LAS VEGAS >> Carolyn Goodman, the wife of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, has been elected to succeed him in a contest that affirmed Sin City’s affection for its booze-swilling leader of 12 years.
The first lady became mayor with 61 percent of the vote Tuesday, a crushing finish against a rival whose eagerness, political pedigree and grass-roots campaign couldn’t overcome the popularity of the self-proclaimed Happiest Couple in the Universe.
“I am thrilled because it says the people love what has been created by my husband,” Carolyn Goodman told The Associated Press.
She finished with 33,104 votes to Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani’s 21,601. The former assemblywoman of 14 years called the first lady to concede as early results offered little hope for her victory.
“Her intentions were good,” Carolyn Goodman said of her rival in her victory speech. “She wanted the best for the city, but I believe we wanted more.”
The relationship between Las Vegas’ first couple was the determining factor in the nonpartisan contest. Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer, gleefully presided over the city with a force of charisma and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin. He was easily re-elected twice and proclaimed his desire to serve indefinitely, but was banned from doing so because of term limits. Instead, he endorsed his wife for mayor and campaigned tirelessly for her.
Carolyn Goodman is the founder and former leader of The Meadows School, a private academy for the children of Las Vegas’ elite. She and her husband cited their close relationship as her primary qualification. The first lady, the theory went, had learned to do the job by standing at her husband’s side.
Las Vegas is run by a city manager, but Carolyn Goodman is expected to follow her husband’s example and amplify her influence through charm and willpower. His legacy will likely be continued in other ways. Carolyn Goodman campaigned to carry out his vision of a thriving downtown open to tourists and locals alike.
“There is a lot of energy,” she said in a telephone interview. “I want to make sure that everyone who is so vested in our community is joined in on this.”
Carolyn Goodman thanked her husband in her victory speech, calling him every woman’s dream man, and he returned the praise.
“Tonight I am the luckiest man on the Earth,” he told a cheering crowd at his wife’s victory party seconds after she spoke. “The city of Las Vegas is so fortunate to have someone like my wife lead the next four years. She is so special, she is so honest, she is so decent, she is so wonderful, that all she wants to see is that this city goes to the next level.”
Her victory was all but ensured after she announced her campaign with her husband by her side in February. It was an unexpected move that frightened the roster of business leaders and elected officials who had hoped to become mayor once Oscar Goodman was no longer in the running.
Carolyn Goodman dominated in the April primary against 17 rivals, and polls predicted she would succeed on Election Day, as well.
In contrast, it was always an underdog fight for Giunchigliani, who squeaked through the primary with a mere 15-vote advantage over the third-place finisher.
At times, the contest resembled a student government election between the girlfriend of the star quarterback and a nice but not as popular teenager. Giunchigliani lit up while discussing potholes, speed bumps, dog parks, sustainable growth, sidewalks and parking meters.
Carolyn Goodman stuck to endearing stories about her man and promises to make next year better than ever while offering few specifics. In stump speeches, she traced the couple’s history from forbidden lovers (her parents begged her not to marry him) to Las Vegas grandparents. The mayor and his wife went so far as to turn their 49th wedding anniversary celebration Monday night into a campaign event.
Both women promised to heal Las Vegas’ wounded economy.
But the issues often were overshadowed by dragged out catfights. Giunchigliani complained the mayor and his wife operated in arrogance, while the first lady branded Giunchigliani a tainted politician.
From her husband’s Rolodex, Carolyn Goodman built a $1.44 million campaign chest and spent nearly $600,000 to advertise a name well known to Las Vegans. She splashed her face across billboards, TV spots and poker chips.
Giunchigliani raised $1.19 million and leaned heavily on union supporters and the city’s often overlooked minority communities, but it wasn’t enough.
Oscar Goodman, ever the performing ham, wants to continue as a tourism ambassador for Las Vegas after he hands his wife the mayor’s gavel next month.