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Mob Lawyer Runs for Mayor of Vegas

May 1, 1999

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Old-timers around here wistfully remember the days when the mob ran the casinos, when the likes of Tony ``The Ant″ Spilotro and Meyer Lansky kept brutal order in glitter gulch.

Oscar Goodman remembers the days. He spent decades, after all, trying to keep those unsavory characters out of the slammer.

But now Goodman is courting a different clientele. He wants to be mayor of Las Vegas, the mouthpiece for all its citizens. His work for wiseguys? Fuhgetaboutit.

``A lot of people just have the image of the mob lawyer things,″ Goodman said. ``But I honest to God believe I’m going to be the best mayor Las Vegas ever had.″

Some wince at the prospect of the devil’s advocate running what used to be a wide-open mob town. But Goodman’s candidacy is playing so well that he is the front-runner among nine candidates in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary election.

Now 59, the man who played himself in the movie ``Casino″ is going after the position being vacated by Jan Jones with the same vengeance he used to defend Spilotro, the gangster who reputedly placed a rival’s head in a vise and squeezed his eyeballs out.

To be sure, his candidacy isn’t playing well everywhere in a city that has always struggled for respectability. One rival candidate, Arnie Adamsen, said the election of Goodman would ``set our city’s reputation back 50 years.″

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Adamsen, a 12-year member of the city council, and the powerful police union wouldn’t think of supporting a man who fought them in court for so many years.

But Adamsen and developer Mark Fine, one of the other leading candidates, have spent much of the primary attacking each other, playing right into Goodman’s campaign. A poll released this week showed Goodman, a registered Democrat, leading the race with 36 percent support, followed by Fine with 21 percent and Adamsen with 20 percent.

The poll of 418 registered voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KTNV-TV, had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

If no candidate wins a simple majority next week, the top two vote-getters will face off in the June 8 general election.

Only in the last week has Adamsen gone on the attack, running a commercial with clips of Goodman seeming to suggest the government should sell drugs.

``Those are his words, and he either has to defend them or eat his words,″ said Adamsen, who bills himself as ``Mr. Traffic Signal and Mr. Crossing Guard″ for his work on safety issues.

``Those were just sound bites,″ Goodman said. ``Everything was tongue-in-cheek. People have to have a sense of humor.″

Goodman’s more outlandish statements from the past haven’t seemed to hurt him as he wages a populist campaign portraying himself as a defender of the defenseless.

This is the guy who continued to insist there ``is no Mafia″ even after the bodies of Spilotro and his brother were found in an Illinois cornfield in 1986. Goodman later admitted it might not have been a farming accident.

Goodman came to Las Vegas in 1965 and got his first big break when he was hired as legal counsel to Lansky. But even though he reveled in the courtroom battles, Goodman said he never socialized with mob clients.

Adamsen said Goodman would not only make a lousy mayor, but would be particularly bad for a city dominated by casino corporations.

But some of Goodman’s old adversaries say he would do just fine. Former federal prosecutor Lamond Mills, who battled Goodman in court, did a television commercial praising his former antagonist.

``This town has been run by the good old boys and real estate developers for a long time,″ Mills said. ``If Oscar is elected he’ll take this system and stand it on its head.″

Still, Goodman knows it is his celebrity and not his working knowledge of city problems that is making him the front-runner.

``I’m colorful and that’s what got me in the limelight. If I were a podiatrist running for mayor you wouldn’t be here,″ he told a reporter. ``I don’t apologize for one day in my life.″