Wife of Vegas' colorful mayor closer to succession

AP News
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Posted: Apr 06, 2011 11:59 AM
Wife of Vegas' colorful mayor closer to succession

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's wife easily topped 17 other candidates in a primary election to replace him as Sin City's leader but didn't get an outright win.

Carolyn Goodman captured 37 percent of the vote in the crowded field Tuesday, more than double the ballots of her nearest competitors in the race.

The first lady needed more than 50 percent of the vote to become mayor. It was an outcome she had hoped for and seemed headed toward in the early days of the election.

Instead, she will face off against second-place finisher Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani in the June 7 general election.

Oscar Goodman has led this city of neon lights and cheap cocktails for 12 years with his entourage of bedazzled showgirls and his gin martinis.

Forced to select his successor, voters now must choose between a woman who says the city needs a serious leader, or the mother of Goodman's four children.

Carolyn Goodman and Giunchigliani both have backgrounds in education and penchants for fiery prose. And both are prepared to push the other out of the way for a win.

Term limits kept Oscar Goodman from running for a fourth term. To protect his legacy, he campaigned hard for his wife, who promised to carry out his vision of a transformed downtown Las Vegas and never shied away from her husband's shadow.

"It is just reasonable for a smooth transition of the city and all the people who love him and know what he has done and want this to continue," Carolyn Goodman said. "That is the question: Are you satisfied with where we are and do you want to continue on that pathway, or do you want to continue in another direction?"

Giunchigliani conceded that Oscar Goodman was as much her opponent as was his wife.

"I am running against a name, let's put it that way," she said in a telephone interview. "But I think the public recognizes that the time for that type of leadership style has passed."

Carolyn Goodman stood out on the ballot because of her married name. But she is a Las Vegas player in her own right. She is the founder of a private school attended by the children of casino owners and has rubbed elbows with Sin City's elite alongside her husband for years.

After her victory was secured, Carolyn Goodman sent a photo to supporters on Twitter that showed her celebrating with her husband, their children and their grandchildren. The message read, "The heart and soul of my life...my family."

The general election is bound to get ugly.

In the primary, the first lady said Giunchigliani didn't share her grasp on education because the county commissioner never had children, while Giunchigliani questioned Carolyn Goodman's qualifications.

"She has certainly been in politics for a long, long time, and I know she is very, very experienced in the political world," Carolyn Goodman said Tuesday night. "That's something. I am not a politician. It's going to be a learning curve for me."

A former state assemblywoman and school teacher, Giunchigliani said the politician label doesn't bother her.

"I've always been an independent thinker," she said. "I've been able to stand up and vote for my conscience."

The primary often seemed like a contest for second place among the 17 candidates whose last name was not Goodman. They included wealthy French businessman Victor Chaltiel, tequila maker George Harris and City Councilman Steve Ross.

Giunchigliani was neck-and-neck with fellow county Commissioner Larry Brown for most of the campaign. She squeaked into the general election with 8,395 votes to Brown's 8,380, a 15-vote difference.

Giunchigliani said Brown called to concede Tuesday and promised to endorse her in the June contest. She said she would also seek endorsements from her other primary rivals.

"Every vote counts and we have to work hard," she said. "We have a good story to tell. We can do the comparison of why I do believe that experience does matter."

Giunchigliani and the first lady have pledged to transform Las Vegas' troubled schools and create jobs. In truth, the winner will have limited authority. Las Vegas is run by a city manager, and the mayor oversees council meetings.

That the job has received so much attention is largely Oscar Goodman's doing.

He was a mob lawyer before he became mayor of Las Vegas in 1999, and he was easily re-elected twice. During his 12 years in office, he advocated for cutting off the thumbs of graffiti vandals, told schoolchildren he would bring a bottle of gin to a deserted island, and defended legalized prostitution.

Las Vegans ate up every word of it, making Oscar Goodman one of the state's most recognizable figureheads.