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Mayor ‘hot’ over Obama’s remarks, backtracks on apology demand

Goodman criticizes president’s characterization of Vegas ‘junkets’

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Leila Navidi

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman holds a press conference about a letter he wrote to President Obama in his office in downtown Las Vegas on Wednesday. Goodman is upset over President Obama’s comments that corporate executives from companies getting federal bailout funds shouldn’t be going on corporate trips to Las Vegas, saying the comments were hurtful to the convention industry.

Updated Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 | 3:46 p.m.

Mayor Oscar Goodman's press conference

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman holds a press conference about a letter he wrote to President Obama in his office in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009. Mayor Goodman is upset over President Obama's comments that corporate executives from companies getting federal bailout funds shouldn't be going on corporate trips to Las Vegas or events such as the Super Bowl, and felt that the President's comments were hurtful to the convention industry and Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

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Obama in Elkhart, Ind.

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President Barack Obama holds a town hall style meeting about the economic stimulus package Monday at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Ind.

Mayor Oscar Goodman said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that he was “hotter than fish grease” when he heard President Barack Obama recently contend that corporations using federal bailout money should stop visiting Las Vegas.

“There’s no question that we’re feeling the impact of it today, and as far as living in Las Vegas, this has a debilitating effect on our economy,” Goodman said. “We have to stop the way the tide is rolling here.”

Goodman demurred when asked if the self-styled reputation of Las Vegas as a den of iniquity has caused Obama – and the majority of Americans – to conclude that most trips here, including business trips, are inherently extravagant.

Las Vegas has significant business and conference facilities, Goodman said – as well as the top-flight casinos, restaurants, shows, etcetera. “There are different markets we’re trying to attract here,” he said.

“We can promote what we’re famous for, but it has nothing at all to do with the fact that you can have a serious meeting here in Las Vegas,” Goodman said.

Toward that end, Goodman, who dashed off a letter to Obama on Tuesday in his role as chairman of the board of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said that the president’s remarks wouldn’t change the way the region promotes itself in the future.

“We promote ourselves in all respects,” Goodman said. “We promote ourselves with ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here’ for the edgy promotion – and then we promote ourselves when we go out and entice serious companies to come out here and do serious business. We tell them that they can do that here.”

Goodman backtracked on his demand that Obama apologize for his remarks, but said that he still needed to “straighten out the record.”

At a town hall meeting Monday in Elkhart, Ind., to gain support for the stimulus bill, Obama said that “you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”

The statement was in line with other remarks the president has made admonishing high-paid executives of failing financial institutions to use the federal bailout money responsibly.

Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs Group, which received $25 billion and $10 billion in taxpayer-funded bailout money respectively, both recently scrapped highly publicized conferences at swank Strip hotels.

In his letter to Obama, an outraged Goodman took offense at what he claimed was the unjustified stereotype that trips to Las Vegas are “junkets.”

“The assumption that all meetings, events, and incentive travel (to Las Vegas) are wasteful is wrong,” Goodman wrote. “Now more than ever, we need businesses to travel and hold meetings and events.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley agreed. “There is no question that as a result of the criticism leveled against business travel to Las Vegas by the President and others,” she said in a written statement, “the community I represent has seen the loss of millions of dollars in revenue, which threatens even more job cuts at a time when we cannot afford the loss of a single visitor.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came to Obama’s defense.

“I have spoken with President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, about the President’s remarks,” said Reid on the Senate floor. “He made it clear to me that the President’s criticism was aimed at the potential use of taxpayer funds for junkets, and in no way reflects his thoughts about any one particular city.

“The President knows that Las Vegas is America’s premiere destination to do business,” Reid added.

Sam Skolnik can be reached at 229-6436 or at [email protected].

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