founder and Editor in Chief of Vegas Legal Magazine.