LAS VEGAS -- Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman might be the only local politician in the country who needs not one, but two biographies to tell his colorful story.
Goodman has always been a master of self-promotion, so chances are his new book, "Being Oscar," will get a lot of attention. There's already talk about making it into a movie, even though it won't be formally released until Tuesday.
Goodman has always been an outspoken, larger-than-life character, even when he was a defense attorney for notorious mobsters. He told the I-Team it was always a calculated act on his part.
It was only a few years ago that a biography of Goodman was released and was a local bestseller. So why a second one? Because, the former mayor said, this is his story, told in his voice, and with his spin.
It's true that no one knows how to promote Oscar better than Oscar. The stories he tells about infamous mobsters, his struggles to rescue downtown Las Vegas, the outrageous things he has uttered over the years, all pack a bit more punch when they spring directly from the source.
"It's a quick read," Goodman said of his autobiography. "You can read that book in two hours unless you are an idiot."
That, right there, the shoot-from-the-hip candor that transformed a mob lawyer into the most popular mayor Las Vegas has ever had. That's the secret to Goodman's success. Blunt zingers abound in his new book, including potshots at the likes of President Barack Obama and casino mogul Steve Wynn, respect and admiration for former Sheriff Ralph Lamb and federal Judge Harry Claiborne.
Predictably, the cover photo features the ostentatious Oscar, a carefully crafted character, booze in hand, statuesque showgirls at his side. Some critics lampooned the Oscar character for sheer egotism, but the public loved it largely because Goodman did what few other politicians do. He said out loud what was really on his mind.
"As mayor, I told it the way it was," Goodman said. "A lot of people didn't like the fact that I used hyperbole and anecdotes and satire, but that is the way I deliver my message. Like I said, people who don't like the book, there will be one or two of them, let them write their own book."
His unlikely journey from the streets of Philadelphia to civic ambassador and chief cheerleader for all that is Las Vegas is told from Goodman's perspective. How could it not? Everything he did was a first-person undertaking. Goodman makes the case in the book that his larger than life alter-ego helped him to get things done as mayor.
He said he wanted to cut off the thumbs of graffiti artists, bragged about how he gambles on anything that moves, and told people not to call him after 5 p.m. because that's when his prodigious consumption of gin would begin each night. The public ate it up. The I-Team's interview about his book was recorded at Oscar's Steakhouse, whose tagline is "Beef, Booze and Broads," a downtown restaurant plastered with Goodman mementos and a familiar profile as its logo.
The same popularity still evident helped him steamroll those who opposed projects such as a new city hall or mob museum. In the book, Goodman doesn't take all of the credit for revitalizing downtown by reaching out to entrepreneurs, hipsters, artists and others, but thinks it would not have happened without him.
"When I took over, downtown was like a war zone," Goodman said. "The lawyers were running out like rats fleeing a sinking ship. The banks were moving out to the suburbs. There was no energy whatsoever. There was a lethargy that was palpable. Now, it's exciting."
Not surprisingly, the most colorful and candid material in the book is about his notorious clientele. The one client who put him on the mob's radar, mafia financier Meyer Lansky, and the talkative and mercurial casino boss Lefty Rosenthal and tough Tony Spilotro, the rackets boss of Las Vegas with whom Goodman said he formed a special bond. Did the lawyer ever cross the line, as a few feds once suspected?
"None of my clients ever asked, should they kill anybody," Goodman said. "Nobody said, should we burglarize this? Some of my detractors would have me as a consigliere, but the truth is, they did not consult with me. They protected me. They did need me, and they needed me to be straight."
Goodman is the only major city mayor in history to be succeeded by his spouse. Around his wife and children, Oscar the boisterous character is a much different guy.
"Of course it is, and it's a different guy with my father, and with my mother, and my sisters," Goodman said. "It's a role."
The book, "Being Oscar," is being released Tuesday. Starting Thursday, the Mob Museum is hosting three days of events focused on Goodman's life and times.
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