by Skye Huntington
FROM MOB LAWYER TO MAYOR OF LAS VEGAS —
ONLY IN AMERICA
“Once in a while, there is a mayor whose personality defines his city, and Oscar Goodman is Las Vegas,” writes George Anastasia, the author who helped Oscar put his stories into the new book written by Oscar Goodman. Oscar’s famous caricature—a Bombay Sapphire gin martini in one hand, a showgirl on each arm—branded him as “Mr. Las Vegas” and as the self-proclaimed “happiest mayor in the world.”
“Being Oscar: From Mob Lawyer To Mayor of Las Vegas—Only in America” is a fun and interesting read about Goodman’s life here in Las Vegas. He and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Las Vegas in 1964 as newlyweds, with $87 in their pockets. Oscar had just completed the Pennsylvania bar examination. For more than 35 years he was known as the successful, aggressive mob lawyer, defending the likes of organized crime clients like Meyer Lansky, reputed Kansas City Mob boss Nick Civella, Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, along with celebrities like Don King and Mike Tyson. He became known as one of the “15 Best Trial Lawyers in America” and one of the nation’s best criminal defense attorneys. According to the National Law Journal, Goodman tried around 300 major criminal cases and won most of them. Some of the trials took place in the courtroom that is still intact at the Mob Museum.
“My clients were some of the most notorious mobsters in the country, but the guys in the white hats were the ones who I saw breaking the law. In almost every case I tried—and I tried hundreds—Federal prosecutors and FBI agents thought nothing of withholding evidence, distorting the facts, or making deals with despicable individuals who would get up on the witness stand and say whatever they were told. Tony Spilotro was sent to Vegas by the guys who ran the Chicago outfit. He was there to look after their interests. His background, from the resume the FBI put together, included nearly two-dozen murders. One particularly gruesome killing allegedly involved placing his victim’s head in a vise and tightening it until the guy’s eye popped out, not to mention his brain matter. Representing Tony Spilotro catapulted me to a whole different level in the practice of criminal law. For the first time, everything I did became personal. To my opponents, I was the Prince of Darkness, the anti-Christ. From my perspective, they were suborners, liars, and anti-American. I fought for Tony, and whether the U.S. Constitution was going to remain intact and stand inviolate.”
In 1999, Goodman became Mayor of Las Vegas and his prime goal after being elected mayor was to revitalize Downtown. He was absolutely passionate about getting The Mob Museum as a major project. He got the federal government to sell the old Kefauver courthouse and the former U.S. post office to the city for a dollar. The building now houses The Mob Museum, with the courthouse left intact. This courtroom is where he tried his first federal case after coming to Vegas. Fascinating stories are brought to life through over 600 one-of-a-kind artifacts. It holds the largest collection of Mob memorabilia ever gathered in one museum. Included are bricks that were saved from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall, where Al Capone annihilated seven men on February 14, 1929. Some say it was the bloodiest day in the Mob’s history. There is also the barber chair where Albert Anastasia was sitting when he was murdered in 1957. The American Public Works Association recently named the Mob Museum in Vegas as the 2013 Public Works Project of the Year for historical restoration/preservation. This must please Goodman, as he took some heat for the cost of the $42 million project from some of the citizens of Vegas who didn’t want Vegas connected so closely with the Mafia.
One story Goodman happily told during an interview at the Kefauver courtroom at The Mob Museum was about the time the Goodman family attended a Royals-Phillies World Series game in Kansas City during the 1980 Series. Just by chance, Goodman had met Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda, at the airport and shared a ride to their hotel. Goodman handed Lasorda his business card and Lasorda put it in his pocket. “Because of my clients, I had the best tickets to ballgames. I mean, the Kansas City outfit bought me tickets for that game and I had a better seat than Lasorda. He was in Row 15 and I was in the front row. I’m watching the game with Carolyn and my children and I saw Lasorda reach into his pocket and take out my card, and he must have been thinking, ‘Who is that guy sitting in the front row?’”
“In 1998 when I decided to run for mayor, I had no idea what a mayor did, but I loved the city,” writes Goodman. The Las Vegas Review Journal’s editorial headline blared: “Anybody But Oscar For Mayor.” Then came the debates. Oscar knew he would be good at listening to what people felt and wanted, but he also knew he had a temper.
