Wow! Celine Dion's at Caesars Palace, Gladys Knight's at the Flamingo, there's a topless vampire show at the Stratosphere, and over at Bally's, two dozen nearly naked showgirls are reenacting the story of Samson and Delilah!
Meanwhile, the Riviera has a Neil Diamond impersonator, the Aladdin has Beatles impersonators, the Elvis-a-Rama museum has Elvis impersonators, and La Cage has female impersonators who impersonate such fabulous females as Cher, Liza, Dolly and Britney. Wow!
But the most entertaining show in Las Vegas just might be the mayor: Oscar B. Goodman, a martini-swilling former mob lawyer with a Santa Claus belly, a rosy pink W.C. Fields nose and a well-groomed Yasser Arafat beard. Goodman, 65, is a Democrat who bills himself as the "Happiest Mayor of the Greatest City in the World," but he could just as plausibly call himself "America's Most Colorful Pol."
Here he is now, getting ready to do his shtick at the convention of the National Association of Minority Contractors in the MGM Grand Hotel. But there's a problem -- no showgirls!!!
When he appears in public, which is as often as possible, Mayor Goodman likes to be escorted by two scantily clad Vegas showgirls. On more formal occasions, such as a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he also brings an Elvis impersonator.
But now, as he arrives at the ballroom where the minority contractors are dining, Goodman sees no showgirls.
"I need showgirls!" he says. "I haven't had showgirls all day!"
A woman from the convention staff hustles over. "A showgirl is going to walk you in," she says.
"Just one?" the mayor replies. "I'm being demoted."
A moment later, the showgirl sashays in -- a tall, tan, terrific African American beauty wearing a huge red feather hat and a tiny red bikini top.
Goodman looks her over and smiles. "Now I know why there's only one!" he says flirtatiously.
Inside the ballroom, a woman is introducing Goodman to the crowd: "Stand and welcome the mayor of Las Vegas -- Oscar Gooood-maaan!!!!"
A door opens and in marches the mayor, escorted by the showgirl. The crowd goes wild. One guy pumps his fist in the air at the glorious sight. Goodman pumps his fist, too.
"I usually travel with two showgirls," he announces when he reaches the podium, "but I know that one African American showgirl is enough."
The crowd cheers.
Predictably, Goodman utters a few words of support for diversity in city contracting. Equally predictably, he touts the glories of his city. Not so predictably, he launches into an impromptu geography lesson for these out-of-towners.
When they cruised down the famous Las Vegas strip, with its famous casinos and flashing neon signs, he says, they were not in the city of Las Vegas. They were in Clark County.
"You have to get to the intersection of Sahara and Paradise," he says. "There's a billboard there with a woman in a pink dress. She's laying down and it says she'll come to your room. I don't know what she does in your room" -- he pauses to collect a laugh -- "but right next to that billboard is an ad for Viagra."
He waits for another laugh. "And that, my friends, is the entryway to my city!"
The 'Perfect Mayor' for Vegas
Fabulous Las Vegas is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and it finally has a mayor to match its wonderfully tacky fabulousness.
Las Vegas gave America the Rat Pack, the fat Elvis, Wayne Newton singing "Danke Schoen," the World Series of Poker, the Liberace Museum and a volcano that erupts every 15 minutes. And now it has given us Mayor Oscar Goodman.
"I drink to excess, I gamble with both hands, I'll bet on anything that moves," Goodman says. "I'm the consummate impresario. I'm Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey -- all wrapped up for Las Vegas."
"He's the perfect mayor for Las Vegas," says Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote "Casino," the 1995 book about Vegas mobsters that Martin Scorsese made into a movie, with Goodman playing himself. "Having a rogue history works in that city. It's a city created by rogues. Who would you expect to find as mayor -- some evangelical preacher?"
In 1999, Goodman announced that he was running for mayor after 35 years as a defense attorney for mobsters and other miscreants. The Las Vegas Review-Journal responded with an editorial titled "Anybody but Oscar," calling him a "barrister to butchers" and a man who "carries so much baggage he could be Sky Cap of the Century." The good people of Las Vegas elected him anyway. In 2003 they reelected him with 86 percent of the vote.
