COLUMN: Steve Miller

Las Vegas Tribune

January 14, 2001


When Oscar B. Goodman was elected Mayor of Las Vegas in 1999, he faced the challenge of his lifetime. Not even the experience he gathered from years of defending some of the best known criminals in our town's history could prepare him for what he was to face.

Oscar proclaimed that he was the "Happiest Mayor in the World," then settled down to handle the day to day routine of our top CEO. The first dose of reality hit him like a ton of bricks: there was already another top CEO in the building - a CEO that had been groomed by Oscars' predecessor Jan Jones: one Mike McDonald, et. al.

My first observation of this resulted in my writing a column entitled "Will Oscar bend over for McDonald, or will he vacillate? In the article I exclaimed "Someone who is less susceptible to criticism, someone who can fall back on being new and inexperienced in office must now step up to the plate and pinch hit for the seasoned politician who got his tit caught in the ringer. Enter Oscar Goodman."

At first it looked like I was accurate in my prediction that Oscar would try to cover for McDonald's blunders, but I was soon to be delightfully surprised! Oscar took hold of his responsibility as Mayor like a pit bull. McDonald was the first to fall.

Then it was time to clean up the rest of the mess left behind by Jones.

First to go was Jones' "graffiti" on the side of city hall. Then Oscar jumped with both hands and feet into an effort to find a viable development to go onto the vacant Union Pacific site. Then he pumped new life into the then-dormant Neonopolis project. Soon, construction cranes began appearing on our downtown landscape.

His only disappointment was in failing to settle the seven-year-old Pappas eminent domain case; a court determined abuse of power by Jones' administration.

Meanwhile, Jan Jones took a position as Vice President of Government Relations for Harrah's Entertainment. She was soon involved in promoting the passage of Question 5 in California to make way for Indian casinos to compete with Downtown Las Vegas.

Oscar could see the writing on the wall and accepted the challenge of homegrown competition to the decaying downtown he inherited. Not only did Jones try to saddle Oscar with a "Shadow Mayor" named McDonald, now she was sabotaging his redevelopment efforts from over the state line by helping her new boss to build resort/casinos on the roads into Nevada.

On February 1, Nevada Gaming Control Board member Scott Scherer told legislators that Indian casinos will reduce the rate of growth in four areas of the state by 20 percent to 40 percent in 2002. Scherer said he expects Indian gaming will have a negative effect on Laughlin, Downtown Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno.

This flies in the face of statements made by Jones:

On Wednesday, February 23, 2000, Jones was quoted saying:

"'The company looks for strategic opportunities, and we think California is a great market,' said Jan Jones, the former mayor of Las Vegas, who is now a Harrah's senior vice president. 'The risk to stockholders of gaming companies entering the California market is minimal,' she noted, 'compared with decisions to build $1-billion casinos in Las Vegas.'" -- Los Angeles Times, Some Nevada Casinos Could Be Big Losers

Then Jones was described saying:

"(Former LV Mayor Jan) Jones also believes that her company's (Harrah's) investments in California tribal gaming, as well as those of others, will have absolutely no effect on the state (Nevada's) economy." -- Jon Ralston, June 11, 2000, Las Vegas Sun.

Oscar had been set up for a fall, and he knew it!

After putting McDonald and his handlers in their place, and after gaining the support of at least eighty-six percent of the population according to polls, Oscar set off to right Jones' wrongs, even if he offended some of our town's "Pillars of the Community" along the way.

He began by spending his New Year's Eve on Fremont Street - something previously not thought of by the publicity seeking Jones. Oscar knew that the TV networks were going to be concentrating on the Strip which is outside the city, but he stayed put where he knew his presence and his ever-ready Beefeaters Gin would do the most good - on Fremont Street. Because of his efforts, thousands of revelers discovered our Downtown for the first time in many years.

Meanwhile, Jones continued to schmooze with California's elite including Governor Grey Davis, telling them what miracles will come from their embracing Harrah's.

Oscar recognized that his only retort to Jones' treason was to put his money and body where his mouth is and he announced that he was going to joint venture in a restaurant/bar in Neonopolis. A conflict of interest? I think not. Who better to lend his name to Downtown revitalization? Keep in mind that Councilman Michael Mack owns the historical Trader Bill's at Fourth and Fremont and also has a financial stake in the future of the Downtown area. Congratulations to them both!

This in contrast to Jones using her official "Mayor of Las Vegas" title in 1993 to help promote her friend Steve Wynn's ill-conceived scheme to build a billion dollar casino in Connecticut, and again using her title in a March 1997 speech she gave in Detroit touting the benefits of gaming. Detroit had been considering applications for casinos from four companies, including Circus Circus Enterprises and Mirage Resorts -- both of which Jones owned stock in.

With a friend like Jan Jones, Oscar Goodman and Downtown Las Vegas need no enemies!

What's next for Oscar? Since Jones spearheaded the unsightly canopy over once-historic Fremont Street, the Downtown has suffered flat gaming revenue increases each year. Only once has Downtown shown an increase in excess of the Consumer Price Index, and two casinos have gone into bankruptcy and another is suspected of not paying its landlords, or Fremont Street Experience dues for over a year. This happened while under Jones' stewardship.

In addition, the Pappas case - another debacle created by Jones - has become a stumbling block in converting the now-empty parking garage into a new casino.

In 1998, Jones even tried to force the taxpayers to pay any expenses over the agreed upon cap of $7 million accepted by the casinos as their responsibility in the event Pappas won the lawsuit.

The Pappas family won the case, and now Oscar must tell the casino barons that the city is out of the picture and the casinos must begin paying the remainder of the Pappas' bill including the legal fees.

The casino owners are crying "foul" because of Jones' previous promise that they would be held harmless if the expense of judgments or litigation costs went over the $7 million cap they agreed to in their Owner Participation Agreement with the Downtown Redevelopment Agency. This was a secret side deal made by Jones that bared little in the way of legality or fairness to the taxpayers, but was a payback to the casino barons who donated generously to her faltering gubernatorial campaigns.

Mayor Oscar B. Goodman is everything his predecessor was not. She was completely self-serving, Oscar is selfless. Jones was disloyal, Oscar is loyal to a fault. Jones was constantly seeking higher office, Oscar is content being the "Happiest Mayor in the World."

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman, former Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner, and former mayoral candidate. He was also the author and sponsor of the City of Las Vegas Ethics in Government Law. Mr. Miller writes a weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune. Visit Steve's website at: