One Vegas on the rebound, one moribund

Charles Dickens never visited Southern Nevada (that he died in 1870, when Las Vegas consisted of a couple of ranches, may explain that), but when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities, he could have had Las Vegas and North Las Vegas in mind.

Last week, Las Vegas bade farewell to one Mayor Goodman and said hello to another.  Councilman Gary Reese joined Oscar Goodman in the ranks of former officeholders, with Bob Coffin succeeding him.

The city of Las Vegas has its budget problems, to be sure, and the City Council has personal and personnel issues. Coffin’s opponent, who ran a sleazy campaign against him, works for his colleague Lois Tarkanian. Steve Ross has managed to be the Goodman family’s staunchest friend and greatest enemy. Stavros Anthony, who got into trouble while with Metro for using his badge to get better seats on flights, and wanted to arm faculty when he was a regent, is mayor pro tem. Yet downtown is looking up, with The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum all on the way—not to mention events like First Friday continuing to draw people there in large numbers. It’s not the best of times, but it isn’t entirely bad.

Then there is North Las Vegas, where it may be the worst of times—and maybe not.

The state of Nevada may step in and take over the city. Revenues are way down. The police and firefighters’ unions have been able to block layoff attempts.  North Las Vegas may have to cut $8.6 million out of its budget, and that would be chopping not just fat and muscle, but bone. The acting city attorney resigned over the “political environment.”

This isn’t entirely noteworthy. North Las Vegas has a history, but some of it is ironic, especially in light of what is happening in Las Vegas. You might find Oscar Goodman’s love for martinis interesting, but North Las Vegas’s first mayor, Horace Tucker, won the job partly because he owned the most popular local bar (and later was implicated in two murders but spent little time in jail, thanks to the legal legerdemain of his attorney, Harry Claiborne, Oscar’s predecessor as the area’s most legendary defense attorney).

Carolyn Goodman and Buck have in common that they are their cities’ second woman mayors. But it’s worth a reminder that Buck’s predecessor, Dorothy Porter, got the job in 1954 when all of the rest of the City Council—the mayor and three councilmen—were indicted by the Clark County grand jury on malfeasance charges. The fire chief and city attorney tried to recall her.

Buck also has an interesting political history. In the mid-1990s, she and her husband, Keith, followed around Municipal Judge Gary Davis with a camera to try to catch him doing something wrong—and they did. They caught him campaigning for another candidate, and it helped force him out of office. They also sat outside his daughter’s home videotaping, which might be considered not politics, but stalking.

Buck also comes out of a strand of North Las Vegas politics:  the power of Mormons and African-Americans.  Beating longtime Councilman William Robinson, an African-American, she succeeded Michael Montandon, who supported her election when he was term-limited (he went on to lose the 2010 GOP governor’s primary (he got fewer than half as many votes as Jim Gibbons, which says something). And Montandon won the first of his three terms by beating Theron Goynes, a longtime councilman, an African-American.  Montandon did so with support from his predecessor, Jim Seastrand.

Las Vegas just completed 12 years of a Mayor Goodman who seemed to his critics to be alternately silly, threatening, dangerous, and drunk. It came out better than North Las Vegas is doing.  There may be a lesson in that.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.