"I'm still looking for that other 14 percent," he says, grinning.
He didn't become popular by being bland. He advocated legalizing prostitution in downtown Vegas, calling it "a redevelopment tool." He proposed that the city transform an old courthouse into a Vegas mob museum: "I've never been ashamed of where this city came from." He suggested a new penalty for graffiti-sprayers: "Chop off their thumbs."
He endorsed Bombay Sapphire gin, donating half of his $100,000 fee to a city-run alcohol-abuse program and half to the Meadows School, an elite nonprofit private academy founded by his wife of 43 years, the woman he calls "Saint Carolyn."
This year, he became America's first elected official to photograph a naked woman for Playboy.com -- an event he describes as "very classy."
In March, he visited a fourth-grade class and answered questions. One kid asked what object the mayor would want to have if he was stranded on a desert island.
"A bottle of gin," Goodman replied.
At a news conference the next day, the mayor defended himself, saying he was just being honest: "I'm not going to lie to children. I'm not going to say I would take a teddy bear or a Bible or something like that."
Not everybody is charmed by Goodman's antics. Vegas's previous mayor, Jan Jones, is appalled at his Bombay endorsement and his threats to cut thumbs off.
"He thinks it's funny, but I think there's a higher standard of performance expected from an elected official," she says. "If anybody else did this, they'd be embroiled in scandal. Can you see Mayor Daley endorsing Old Grand-dad?"
But she admits that Goodman is wildly popular. "It's a weird phenomenon," she says. "I don't know if I can explain it."
Shelley Berkley, the Democrat who represents Las Vegas in Congress, thinks she can: "The public loves him because he is who he is."
Of course, Goodman has his own theory: "I'm not a phony and people like that."
Living on Cloud Nine
As the crowd cheers, Goodman walks to the front of the room, where a picture of him is projected on a white screen.
"Please, take the picture down," he says, smiling. "It belongs in a post office."
His audience cracks up. They're recent college graduates who've come to Las Vegas to teach in the public schools, part of Teach for America. The mayor is here to welcome them, and he starts with a few stories, including one about the day after he was elected mayor.
"I went back to my law office and my secretary said, 'The president called.' I said, 'The president of what?' And she hands me a little memo that says, 'President Clinton called congratulating you for being elected mayor.' For a guy like me -- the closest I ever got to the president was when the FBI used to follow me around. I'm on cloud nine. Then I walk back to my office and Manny Baker, a reputed heroin dealer, called to congratulate me. So my whole life was encapsulated in five minutes!"
The teachers laugh. Goodman praises them for choosing a noble and challenging profession. Then he tells them they're underpaid.
"What do you start at?" he asks.
"$28,000," somebody yells out.
"$28,000 a year!" he says. "That's a joke! That's shameful! You have to do something about that."
That's easy for him to say: The mayor has no official role in the school system.
Soon, he's inviting the teachers to a party. It's called First Friday, and it's a celebration of one of Goodman's pet projects -- turning old downtown industrial buildings into artists' studios and galleries. On the first Friday of every month, a rock band plays in the streets and the galleries serve wine. The mayor promises that 10,000 people will be there tomorrow night, and so will he.
"I'll get a little drunk -- "
The teachers burst out laughing.
"It's no problem," he says. "I'll have a designated driver. I'll be feeling no pain, so when you see me, say hi. Have a good time. And when you go home, remember: What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas."
He exits to loud applause.
As he drives away in his gray Mercedes, a reporter remarks to him that many politicians refrain from telling constituents when and where they plan to get drunk.
The mayor shrugs. "I never know what'll come out of this mouth."
The Go-To Defense Attorney
"Las Vegas is electric," Goodman says. "It's neon, it's glitz, it's glamour, it's Elvis, it's gambling -- it's all my trappings."
He loves Vegas but he wasn't born there. He comes from a stodgier place -- Philadelphia. His father was a lawyer. His mother was a sculptor. He went to prep school, then Haverford College, then the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
At law school, he married Carolyn Goldmark, a Bryn Mawr graduate, and worked for Assistant District Attorney Arlen Specter, now a Republican senator from Pennsylvania.
