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May 10, 1999

Rolling lucky sevens

A former mob lawyer turns up as the man to beat in the strange Las Vegas mayor's race

BY STEVE FRIESS

LAS VEGAS–The man who proudly represented such notorious clients as Mob enforcer Tony "the Ant" Spilotro and ear-biting boxer Mike Tyson wants to be mayor of Las Vegas. And it looks like he just may get his way–much to the chagrin of the new guard of the entertainment capital of the world.

Polls showed self-described mob mouthpiece Oscar Goodman running 15 points ahead of his two top opponents heading into the May 4 nonpartisan primary here. "I'm a populist candidate," says the quick-talking Goodman, 59. "I'll defend the people the way I defend my clients. And I've got no secrets. My life is on my sleeve."

That's exactly what worries legitimate businesses here. The Mafia lost its grip on Vegas in the 1980s, when corporations like Circus Circus Enterprises and Mirage Resorts took over the show. Those companies imploded the tacky old Strip digs, replacing them with themed megaresorts like the $1.9 billion Bellagio, which debuted last year. Shady's out and posh is in.

The city's new goal is economic diversity. But nongaming companies are reticent to come to a place known mostly for its slot machines, quickie weddings, Elvis impersonators, and washed-up crooners. "Many people are concerned about what kind of image it would project to have a mayor who has represented the people Oscar's represented," says Chamber of Commerce President Pat Shalmy.

But Goodman makes no apologies. At his biggest fund-raiser, held at a onetime Mob lair near the Strip, descendants of dead mobsters mingled with local doctors, business executives, and politicians. The colorful operator even played himself opposite Joe Pesci's Spilotro in the big-screen epic Casino and later cooperated in a Goodman biopic, Mob Law.

His two viable opponents, City Councilman Arnie Adamsen and developer Mark Fine, are guilty of Sin City's most unforgivable sin: They're boring. And voters–accustomed to bright lights and action–seem less intrigued by them. Further bolstering Goodman's chances: residents' soft spoken councilman.

Still, Goodman's not a shoo-in. No one knows better than he that his past–and big mouth–may yet come back to haunt him. Adamsen has been airing years-old clips of him espousing outlandish positions on issues such as legalizing drugs and having the government sell them. Those wacky pronouncements could overshadow current statements on serious fare. The bottom line, says Goodman: "However this turns out, I know I'm running against myself."

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