“I got word that the police union was going to send someone in to bait me. They saw me as the anti-Christ; it was like I had 6-6-6 tattooed on my forehead. The night before the debate, my son Ross, who was a captain in the Marines, called. He said: ‘You’ve got to use a pre-emptive strike. Don’t let them raise the issue. You raise them before they can.’ At the debate, one of the first people to ask a question was a former reporter who asked me: ‘When’s the last time you were in City Hall?’ Then he started to walk away. ‘Hey, wait a second, buddy,’ I said. Then I delivered my pre-emptive strike. ‘I’ve never been to City Hall, okay. The first time will be when I’m elected. And I know there have been questions about my drinking. Let me tell all of you, I drink in excess, sometimes a bottle of gin a night. And something else: I’m a degenerate gambler. If there’s a cockroach running around out there, I’ll bet on whether he goes right or left. I’ve represented bad guys, but the last time I checked, they were entitled to representation under our Constitution.’ I went on like that for about five minutes. The people in the audience loved it. And after that, there was nothing negative my opponent could say about me. I said it all first.”
He was elected in a landslide victory with 80-some percent, and became the 19th mayor of the city of Las Vegas. Goodman became the first mayor of Las Vegas to have his image placed on $5 and $25 casino chips issued by a Vegas casino. Becoming exceedingly popular, he was re-elected for a second and third four-year term. Goodman was term limited after 12 years of service and then he swore in his wife, the 20th mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn G. Goodman, on July 6, 2011. The relationship between the two is strong and sweet. They celebrated their 51st anniversary on June 6, 2013.
“Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, and of all the things I’ve accomplished, nothing compares to marrying Carolyn. She is the person I most admire and trust in the world. She’s the only one whose advice I will always listen to. She cuts through the bull. She also knows me better than anyone, and despite that, she apparently loves me.”
Oscar says he’d never been a big fan of President Obama, but when he got word that Obama had told corporations not to go to Vegas, he really saw red! He wrote the president a letter, saying Vegas was indeed a good place to come for a convention, but he never heard anything back. Months later, Obama was coming to Vegas for a fundraiser. (In fact, it was the day after the Benghazi attack at the U.S.)
“‘I’m not going,’ I said to Carolyn. ‘You have to go,’ she said. Then I got a call from the White House. ‘Mayor, we expect you to be at the airport,’ this official said. I didn’t like his attitude. ‘I’m not coming,’ I said. ‘What’s the problem?’ he asked. ‘The President hurt my city, and he hasn’t done anything to rectify it.’ Then Rahm Emanuel, the President’s Chief of Staff called and said: ‘I heard you have a problem with the President. What will it take for you to meet him at the airport?’ I told him I wanted Obama to say something like: ‘Las Vegas is a great place to do business and have fun.’ Emanuel said he’d take care of it, so I was at the airport to greet him, to welcome him to Las Vegas. The next day when he gave his speech to Nevadans, the only thing he said was, ‘It’s nice to be in Las Vegas.’ I was angry and I wasn’t going to forget. It’s funny. These guys are politicians. They give their word, and they don’t think they have to keep it. I represented people who the government said were vicious, terrible individuals, Mafia bosses, killers, gangsters. When they gave me their word, I could take it to the bank. Who’s more honorable?”
The book covers many of the fun facts about Oscar becoming a spokesman for Bombay Sapphire gin and receiving a $100,000 salary, and then, telling a group of fourth-graders, that if he was marooned on a desert island, the one thing he’d take was a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. It covers how he became obsessed with appearing in movie roles such as Casino, Rush Hour 2 and in the CBS television series, “CSI”. He speaks to the times in which he’s been quoted as saying that he’d cut off a thumb of the punks who deface the freeways with graffiti, and when the economy went south, his famous: “Every man should get a lap dance to help revive the economy.” Oscar Goodman has worked hard at promoting Vegas as one of the most exciting destinations in the world. Today, he’s our ambassador to the world. So, whether you’ve been a fan of Oscar’s or not, you definitely should read this book and see Vegas from his point of view.