Carolyn and the Continuity of Change

Carolyn Goodman is nearing the end of her first full year as mayor of Las Vegas. Few have noticed. That may be both significant and good.

For two decades, the words that described Las Vegas’ mayors—Jan Jones and the incumbent’s husband—have been “Z” words: pizzazz, fizz, zest, zip. It’s unfair to the current Mayor Goodman to say the “Z” that comes to mind is the one associated with sleeping. But, unavoidably, the sense is that City Hall and the city it serves have become calmer in good ways.

In fact, her pleasure in opening the new City Hall and the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, and welcoming Tony Hsieh and Zappos—more Z’s—in their move downtown isn’t so much the mark of this Mayor Goodman’s first year as it is a continuation of what the other Mayor Goodman had been doing over his three terms. She has been talking up an arena and professional sports franchise to go with the World Market Center, the Mob Museum, the Ruvo Center, The Smith Center, and the other wonderful developments on the 61 acres behind downtown, and that’s similar to The Oscar, too.

Her wrinkle in her first State of the City Address was to push downtown beautification, which fits in neatly with what has been going on. Her job, as she seems to see it, is to continue and improve upon what has come before, and the results have indeed been impressive.

While Goodman often refers to and jokes about her husband, she clearly knows that she isn’t him (even an Oscar Goodman admirer would agree that one is enough). Nor is she trying to be. As with every mayor since the Strip outstripped downtown for the tourist economy (the 1950s), she is cheerleading for the area and trying to give it a distinct personality. In her case, this means continuing down the path Oscar helped pave by clearly differentiating downtown’s mission from that of the Strip. Oscar’s breakthrough was the realization that downtown’s prosperity depends on appealing to locals and different kinds of tourists than those on Las Vegas Boulevard South. Carolyn has demonstrated her commitment to that reality.

That commitment has been quietly effective. The City Council’s noise right now doesn’t come entirely from the mayor, but also from the Budgetary Bobs, former state Sens. Coffin and Beers, who are happy to have each other because they aren’t pro- or anti-Goodman and they see themselves as wise stewards of public money. Both have criticized city spending, and that unites them; Goodman may find herself needing to divide them over how they serve their very different districts—Coffin’s inner-city core and Beers’ Summerlin constituency. Each local municipality has conflicts between older and newer parts of town, and Goodman may have to manage those conflicts.

So far, Goodman’s management of City Hall’s interests and egos has earned both credits and demerits. She supported Beers’ opponent in his council race, to no avail, and backed a housing deal for former Councilmen Frank Hawkins and Michael McDonald that smelled like yesterday’s lunch. She voted against Coffin and in favor of reopening F Street, and thus earned the goodwill of many West Las Vegans who believed the closure had damaged their community.

Most Las Vegans, though, are less concerned with City Hall chess matches than with the economic well-being of the city. Here, the irony is that she may wind up benefiting from the sluggish economy, which has forced the city to depend less on tourism than the county does. If she can continue the city’s diversification, she will be a success—and it won’t matter who started it and who continued it.

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