"He was bright, interesting, fun, lively and ambitious," recalls Specter. "Behind that flamboyance is a very solid lawyer."
Working a murder case for Specter, Goodman interviewed two Las Vegas cops who told him that Vegas was a good place for a young attorney. Already an ardent gambler, he decided to take their advice. He and Carolyn moved in 1964.
"I thought it was hell on Earth," Carolyn recalls, laughing.
But her husband saw a wide-open town full of opportunities. "In Philadelphia, everything was staid," he says. "You had to jump through hoops. Here, there were no hoops."
For a year, he worked for a prosecutor, then he switched sides. Las Vegas was a good place for a criminal defense attorney because it had lots of criminals, many of them rich enough to pay serious legal fees.
By the 1970s, he'd made a reputation as the go-to guy for defendants indicted on wiretap evidence. Many wiretap cases involved mobsters, and over the years Goodman defended plenty: Meyer Lansky, "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, "Charlie Moose" Panarella and Natale "Big Chris" Richichi, who was so impressed with Goodman's in-your-face courtroom style that he presented the lawyer with a gift -- a pair of big brass balls mounted on a plaque.
In 1986, Goodman defended federal judge Harry Claiborne in an impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate. He lost.
Perhaps his most famous client was Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro, the reputed mob hit man played by Joe Pesci in "Casino." Goodman defended Spilotro in four murder cases -- and beat the rap in every one of them. But he couldn't save the Ant from his pals: In 1986, Spilotro and his brother were beaten to death and buried in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield.
Goodman has fond memories of the Ant. "Spilotro was the perfect gentleman," he says. "You couldn't have a better client or a nicer person to be around." Pause. "Now, when he left my office, I don't know what he was doing."
He doesn't apologize for defending mobsters. In fact, he claims he didn't believe the mob existed until 1989, when a Boston prosecutor played a wiretap tape of a Mafia initiation ceremony.
"Had I known they were the mob," he says, "I'd have charged 10 times as much."
In defending mobsters, Goodman made millions. He also became famous, and he reveled in his celebrity. In Vegas, the joke went: The bigger the case, the farther Oscar parks from the courthouse so he'll have more time to do interviews on the walk in.
"He wanted to get every TV show and every reporter and every photographer," recalls Pileggi.
Meanwhile, at home, Goodman was living a life of domestic respectability, helping his wife raise their four adopted children and serving as president of his synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom.
In 1989, Goodman celebrated his first 25 years as a lawyer with a black-tie party at the Desert Inn. Casino executives and judges attended. So did some of his clients. Others were unable to attend due to previous commitments in various correctional facilities. But several of the no-shows came to the party on videotape.
"A TV screen appeared and there were these interviews with a number of guys he defended," Pileggi recalls. "They're doing 20 or 30 years because he blew their defense and they're joking about it, saying, If it wasn't for you, Oscar, I wouldn't be here."
Goodman remembers the party fondly. "The greatest line of all came from Tony Curtis, who was there," he recalls. "He said, 'I don't know why I'm here. I didn't kill anybody.' "
Betting on Sir Oscar
The mayor stuffs a piece of salmon jerky into his mouth. He winces.
"It's awful," he says. "It's disgusting. You want some?"
He's sitting at his desk in City Hall. The salmon jerky is part of his diet. It's a modified Atkins diet, the modification being that he has added several stiff belts of gin to the nightly menu.
He eats the jerky instead of lunch because he doesn't have time for lunch. Today, his appointments began with a 7:30 a.m. meeting and continued into the night. He delivered two speeches, but most of the day was spent in meetings and most of the meetings related to his mayoral obsession: downtown redevelopment.
Downtown Las Vegas is a tacky collection of wedding chapels, bail bond offices and check-cashing joints. Goodman is determined to gentrify it, yuppify it, Manhattanize it.
So far, he has helped lure a huge furniture mart, an outlet mall, high-rise condos and an IRS office, while developing the arts district. He also built a block-long river and lined it with walkways and trees. "I wanted to get a river down here," he explains. "It's so easy to develop a downtown when you have a water element."
But that, he says, is just a start. His grand dream centers on a 61-acre plot where he wants to build a performing arts center, an academic medical center and a stadium that he hopes will house a major league baseball team.
