August 2011 Features

Veni, Vidi, Vici, Las Vegas!

Mayor Carolyn Goldmark Goodman ’61

Interviewed by David Volk

Newly-elected Mayor of Las Vegas Carolyn Goldmark Goodman ’61 is the founder and longtime board president of the Meadows School, Nevada’s only nonsectarian, nonprofit K-12 college-preparatory school.

In this photo, Carolyn Goldmark Goodman ‘61 greets well-wishers after being sworn in as mayor of Las Vegas. Photo by Justin M. Bowen for the Las Vegas Sun.

What’s a nice Bryn Mawr grad doing in a city like this?
My husband and I moved out here in 1964, bringing 37 boxes of books, probably an equal amount of space in paintings—all of the things from the East—hoping to build a vision and become part of a community. Having grown up in Manhattan, you get in line for everything. To get season tickets for Lincoln Center you have to wait for somebody to pass on until you get a seat. Here you can be part of it. If you really want to take hold of something, because you want to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and feel ‘Wasn’t that neat? Wow, wasn’t that great? Look what’s happening because I in a small way have made a tiny difference.’ This is the greatness of Las Vegas. That’s what a good girl like me is doing out here.

Others who succeeded their husbands in office include Eva Perón, Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson and Alabama Governor Lurleen Wallace. Who will you be like?
I am very much an under-the-radar type of person and am totally committed to my husband’s vision and continuing it on for the betterment of Las Vegas. So, Eva Perón.

Even if former Mayor Oscar Goodman weren’t your husband, you would have a tough act to follow.
I am not trying to emulate him. I just want to get the job done. There’s nothing about me that wants applause, needs applause—that needs to be out there. He does it with such charm and such ease. I think I have a bit of a sense of humor, but it’s not Oscar’s get-out-there-and-put-on-a-showgirl’s-hat type of thing. I can laugh, but I have no need to compete with my husband. I’m very comfy in my own skin.

He is known for bringing a showgirl to his appearances. Are you going to keep a showgirl or go for a Chippendales dancer?
First of all, the Chippendales are not native to Las Vegas; the showgirls are. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate showgirls into the places that I would appear. In fact, my husband gave me a shot of one of the showgirls in regalia but with his face superimposed on the face. He said he volunteers to be my showgirl. I know the headdress would look okay. I’m not sure about his body in one of those outfits however.

Your parents told you not to marry Oscar. What attracted you to him?
I came from a pretty staid background. My father was a physician in New York City and my mother had all but her dissertation in economics from Columbia. When I went off to college, I had heard about this wonderful rascal over at the adjoining boys’ college and we happened to be in a class together. It was instant. I tried to fight that. My father was not thrilled his daughter and his baby could marry someone in one sense perhaps very bright but on the other, a blowhard, unproven and so young. So there was bribery that took place to keep us apart for a whole year because they figured that I’d get bored and move on, but of course it didn’t happen. They grew to love him, too. It’s been 49 years—it should have been 50—this June.

In other cities, mayors are trying to clean up issues like gambling, but in Vegas it’s legal. What do you worry about?
The issue that we are dealing with is trying to take a city that is dependent for its existence on tourism into developing more diversity. So that’s my primary focus, getting jobs despite this tough economy. We’re getting a huge infusion into our city: Zappos [the online shoe sales company]. They are moving about 1,200 people down into the core of the city in the next two years and bringing in elements of the young “creative class.”

A lot of money is spent in the casinos. It would seem that the city should be on easy street, but government offices are closed on Fridays. Why?
In early 2008 the managerial part of the city and the elected officials saw a black cloud coming and began to plan to handle fiscal issues. As a result our staff here at city hall works from 7 to 5:30 and Fridays are off. This effort and belt tightening overall have our budget into near balance. Our safety services, of course, they’re forever 24/7.

And aren’t most of the casinos outside the city?
We have a good handful down here in the city. But yes, the reputation for the grand hotels is on the strip and they are in the county. The names are forever embedded in everybody’s brain.

The whole concept of “what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas”—is that good for the people who live there?
A lot of people whose lives depend on tourism look at it one way. Other people think it’s not so wonderful. They want to be known for something else because they are developing a pride in this other piece of Las Vegas.

You ran a private school before becoming mayor. Who’s more mature: high school students, typical Vegas visitors or the City Council?
Depends on the individual! With the school, I had 100 percent control. I developed it from nothing to 150 employees to a $17 million 501(c) (3). I mandated Latin and when there were petitions coming to me to drop Latin I said, “Go find another school.” Now, as mayor of the city, I am one vote of seven. This is a city manager type of government. I’m just a bully pulpit. But I intend to use it. I am a very opinionated person, but I am also one who learns very well and listens well. Maturity is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

You’re going from running a school that never lost money to a city that has foreclosure issues and high unemployment. Are you ever tempted to take the city budget and just bet it all on a spin of the wheel?
Oh my god… I’d be shot at dawn for that or even the thought of it.

Does your background in anthropology help you at the craps table?
I don’t gamble. However, anthropology and sociology (my majors) have helped me immeasurably throughout my life. No question. Studying primitive people—for heaven’s sake, most of all. Of course, while I was at Bryn Mawr, I was reading a lot of Margaret Mead’s works. You get to understand humanity in a broader sense. So it’s been very helpful in all that I have undertaken.

You’re not a betting woman.
I am not. But when we came here I used to love to take $20 and go to the blackjack tables. My father and mother were card-playing aficionados. Bridge, pinochle, you name it, so I became a whiz. My husband will bet on anything: two little cockroaches running across the floor, two snails crawling across the sidewalks.

When future civilizations uncover Vegas, what artifacts of a Carolyn Goodman administration do you hope they find?
Evidence that a tradition of people lived here during a very difficult time trying to revitalize the core of a young and different historical city.