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December 20, 2014

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In the end, mayor should have gone under the radar with Obama concerns

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John Katsilometes

Oscar Goodman closes the book on his mini-dustup with President Obama during a news conference in his City Hall office.

There’s a big difference between calling someone out and calling someone at home. Our mayor called out, in public, the president of the United States. When it came time for The White House to respond, Rahm Emanuel (not famous for his diplomatic skills in such circumstances) called Oscar Goodman at home.

And Barack Obama essentially showed that you don’t call out the president, even if the call-out morphs from a demand for an apology to a faint request for kind words. In watching this mini-drama unspool over the past three months, it became increasingly clear that Obama was going to play his trip to Las Vegas as if the flare-up stoked by Goodman (and, later, Nevada Gov. Ted Baxter) had never happened. At last night’s fundraiser for Sen. Harry Reid, Obama said it was great to be back in Las Vegas and joked about how his room had been upgraded since the election. During an appearance of the massive solar installation at Nellis Air Force Base today, Obama said, “There's nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week.” That’s true for the president of the United States or the president of any Kiwanis Club in the country. Regardless, Obama was saying that visiting Vegas in the middle of the week is great, and showed that by actually visiting Vegas in the middle of the week. To do business.

Goodman acknowledged that today at a hastily assembled news conference at his City Hall office. Yet he said he was still “disappointed” Obama didn’t use the words Goodman wanted, saying Obama ran the ball “95 yards but came up short of the goal line,” making Obama the first president to be compared to, I don’t know, Gale Sayers, in this case. What Goodman said he was after was a sentence that would have featured prominently the words “business” and “conventions” -- that Las Vegas is a great place to conduct business and hold conventions. But by specifying those words to be said by the president, and doing so in public and again yesterday during a meet-and-greet at McCarran, Goodman guaranteed they wouldn’t be said. Obama doesn’t need to look like he’s caving in, for no sensible reason, to the mayor of Las Vegas. Repeatedly, Goodman has defended the method of complaint - a formal letter to Obama and airing his concerns in public -- because as mayor, he is chairman of the board of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It is his duty to protect the city’s convention business, he feels, but when the president seemed to damage that business with off-the-cuff comments in February, Goodman took on a demeanor that reminded of one of his Mob clients. Tony the Ant, maybe. He demanded an apology, saying he was “hotter than fish grease,” then backed off the apology but sent a letter to the president saying that Obama’s comments -- which rightfully reminded corporate execs not to use bailout money to traipse off to Vegas -- would hurt Vegas convention business. He repeatedly made his case until, on Memorial Day, Emanuel called him to say that the mayor would be appeased during Obama’s trip.

As Goodman himself noted today, the presidential trip itself showed Obama appreciates Las Vegas. If our mayor ever questioned that, he should have just picked up the phone and spared us all the drama.

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