Anywhere else, voters would probably be eager to see Oscar Goodman go, especially with the region steeped in the nation's worst and foreclosure rates. Yet around here, all of the above is somehow considered political capital.
Indeed, as Tuesday's nonpartisan primary to replace him approaches, the front-runner among the 18 candidates to replace the former mob attorney-turned-folk hero is about as close to Goodman as you can get.
She is Carolyn Goodman, the mayor's wife. She leads the crowded field with 36.5 percent in the Las Vegas Review-Journal's most recent poll.
So how exactly do you go up against a woman who makes absolutely no bones about the fact that she's running on her husband's popularity and is intent on following through on the projects he started?
"Her polling numbers are directly related to the fact that Goodman is the most popular politician in Las Vegas history," said Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith, author of the Oscar Goodman biography "Of Rats and Men." "Oscar's popularity is such that there is a current to it, and Carolyn is being pulled along with the current."
Her two chief competitors, Clark County Commissioners Larry Brown and Chris Giunchigliani, acknowledge they're vying for second place to Goodman in the primary and are hoping she gets less than 50 percent of the vote to force a June 7 runoff.
"I think she's a very bright lady, but I just don't think she's going to have the experience that's necessary to get this job done," said Giunchigliani, a former 16-year state assemblywoman and special teacher. "She's got the name, and you pay a great deal of money for that kind of name recognition, but that's all."
Neither Goodman minds the nepotism charge, or the notion that she's really a Trojan horse to keep the incumbent -- who has said he wishes he could be mayor for life -- in power.
"I'm running because my husband has done so much downtown in the past 12 years, and it's such on the verge of really taking off," explained candidate Goodman, a 72-year-old with a fluffy bowl of blond hair and a persistent drawl from her upbringing on Upper East Side. "He, Oscar, with his voice ... and his charm and his craziness has taken this dying city back to the point where it's so ready. It's so exciting where we are."
Explained the mayor: "She was a little bit concerned that whoever the candidate is will have her own agenda and may deviate from what we want to accomplish. She believes in the next several years she'll be able to get done what I started, and God bless her for it."
In recent years, Oscar Goodman has led efforts to build a new city hall, lure the online shoe retailer Zappos to move its headquarters to downtown Vegas, redevelop a 61-acre brownfield with both the recently opened Clinic outpost focusing on brain disease and the soon-to-bow $475 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
Somehow, even in this punishing , the outgoing former attorney for several reputed mob figures, who even played a version of himself in the film "Casino" and still wears Capone-era black pinstripe suits, has avoided being blamed for economic hardships. Instead, his larger-than-life persona and propensity for outlandish utterances -- like suggesting graffiti artists be dethumbed and telling a fourth-grade class he'd take a bottle of gin to a desert island -- have only enhanced his stature.
He also has elevated the profile of the office by globe-trotting with pairs of scantily clad showgirls on his arms at every turn. That two members of the far more powerful county commission, which has actual control over the tourist corridor that most visitors consider "Las Vegas," want the job and are trailing his wife reflects the political equity he's given the job.
Nonetheless, Giunchigliani and Brown have taken some potshots, suggesting that it was easy to be popular when times were good and wondering if Goodman deserves as much credit as he gets for the aforementioned accomplishments.
"People don't penetrate and say, 'OK, what did you really get done downtown?' So that conversation hasn't had an opportunity to come about," said Giunchigliani, who was elected to the commission in 2006. She took credit for pushing legislation in 2003 that created a rental car tax dedicated to funding the performing arts center.
"It had nothing to do with the City Council or the mayor. They embraced it, they put it in play on the 61 acres, which is what they needed for an anchor down there, but it wouldn't be there if I hadn't gotten the funding for this," she said.
Carolyn Goodman, showing a nascent ability to toss a sharp elbow, retorted wryly, "I know I've heard her say many times she was responsible for the legislation of a lot, a lot, a lot of things. Almost every [campaign event] I've been to, she has responded to something, 'I created that legislation.' I would want to look at it to validate."
The two women, should they go head to head, could not be more different.
Goodman is a strikingly traditional mother of four with a Nancy Reagan-level of adoration for the spouse of 49 years who brought her from Philadelphia to what was then a 100,000-resident desert burg in 1964.
Much of the goodwill for her in the community comes from the fact that in 1984 she founded the Meadows School, the city's premier college preparatory academy and alma mater of the scions of many of the town's rich and powerful. Despite heading up the operation, a nonprofit from which she retired last year, she nonetheless was home to cook dinner on most nights for her lawyer turned mayor husband.
The Meadows was formed, in fact, back when Giunchigliani was president of the local teachers' union, in part as a reaction to the grip the union had on a rapidly expanding and diverse public school district in accelerated decline. In one of her harshest assessments of Goodman, Giunchigliani questioned her opponent's qualifications to run a government by insisting that at the Meadows School, "She wasn't a schoolteacher, she wasn't an administrator, she was a fundraiser."
Goodman takes umbrage at that, saying, "That's weak. She has no idea. Look, this is her life. She doesn't have children, she doesn't have a family. ... Her life is politics, from what I see. And caring for children with special needs. She does the Lord's work there, in my ."
Brown, a former Minor League Baseball player, was first elected to the City Council in 1999, when Oscar Goodman also took office. He is slightly less direct in his broadsides against both Goodmans.
"It's not the time for another Oscar Goodman, it's not the time for another flamboyant ambassador," Brown, 53, said. "It's time for someone to go in and pay more attention to the substance at City Hall."
Translation: Goodman was great when times were good, but now a grown-up needs to step in. Also, Carolyn would be more of the same.
Candidate Goodman shrugged at the inferences. The city's budget is "nearly balanced," she said, whereas the county's is in disarray under the management of Brown, Giunchigliani and the rest of the commission.
She copped to not being familiar with the inner workings of city operations, but she offered a -esque rationale for her qualifications: She was there, alongside her husband, at countless meetings and meals with the movers and shakers who might invest in Vegas.
"We have traveled together, I have had dinner with these people, I know what their intentions are," she said. "It's not quite a level playing field, because many of these people who have been involved in this campaign have not had that privilege."
As for the electoral advantage of her relationship with the mayor, Goodman quipped, "Who wouldn't want to run off the Goodman name? He's been wonderful. Larry would love to run off the Goodman name. I feel terrible for him that the mayor these past 12 years wasn't Oscar Brown."
And while her opponents believe he has embarrassed the city with his antics, she believes he was tricking people into considering real matters through exaggeration and entertainment.
Which is why, of course, it's impossible to take seriously Goodman's warning to those who would slam his wife. Out of anybody else's mouth, it would be appalling, but out of his, it'll likely be greeted with a smirk.
"If they start calling her names," the ex-mob lawyer said, "I'm going to have them whacked."