‘I Am Relentless’

Secrets to the workmanlike first year of our second Goodman


Photo by Bryan Hainer

Sitting at a large desk in her expansive office on the seventh floor of the city’s sparkling new Main Street headquarters, Carolyn Goodman is full of vigor as she discusses her first year in office. Goodman spent the previous quarter century running a private school, The Meadows, and waited until the 11th hour to throw her hat into the mayoral ring last year, but she’s adjusted quickly to her new life.

For one thing, she’s picked up effortlessly where her husband, Oscar Goodman, left off as an unabashed cheerleader for her city. But what’s really impressive is that this mayor—whose only previous governmental experience was as student-body president in college—has proven to be just as politically savvy as the last one.

Case in point: During our conversation on everything from her devotion to education to the role-reversal with her husband, Goodman smoothly steers the discussion in a direction that casts Las Vegas in the warmest glow. She’s found a way to follow up the answer to just about any question with an unprompted monologue about downtown’s renaissance: The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the new Lied Discovery Museum (set to open early next year), the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the planned new sports arena slated for the city’s 61-acre Symphony Park—all are front-of-mind topics for Goodman. Because, to her, all are evidence that the work that her husband started can, indeed, be completed.

Refreshingly, Goodman doesn’t speak like a born politician, but she knows her narrative—and she’s determined to make sure you know it, too.

When we spoke with you in spring 2010, you said you weren’t interested in political office, but left open the possibility that you might change your mind. So, why did you change your mind?

Actually, on the Tuesday of the final week of filing, Oscar said to me, “If you’re going to file, you better file tomorrow, because if you file on Thursday, nobody reads the Friday paper.” … I had also been talking to my four children and taking votes. They had voted against Oscar’s running in 1999—unanimously—and I had abstained. But when it came to me, they said, “You have to [run] because [Oscar has] been such a visionary; so much has been accomplished these last 12 years. And while the other 17 [candidates] may be well-meaning, they’ll certainly put [the city] in their own image. You’re the only one who won’t care about that; you’ll just continue.”

So we went to sleep Tuesday night, we woke up Wednesday morning, he leaned over and said, “I thought about it all night, I couldn’t sleep—you shouldn’t run.” I said, “Oh, well I thought about it all night long, too, and I’m running!” And he said, “Go girl!”

What was your biggest accomplishment over the past year?

I think being a mediator and a force in the [City] Council. I think I have gained the confidence of the council that I operate with integrity—there’s nobody pulling my cords and jangling my chains—and that I’m going to deal with [issues] totally honestly. There’s no favoritism. It’s just what’s best for the city.

Because things move slowly in government, we are now enjoying a domino effect of what the past 12 years has been creating. I’m enjoying this wonderful renaissance we’re having.

What were your expectations heading into the job?

The biggest thing the mayor needs to be is a positive spokesman for bringing business and investment into our community. That was something I really knew. But then going on and getting involved in something that the mayor has no hands-on involvement in is education. And as long as our [national education] ranking shows us at 48, 49 or 50—granted, [Clark County School District Superintendent] Dwight Jones is doing a tremendous job, but it’s an enormous undertaking—businesses aren’t going to come here if there’s a crummy school system. It’s just that simple. I said when I was running that I would take the bully pulpit and speak to that.

Your passion for education is well documented, but how big of an influence can a mayor really have?

Look, I know what I think I know, and I surely know what I don’t know. And I know education. I’ve lived it for so long and helped create a [school]. So whenever I speak to groups, I talk about how globally it’s so important to any community to have a strong public-education program. The only reason I built a private [school] was because nobody in education in the state would listen to me. [Now], I’m part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and I was asked to be vice president of the education committee. So every time I get the microphone, you can hear me talk about how charter schools are Band-Aids, that we need to fix the inner-city schools and that the whole key to education begins when the baby is born until they’re 10, and then you pray or you lose your hair or you go gray. But you do homework birth to 10, when the child loves to learn. … So that’s what I talk about all the time wherever I go—ad nauseam to many people, probably. But I think having the bully pulpit you can do something.

Obviously, someone pretty close to you provided somewhat of a blueprint, but what are a couple of things about the job that have surprised you?

How great a city staff we have—very knowledgeable, very professional and very passionate about rebuilding this community. And very positive. That was really surprising to me. I thought there might be territoriality, which happens with everybody in everything, but boy do we pull together. And I think the enthusiasm and excitement of the city, to see the willingness of people to step forward and do something and to volunteer and to help and to want to be part of this resurgence that we’re seeing in the city. … Look where you’re sitting right now [points out her window to a high-rise building near City Hall]. Certainly you see what were condominiums and partly sold as condos now filled with rentals. You see behind me the 61 acres [of Symphony Park] with all the fabulous [additions]—the Frank Gehry-[designed] Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic. We’re going to have a nursing facility over here on this side of The Smith Center. The new Discovery Museum. … And then we have these 61 acres all planned out. Closest to us here is the Charlie Palmer boutique hotel, but we have plans way down on the north end for that arena, and I am ready to die on that sword.

Regarding the sports arena, one of the goals Oscar failed to reach was bringing a professional sports franchise to town. So you share his belief that it’s essential to the city?

I’m very passionate about it. I see that as the last piece. The key is the [arena’s location at Interstate] 15 and the [U.S.] 95. Not a huge one—not a 60,000- or 100,000-seat arena, but a small 18,000 to 20,000 which we could use for live entertainment as well. And perhaps maybe we can even entice the UFC when the ball team isn’t here.

What’s the most frequent question you get asked as mayor?

“Are you going to have the Chippendales?” Can you believe that? I mean, literally, everywhere. Everywhere I would speak, people say, “Oh, I’m so disappointed that you didn’t bring the Chippendales.”

How do you approach this job differently than your husband?

Oscar was and remains a visionary, but once he’s got the idea, he liked to say, “Go do it.” And I’m the one who has to put my hands in the dirt and really get involved and see it through. I don’t let go! I have a list of things I’ve asked people on the city staff to do, and they are going to find that … I am relentless—“Did you do this?”—which is horrible, because the government works so slowly. You could grow old in the time it takes to move a mountain here.

How is Oscar’s role as the spouse of the mayor different than your role as the spouse of the mayor?

Well, when he used to honk the horn, I would run to the door and have his Bombay Sapphire and have him come in and sit on the couch and turn on whatever sporting event. And then he’d say, “What are we having for dinner? I’m starved.” And he would have his favorite dinner, because he loves my cooking. Now I come home at 7 or 7:30, and I honk the horn, he comes to the door, asks “Do you want some wine or a drink? Come in, sit down, let’s have a chat.” Well, I’m no sooner sitting down than he asks, “What are we having for dinner?”

Last year, we interviewed your oldest son, Oscar Jr., who’s an oncologist in Las Vegas, and he said the only way he’d run for mayor is if they found a cure for cancer. So if not Oscar Jr., which of your other three children would be most likely to follow in his parents’ mayoral footsteps?

Probably my daughter [Cara], because she’s very much like me. She’s a listener, she’s a mediator, she’s just gotten her second master’s and is going into counseling. But I don’t know if she’d have the passion to do this.

So it’s possible that the Goodman mayoral dynasty might end with you?

[Laughs.] I remember my opponent said, “Oh my God, here comes the Goodman dynasty!” to which I responded, “Dynasty? I’ve got four kids and six grandchildren—you better believe it. We are a dynasty!”