LAS VEGAS – Mayor Oscar Goodman, the self-proclaimed happiest mayor in the world, has been campaigning hard even though his re-election is widely considered a sure thing in the city of slot machines and show girls.
"I'm running very hard to win very big," says Goodman, 63, swept into office in 1999 in a come-from-behind victory in his first political campaign.
The former mob attorney has spent $865,000 to make sure he keeps his job, clearly relishing his role leading one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.
Known for being unconventional (he signed on as a spokesman for Bombay Sapphire gin) and brash (he once joked he'd rather have his daughter date a former mob client than an FBI agent), Goodman draws a crowd wherever he goes.
"He's probably the only celebrity in Vegas I've ever wanted to meet," said Anita Thomas, 36, a radiology student at UNLV. "Because he's real. He tells it like it is."
Before Goodman can resume his efforts to bring an academic medical center and major league sports team to town, he must defeat several working-class challengers in the April 8 primary. Considering Goodman's $1 million campaign fund, some say his opponents are overmatched.
"He's highly favored. That's an understatement," said City Councilman Michael McDonald. "He's been here for many, many years, and he knows the landscape of the people."
Detractors say Goodman has done little to improve a dreary downtown, and he has angered casino interests by saying they don't give enough back to the community. As mayor, Goodman does not have authority over the Strip and its megaresorts, which are outside city limits in Clark County.
"He's a good (public relations) man for the city, but he's not a good man for getting anything done downtown," said challenger Edward R. Schmitt, a 62-year-old plumbing contractor.
Besides Schmitt, Goodman faces Joe Falco, 59, a car salesman; C. "Mazunga" Poliak, 62, a sanitation worker; Tom McGowan, 70, a retired musician; and Allan "Big Al" Smith, 66, who owns a patio covering company and likes to campaign in his ex-wife's fur coat and not much else.
Combined the challengers report having raised and spent less than $7,000.
If Goodman receives more than 50 percent of the vote, he wins outright and avoids a run-off.
Before 1999, Goodman was a high-profile criminal defense attorney whose mob clients included Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro and Joey Cusumano, who created a local controversy when he attended a party at Goodman's house this year.
Goodman said what takes place at his home is his business.
"I haven't spoken to one person who thinks it is appropriate for the media to be poking into my private life," he said.
That attitude has earned Goodman supporters and opponents. Bobby Siller, Gaming Control Board member and former head of the FBI in Nevada, has called the mayor an "embarrassment to the state" for hosting Cusumano.
Hal Rothman, historian, author and UNLV professor, said Goodman's honesty makes him likable.
"That kind of brashness is appealing in an era when most politicians are blow-dried and never say anything of significance," Rothman said.