Former mob lawyer a good bet for Vegas mayor

Polls give him lead of 19% over opponent

June 07, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LAS VEGAS -- Some political observers and Chamber of Commerce boosters thought this city would turn away from its notorious and colorful past this year to choose a mainstream politician as its mayor.

But Las Vegas was born to defy convention. Tomorrow, if public opinion polls are accurate, voters will elect as their mayor Oscar B. Goodman, a lawyer who has spent much of his career keeping notorious mobsters out of jail.

What was once regarded as a sideshow candidacy has become a juggernaut, with Goodman holding leads of 19 percent and more in various polls as he heads into a runoff election against City Councilman Arnie Adamsen.

Goodman's quick wit, candor and pledge to make developers pay for more civic improvements appear to have captured the imagination of voters in the United States' fastest-growing city.

The silver-bearded, 59-year-old attorney fell just 277 votes short of taking the election in a May primary. Since then, voters have seemed to shrug off his opponent's repeated warnings that the city will be turning back the clock if it elects Goodman.

"Las Vegas is a novelty for a lot of people. They come here to live or get away from their mundane lives," said John Miller, 56, who operates a downtown men's clothing store. "And if a gangster lawyer becomes the mayor, well, all the better."

Indeed, 69 percent of voters in a poll published last week by the Las Vegas Review-Journal said Goodman's colorful client roster -- which once included mob boss Meyer Lansky and reputed enforcer Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro -- will not hurt the city's image.

"I think it will just redouble people's interest in coming here, because of the myth of the mob and Bugsy Siegel," said Howard Bock, owner of a pawn shop and other small businesses.

The door to the city's top office was suddenly thrown wide open this spring, when popular Mayor Jan Jones announced that she would not seek a third term. Not long after that, another top contender dropped out because of a heart condition.

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