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Obama responds to Harry Reid criticism; Goodman upset over remark

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Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun

Mayor Oscar Goodman holds a press conference inside his downtown Las Vegas office Tuesday, February 2, 2010. Goodman was upset about the following statement made by President Obama: “When times are tough, you tighten your belts,” Obama said. “You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you’re trying to save for college.”

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 | 6:18 p.m.

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Goodman Reacts to Obama

Mayor Oscar Goodman holds a press conference inside his downtown Las Vegas office Tuesday, February 2, 2010. Goodman was upset about the following statement made by President Obama: Launch slideshow »

Mayor Reacts to Obama

Mayor Goodman reacts to President Obama's comments about Las Vegas.

RELATED STORY: Should we be upset by Obama’s latest remarks on Las Vegas?

A year after President Barack Obama remarked during a town hall meeting that corporations using federal bailout money should stop visiting Las Vegas, he made a similar comment at another town hall today in reference to the down economy.

"This isn't how responsible families do their budgets. When times are tough, you tighten your belts," he said at a New Hampshire forum today. "You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. And it's time your government did the same."

In response to criticism this afternoon, Obama wrote a letter to Sen. Harry Reid saying "there's no better place to have fun than Vegas." In his letter, which was addressed to "Harry," he wrote:

"I hope you know that during my Town Hall today, I wasn’t saying anything negative about Las Vegas. I was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun," Obama wrote. "There is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country’s great destinations. I have always enjoyed my visits, look forward to visiting in a few weeks, and hope folks will visit in record numbers this year."

But Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman delivered a double-barreled verbal blast at Obama for telling people not to spend their money in Las Vegas during the town hall forum.

Obama is "no friend to Las Vegas" and "I think he has a psychological hangup about us," Goodman told reporters he gathered into his office at City Hall.

Goodman, whose face became red as he spoke at his desk, said he was "incredulous" when he heard that Obama had again attacked the city and that a simply apology was not enough this time to undo the damage.

"It has to be a real mea culpa and a promise not to do it again," Goodman said.

"You don't cite Las Vegas as the specific example each time you're talking about spending money. That's what I'm saying," Goodman said. "You could tell people they should save their money to send their kids to college. There's nothing wrong with that. And that's the end of the statement. You don't need 'and blow your money in Las Vegas.'"

Obama's comments last year that corporations using federal bailout money should stop visiting Las Vegas were part of the reason the area lost a chunk of its convention business, he said.

"I can't attribute the 341 lost meetings just to the president's comments. But I'll tell you one thing: He sure doesn't help us," Goodman said.

Reid released a statement this afternoon urging Obama to "lay off Las Vegas."

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President Barack Obama leaves the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010, for a trip to New Hampshire to push one of his State of the Union proposals: funneling $30 billion to local banks so they can lend small businesses money they need to grow their enterprises and create jobs.

“I just spoke to the White House and told them that while the president is correct that people saving for college need to be fiscally responsible, the president needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn’t be spending their money," Reid said. “To truly reenergize our economy, we need people to travel to Las Vegas. I would much rather tourists and business travelers spend their money in Las Vegas than spend it overseas.”

Shortly after Obama's remarks, Gov. Jim Gibbons fired at Obama's town hall comment.

"How dare he insult any American city," Gibbons said before meeting with Nevada school superintendents in Carson City today. "I'm writing a letter to him today telling him to tone down or temper his remarks about Las Vegas. This is another slap in the face of the hard-working families in Nevada."

Sen. John Ensign said Obama's remarks were another hit that Las Vegas can't afford. Ensign said he plans to call Obama seeking an apology.

“President Obama has become quite comfortable criticizing Las Vegas,” Ensign said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I think that he has failed to grasp the weight that his words carry. As a result of his irresponsible comment just last year, countless companies and federal agencies canceled their conventions at Las Vegas hotels, costing these hotels and our city millions of dollars. Once again he has threatened the struggling economy of Las Vegas. I certainly hope that companies across this country understand that his comments are simply cavalier assumptions about a city that offers dollar for dollar the best rates in the country."

Rossi Ralenkotter, president and chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, responded by saying he hoped the president would alter his choice of words in the future.

“Tourism is the number one economic stimulus for Southern Nevada and for many cities and states across the country," he said. "While we appreciate Las Vegas is top of mind for the president, we would ask that he offer words of encouragement instead of criticism."

Rep. Shelley Berkley said she left a complaint with the White House and is in the process of writing a letter to Obama explaining how his words affect Las Vegas.

“Enough is enough! President Obama needs to stop picking on Las Vegas and he needs to let Americans decide for themselves how and where to spend their hard earned vacation dollars," Berkley said in a statement. "This is the second time he’s pointed a finger in our direction and both times he’s been wrong to single out Las Vegas."

Rep. Dina Titus called Obama's remarks a blow to the thousands of Las Vegas workers who make their living in the travel and tourism sector.

"It is unbelievable that President Obama again singled out Las Vegas for ridicule when the fact is that our city is one of the premier destinations for work or pleasure," she said. "This pattern of bashing Las Vegas to make a point must stop."

Click to enlarge photo

Mayor Oscar Goodman holds a press conference inside his downtown Las Vegas office Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010. Goodman was upset about the following statement made by President Obama: "When times are tough, you tighten your belts," Obama said. "You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college."

Goodman today said there's nothing wrong with Las Vegas' infrastructure -- it's the fact that the economic downturn across the country is bringing fewer visitors, thus creating a 13 percent jobless rate.

"If you come to Las Vegas, you're going to get the best of everything," he said. "You're going to get the best shows. You're going to get the best food. You're going to do the best shopping. Stay at the nicest hotels. But the people aren't coming with money. That's the difference between now and maybe three years ago."

"Every time he talks about people spending money in Las Vegas, it has to hurt us," he said. "It's a natural consequence of his statement."

Asked if he thought the president might have just made a slip of the tongue, Goodman said that being negative about Las Vegas must be in his mindset.

"He's got his own psychological quirk up there about Las Vegas," Goodman said. "That's our town, folks. You should be angry about it, too."

"I want the president to straighten this out," Goodman said. "If not, he's not welcome in my city, as far as I'm concerned. He's not our friend. I don't know about people in Nevada, but in Las Vegas, he's sure not our friend."

Goodman said he didn't care if he received criticism again for going after the president.

"What? Little weenies are going to criticize me? Forgetaboutit. I could care less about that," he said. "I'm the mayor, I'm trying to protect Las Vegas. And I don't care what these little pundits say."

"I think he has a psychological hangup about us," he said. Because apparently, these statements are not the ones that are on the monitors. He does fine on the monitors. You get him off the monitors and Las Vegas creeps into his mind. He's got a problem with us. I don't know what it is."

The mayor said Obama shouldn't plan to visit Las Vegas until he's retracted his statement. Goodman said he didn't plan to meet with President Obama in a meeting this month to Las Vegas.

"Not without an apology, no."

It was during a town hall meeting nearly a year ago, on Feb. 9, 2009, in Elkhart, Ind., that Obama said “you can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”

The purpose of that town hall was to gain support for the stimulus bill.

In a letter to Obama last year, an outraged Las Vegas Mayor Oscar 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 in February 2009. “Now more than ever, we need businesses to travel and hold meetings and events.”

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