Seven Questions for Oscar Goodman

Our city’s biggest cheerleader on the best time to pour your first drink, the best tip Spilotro ever gave him and the best actor to portray him on-screen

Photo by Bryan Hainer

Photo by Bryan Hainer

Oscar Goodman’s second-floor office in an unmarked building behind the Las Vegas Convention Center is much more modest than you’d probably guess. Clarification: modest in size. The contents within that office? About as immodest as Goodman himself. There’s the miniature “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign behind his desk (neon lights turned on, of course). There’s the pro wrestling championship belt on the floor, given to him by Hulk Hogan (“You know,” Goodman says about Hogan, “he’s really smart!”). And there are the countless framed pictures of the former Las Vegas mayor at various functions, posing with various dignitaries, showgirls by his side, gin martini in his hand.

Although he vacated the mayoral chair—a chair now occupied by his wife, Carolyn—after three terms in 2011, Goodman has never stopped championing his beloved city. He is now under the employ of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, with the official title of “Chairman of the Host Committee.” His official job? Smile and wave the Las Vegas pom-poms near and far, always escorted by those showgirls, always clutching that martini. I ask Goodman: How’d you end up with the best life? His reply: “I do have the best life, don’t I?”

What’s the best part about being Oscar Goodman?

To wake up every morning next to Carolyn. I’ve been doing it for more than 51 years now, and it’s a very good thing. But I enjoyed it more when I was the mayor, because when I woke up, she would come to my side of the bed and applaud. Now that she’s the mayor, I have to live without the applause.

What’s the best part about being former Mayor Oscar Goodman?

You know, I’ve always been treated like a king around here. And it amazes me that even when I’m not in office that treatment continues. I would’ve never dreamed that would’ve happened. I figured, once you’re out, you’re out. Still, wherever I go, I tell people [Las Vegas] has the best mayor that the city has ever had sitting in office right now. I have arguments with people, because they like to say I was this, I was that—forget about it. You’re much better off with Carolyn.

And the best thing your successor has done?

I think she’s brought a serious vein to the office. I took the job seriously, but I never took myself seriously. She combines the two. A perfect example: [Recently], she went up with her staff to Mount Charleston to thank the firefighters and the Hotshots, whom I understand came from all over the country, for their service. Now had I done it, I would’ve had a band, showgirls and probably a couple of bottles of booze. And I would’ve insisted that the press follow me. She did it very quietly, very dignifiedly, and I think it was appreciated that it wasn’t a circus. She brings that sobriety to the position that oftentimes wasn’t there when I was the mayor.

Speaking of sobriety, when is the best time to order the day’s first martini?

Well, the [LVCVA] gave me a watch that has all 5s on it. So I never have to feel guilty of imbibing. … When I recently went to the BMX convention over at the South Point, they put my favorite condiment in it: a jalapeño pepper. That was at about 9 o’clock in the morning, so that was a pretty good time to start drinking. But my watch said it was 5, so there was no guilty conscience.

What is the best iconic symbol of Las Vegas?

The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign—nothing can even come close to replicating that. … When you drive by that wonderful sign, it gives you a sense of what we are, a sense of pride and it’s symbolic. It’s rather simple, too. It has a nice message: Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas. What’s better than that?

What’s the best advice one of your former notorious clients ever gave you?

You can only eat one steak at a time. Tony Spilotro said that, and I can’t think of a better way to live life than with that philosophy.

Your new best-selling book Being Oscar has already caught the attention of both Broadway and Hollywood. So who would be the best actor to play you?

The most handsome! The most handsome, most masculine, most brilliant person in Hollywood … who has a love of Las Vegas, of course. And the movie will be made here. Because that’s what the mayor wants.

What’s the best thing people can take away from the book?

When I was writing it, I was writing little vignettes about parts of my life, about particular cases, and I was very satisfied with it. And then when the book was published in galley form, I read it, and it took on a whole new meaning for me. It’s an important book in the sense that it’s set on a stage of murder and mayhem and mendacity, but it’s a love story that comes through—love of family, love of the law and love of the city.

What’s the best thing that can happen to Las Vegas in the next five years?

The only thing we need to cap this off—now that we have the Ruvo Center with wonderful academic medicine and The Smith Center with great culture—is an arena Downtown, and then we’ll have major-league sports here. When you have those three things—culture, medicine and [professional] sports—then you are a world-class city.

And the best reason to believe the arena will happen in the next five years?

I think the economy is coming back. The reason it hasn’t happened is because the economy was in a stall. Once that’s lifted, we will see a shovel in the ground, and we’ll see money in the bank. I recently spoke with [outgoing] NBA Commissioner David Stern, and he was asking how we’re doing here as far as the arena is concerned. So the interest is still there, no question about it.

What’s the best way to make a martini?

Oh, there’s only one way to make a martini, because at the time I make them, my liver is quivering. I run into my home and I get the bottle, and I have a little plastic cup and I fill it up almost to the top—leaving just enough room to put some ice cubes in it—then I run and get my jalapeno and drink it down. Then everything starts to settle, my mind relaxes and I’m ready to have a leisurely drink thereafter.

What’s the best item on the menu at your restaurant?

I love the bone-in rib eye—I think it’s the best in the world, and I wouldn’t say that unless I meant it. But one of my grandsons, when he was about 7, he went to the restaurant and ordered macaroni and cheese—he’s sort of a connoisseur—and he said, “Grandpa: This is extraordinary macaroni and cheese.” So order the rib eye with a side of macaroni and cheese, and you’ll be the happiest guy in the world.

Who is the best Vegas headliner—living or dead—of all time?

Oh boy, that’s a tough one when you start playing favorites. We’ve had such great ones—you had the days of Sinatra and the Rat Pack; you had the days of Elvis. The Beatles came here. Siegfried & Roy were terrific. Wayne Newton, Mr. Las Vegas, and then George Wallace, another Mr. Las Vegas. Let’s put it this way: We’re lucky to have all of them. And the next one will come here—has to, because this is the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”

What’s the best way to charm a judge?

Be on time. Because if you’re late, they throw you right in the can. They wanted to put me in jail more than they wanted to see my clients go to jail. That’s why I’m always early. I have very good personal habits as far as being timely.

What’s the best bet for the NFL season?

I’ll give you a long shot: the Eagles. I like Chip Kelly as a coach. I think he’s going to have a different kind of offense that the league has never thought of, and each team will only have a week to prepare for it. They’re going to be very interesting.

Who will go down in history as the best Mayor Goodman?

I think Carolyn will at the end of the day, particularly if she gets the arena. She’s beloved out there. When people see me, they smile. When they see her, they have that warm, tingly feeling. It’s a different kind of emotional response.

But will it be her arena or your arena?

Boy, that’s a heck of a question. Let’s put it this way: I don’t care whose arena it is, as long as they name the team the Oscars.

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