This week I would like to take time out and wish my friend Oscar Goodman a very happy birthday.
As you all know, Oscar is the former (three-term) mayor of Las Vegas and the proud husband of the present mayor, Carolyn Goodman — and on July 26, I am sure, they will be celebrating Oscar’s birthday.
Even if, unlike me, Oscar is not afraid of divulging his age, I am not going to be the one who will expose it; instead I am going to try to recall a few of the events that I experienced while he was the Las Vegas mayor.
During his career as a defense attorney, he represented defendants accused of being some of the leading organized crime figures in Las Vegas, such as Meyer Lansky, Nicky Scarfo, Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein, Phil Leonetti, former Stardust Casino boss Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal, and the late Jamiel “Jimmy” Chagra, a 1970s drug trafficker who was acquitted of ordering the murder of Federal Judge, John H. Wood, Jr.
One of his notorious clients was reputed Chicago mobster Anthony Spilotro, who was known to have a short and violent temper. In the semi-factual 1995 movie “Casino,” the character of Nicky Santoro was based on Spilotro and was portrayed by actor Joe Pesci. Goodman had a cameo appearance in the film as himself while defending “Ace Rothstein,” a character closely based on Lefty Rosenthal and played by Robert De Niro.
In 1998, when Oscar Goodman announced his intention to run for mayor, the daily newspaper ran an editorial entitled, “Anyone But Oscar” due to the notoriety of some of Goodman’s old clientele, which the daily newspaper considered “individuals of ill repute,” yet who were part of our community and both deserved and were entitled to the same legal representation as anyone else.
Goodman has also represented priests and pastors of different denominations, as well as so-called regular, ordinary individuals in need of legal representation or advice.
Oscar Goodman was also very active in the defense of his friend Harry Claiborne, the never-forgotten federal judge who was unjustifiably accused of tax evasion by the federal government because of the actions of a low-life character by the name of Joe Conforte.
After that RJ newspaper editorial, the Las Vegas Tribune wrote an editorial entitled, “No One But Oscar”, and Oscar Goodman won the election.
I’ll never forget the day my sister invited Oscar Goodman to the early morning breakfast of the Hispanics In Politics and the president of the organization, Fernando Romero, refused to introduce him or allow him to speak to the crowd. My sister, who is a lot more hard-headed than me, introduced him to everyone at every table and sure enough, Oscar attracted the attention of every member of that Hispanic organization.
In 2004 when the first Italian restaurant opened in the new Entertainment District, then-Councilman Larry Weekly was on hand to cut the ribbon of the new place and then-Mayor Oscar Goodman was present for officially opening the Entertainment District that Mayor Goodman worked so hard to implement.
Mayor Oscar Goodman had made the transition from so-called mob lawyer to public figure after winning the election as mayor of Las Vegas. Right after the ribbon-cutting ceremony and after many handshakes with the people that love him, Mayor Goodman approached me and asked what my plans were for the night and that he’d like to take me for a ride to show me something. I told him that it was okay, and I noticed that he signaled Councilman Weekly, but I did not think much of it and we started walking to the front door.
The mayor’s car was parked at the front door and he got in on one side and I got in through the other door; the driver was already at the wheel and his assistant was next to him. I was just getting comfortable when my door opened and a voice told me to “Move in.”
I had to move over, and then I was sandwiched in between the mob lawyer and a member of the Black community with two guys in the front seat that were double my size and probably wider than refrigerators; and we were going to an unknown location without a chance to let anyone know that I was in the car with the mayor and a councilman from the city of Las Vegas.
I thought I did not even have a chance to call my family and say good-bye. It turned out that was the second First Friday event and Oscar wanted me to experience the happiness of the attendees; he told me that the First Friday would become part of downtown Las Vegas. As always, he was right — a decade later First Fridays have become like the once-a-year Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only in Las Vegas, it’s in monthly installments.
Another well remembered incident was the day I was crossing the parking lot from my attorney’s office to my office when a big black car was driven very slowly and I felt the need to reach my office door so I could get away from that mysterious car. Before I had time to reach my destination I could see the tinted window of the black luxury car slowly being rolled down and a voice yelled out, “Get in — we are coming to take you to lunch” and the car stopped right in front of my office.
I recognized the voice and only then I looked straight at the car and was able to see Mayor Oscar Goodman, his law partner David Chesnoff, and Marty Ketch; so, now, feeling a little at ease, I jumped in the back seat of the car and off we went to my favorite place of all time — The Golden Nugget Hotel — where I ate lunch every day for twelve years while I could afford it.
At the Golden Nugget we were seated at a front table and several people came over to say hello to the mayor that the daily paper predicted had no chance of winning the election. The hostess approached our table and asked Oscar if he wanted a more private table so he could have more privacy. David Chesnoff looked at the hostess and said, “Are you kidding? If you move him from this table, he will not tip you — he loves this attention.”
But then there was the one day I decided to attend his regular weekly press conference and arrived late; he stopped what he was saying to introduce me to all the other members of the media who were there by saying “This is my friend, Rolando Larraz; he owns the Las Vegas Tribune, the only newspaper that is not afraid to tell the truth.”
That day, Oscar, you made my day by calling me your friend and telling everyone in the room that the Las Vegas Tribune is not afraid to write the truth. To me, that was two badges of honor, one for calling me your friend and another for recognizing the courage of the Las Vegas Tribune.
Happy Birthday, my friend!!!
My name is Rolando Larraz, and as always, I approved this column. Rolando Larraz is Editor in Chief of the Las Vegas Tribune. His column appears weekly in this newspaper. To contact Rolando Larraz, email him at: Rlarraz@lasvegastribune.com or at 702-272-4634.