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Gloves Off After Vegas Mayor's Wife Wins Round 1 of Election

Apr 6, 2011 – 7:28 AM
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- This city famed for its boxing matches may want to start selling tickets now, because Tuesday night the crowded mayoral race became a two-woman match that's already showing signs it'll be a bruising battle.

The front-runner is first-time candidate Carolyn Goodman, 72-year-old wife of the term-limited but popular mayor, Oscar Goodman. She snagged 37 percent of the vote, more than double the total of her general election opponent, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.

Gloves Off After Vegas Mayor's Wife Wins Round 1 of Election to Replace Him
Julie Jacobson, AP
Carolyn Goodman, shown speaking to supporters during an election night gathering on Tuesday in Las Vegas, will face Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani in the runoff election for city mayor in June. Goodman is the wife of Mayor Oscar Goodman.
Giunchigliani, with 17.35 percent, squeaked past fellow County Commissioner Larry Brown by just 15 votes to earn a spot against Goodman in the June 7 runoff.

Brown said he won't ask for a recount and expects to formally endorse Giunchigliani today. Giunchigliani said that she hopes other also-rans will back her, too, and that she can peel off enough of the 63 percent who did not support Goodman to be competitive.

Carolyn Goodman acknowledged Tuesday night that her opponent, who has held elective offices for 20 years, is likely to try to portray her as a neophyte trying to ride her husband's name to power so he can continue to run the city despite not being able to run again.

Giunchigliani is known as a tough campaigner who doesn't hold back.

"The political world is all about bits and pieces and people taking shots and taking things out of context," said Goodman, who is best known locally for founding and operating the region's top college preparatory academy. "That's the name of the game. If you don't like the fire, get out of the kitchen. If you know what's inside, those things don't penetrate, and you know things are not true."

In the past week, Goodman generated criticism when she said she knew what the DREAM Act is but then provided a muddled response that suggested the long-pending federal immigration legislation was an "embryonic" issue on which she had no position. She also was unable to articulate a view on same-sex marriage, although her campaign manager later said she supports Nevada's domestic partnership law.

Giunchigliani and others pounced on those moments to paint Goodman as out of touch and unaware of the important issues of the day.

"She's a very smart lady, but I think she's been more insulated or not very involved in the community," Giunchigliani said Tuesday night.

Brown, in talking up Giunchigliani, offered a similar view. "To [Carolyn Goodman's] defense, she knows nothing about local government," he said. "Unless it was a specific thing she was involved in and Oscar was talking about it, she wouldn't know anything about local government. Whether she follows politics, I don't know."

The Goodmans seemed prepared to slap back even as they insisted they would take the high road in the coming campaign. Oscar Goodman noted that he didn't know where City Hall was before he ran in 1999. He said that his wife not being a political insider is an advantage, not a problem.

"You've got yourself a real tough cookie up here," Oscar Goodman told volunteers at campaign headquarters after the votes were counted. "No matter who she's going to be running against, they better put their dukes up. Carolyn won't mention their name throughout the entire campaign, she's only going to be asking for folks to vote for her. She really believes in Las Vegas and loves Las Vegas, and that's what it takes to be a great mayor, not to be a political hack."

Carolyn Goodman is open about running because she wants to continue the efforts of her husband to redevelop the downtown area and pull the city out of the worst recession in its history.

Critics have suggested the couple are trying to circumvent the spirit of Nevada's term limit law. Oscar Goodman says he wishes he could be mayor for life --and Giunchigliani believes "it's a possibility. That's what some people have said to me when I've come to their doors."

The primary vote seems to imply there's still a large reservoir of goodwill toward the present mayor, who has somehow avoided being blamed for the fact that the region suffers the worst unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the nation.

Rather, the mayor's antics -- he constantly brags about drinking, gambling and his experiences as a criminal defense attorney for several prominent Mafia figures -- only enhance his stature.

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Oscar Goodman has become an internationally known personality, trotting the globe in Capone-era pinstripe suits accompanied by scantily clad showgirls to promote the tourist destination, despite the fact that the mayor has no jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip. The Strip falls outside the city limits, but few people elsewhere are aware or care about that distinction, and Goodman has enjoyed acting as an outlandish spokesman for the entire region.

Giunchigliani, 57, said the current mayor's act was fun when Vegas was booming but has worn thin in this more challenging era.

"When times are good and everybody was making tons of money and there was a different kind of jazz going on, I think Oscar's personality and the drinking and the schtick all kinda worked," she said. "People are hurting now, they want a new direction for Las Vegas. We will come back, but we're not going to come back because of martinis and showgirls."
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