Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Columnist Tom Gorman: On questioning the mayor’s flamboyant behavior and its impact on the city’s image

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-2310.

I've given a fair amount of thought to this column. There's something about writing for Jan. 1 that triggers more reflection than normal.

Do I want to look back or forward? Should I give it a light, humorous touch, or be more solemn?

I came up with a dangerously cliched topic: new year's resolutions. But to look smart, I'm neither reflecting on my own resolutions, nor asking other people about their resolutions. They're probably predictable.

This would be my spin: I would ask people what they hoped government would resolve to do in 2006 to help all of us. A bunch of wiseacre responses would probably inspire me to have some fun at government's expense.

But Tracey Judah stopped me in my tracks. I ran into her while shopping at the Boulevard mall. She's 43, a bartender at BJ's in Summerlin. I asked her who in government should make a resolution, and she said Oscar Goodman should resolve to change his schtick.

"The way the mayor represents Las Vegas, with a showgirl on his arm and alcohol in his hand, I'm not sure that's how I want Las Vegas represented," Tracey told me. "It sends the wrong message. That's not what Vegas is all about.

"The mayor should be someone we look up to and respect, who shows good judgment and morals," she said. "Someone in the public limelight has a bigger responsibility to represent himself with greater dignity."

This gave me pause. Journalists need an Oscar for relief. Oscar and his martinis. Oscar and the showgirls. Oscar and his martinis. Oscar as a Playboy photographer. Oscar and his martinis. Oscar's mayoral forums at the local bars. Oscar's gin endorsement. Oscar telling fourth graders that if he was abandoned on a desolate island, he'd want his gin above all else. (The principal grimaced.)

Oscar has gotten Vegas a lot of ink.

I asked one of our researchers to check how many times Oscar was mentioned in 2005 in the six major national-level newspapers -- the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Christian Science Monitor.

Oscar was mentioned in 27 stories, some of which were full-fledged profiles of him. And of those 27, 17 mentioned either gin, martinis or showgirls in the same breath.

Maybe you think that's OK for Las Vegas -- that any buzz is a good buzz. Vegas and booze are tighter than Boston and chowder.

But there comes a point when I get a little embarrassed.

A 3,400-word Washington Post profile in July included Oscar inviting teachers to join him for the arts district's monthly First Friday promotion, where "I'll get a little drunk ..."

The Post story continued: "As he drives away in his gray Mercedes, a reporter remarks to him that many politicians refrain from telling constituents when and where they plan to get drunk. The mayor shrugs. 'I never know what'll come out of this mouth.' "

For journalists, Oscar's da bomb. We love him. Always good for an outrageous quote, a great photo. Booze and babes, that's our Oscar.

I know he's a big hit in town. In the last election, he got something like 114 percent of the vote.

I certainly relish Oscar the cheerleader. I don't know how he handles himself behind closed doors when he's doing the city's bidding; I hope he is an ambitious recruiter and persuasive negotiator.

But I'm not sure how waving a glass of Sapphire at public functions contributes to his mayoral mission. I doubt the schtick does the city any favors. I wonder if there are any CEOs out there who see Oscar and his gin and say, "Hey, that's a city where we need to invest."

Showgirls, that's fine. Elvis impersonators, that's fine. But if Las Vegas is on the hunt for sophistication, the gin's wearing thin.

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