"I'm trying to make us into a great world city," he says. "And it's hard."
If he succeeds, it'll be his lasting legacy. If not, he'll probably be remembered only for his entertainment value, like Jimmy Walker, New York's mayor in the Roaring Twenties. So far, the jury's out.
"Other than an outlet mall and a furniture mart, I fail to see what he's done," says ex-mayor Jones.
Rep. Berkley disagrees. "The residential building in downtown can be attributed to Oscar," she says. "He's made it a trendy place to go."
Now, deep into a day packed with development-related meetings, Goodman is reviving himself with salmon jerky when City Council member Lawrence Weekly drops by. The two pols discuss city business for a while. Then, inevitably, they start telling Oscar Goodman stories.
Weekly recounts a trip the two men took to a conference in Palm Beach. There, Goodman was treated like a celebrity while Weekly, who is black, was ignored.
"The mayor said, 'Do you know who this is?' " Weekly recalls. " 'He's the king of Ghana!' "
"And they treated you like a king after that!" Goodman says, smiling. Then he gets a serious look on his face. "Did I have anything to drink at that point?" he asks.
"Yes," Weekly replies. And the two pols crack up.
After Weekly leaves, there's another meeting. After that, the mayor settles down to the serious business of his daily gambling.
"Let me call this fella and find out if there's a game we can follow tonight," he says. "He's probably in mourning for me because I lost so much money last night."
How much money?
"I can't tell you," he says.
He will say this: He regularly bets $500 to $1,000 on football games and $200 to $300 on baseball games. He also bets horses. Yesterday, he lost on Sir Oscar, who was running -- but not fast enough -- at Belmont. Of course, these bets are perfectly legal in Vegas.
"I have a good time," says the multimillionaire mayor, "and I'm not taking anything away from my family."
He picks up his cell phone and punches numbers. When his bookie answers, the mayor starts bellowing.
"Did you ever see a day like yesterday?" he yells in mock anger. "Has a man ever lost every single bet he made? That Sir Oscar is still running, that stinking horse. I'm sick over it." Then he quiets down. "Is there one game tonight that I could look at?"
The mayor listens, then asks, "Who are the pitchers?"
He listens again. "Awright, I'll take Arizona for two," he says. "Tomorrow will be a better day."
Handshakes and Drinks
"Mr. Mayor, where's your wife?" a woman calls out.
"My wife's inebriated," the mayor says. "No, just kidding. She's working."
Actually, Saint Carolyn has returned home from work. And it's the mayor who has been drinking, having quaffed a stiff Bombay Sapphire at home before a police bodyguard/designated driver ferried him to these First Friday festivities.
Now he's bounding from art gallery to art gallery, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. A smiling young woman tells him that she is his son Ross's Pilates instructor.
"Pilates!" Goodman bellows in mock horror. "Pilates! My son takes Pilates?"
He whips out his cell phone and calls Ross, 35, a Vegas attorney. There's no answer, so the mayor leaves a message: "I thought I raised real men! I'm here with Allison, your Pilates teacher!"
He hangs up as eavesdroppers cackle. "He was a Marine!" Goodman grumbles. "Pilates! Come on!"
The mayor keeps moving. The next gallery is packed with wine-swigging revelers. Two young women buttonhole Goodman to say they were among the teachers he addressed yesterday.
"I'm glad you're here," he says. "Come on down to my office sometime and we'll drink gin."
He moves to a gallery displaying a painting of a desert landscape with red dice emerging from a hole in the sky. The mayor has a painting from the same series in his office. In that one, the red dice are popping out of parched earth.
"It's great!" he tells the artist. "It's Dali-esque."
He spots a table topped with plastic glasses and wine bottles. "What, no gin?" he bellows.
He picks up a bottle with about two inches of white wine in it and launches into a speech, touting Vegas as "the greatest city in the country, with the most beautiful people and the most soul and the best art."
He holds the wine bottle aloft and makes an announcement: "I'm going to drink this down in one swig!"
Then, as his people cheer, the Happiest Mayor of the Greatest City in the World lifts the bottle to his lips, throws back his head and chugs.