Former Vegas mayor, Philly-bred Oscar Goodman, 'kidded myself that it couldn't happen here'

LAS VEGAS — Oscar Goodman sat Thursday on the couch in the corner of his downtown steakhouse — Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads — framed by a plate-glass window with a view of the huge Plaza Casino sign in the city’s famed downtown district.

In his oversized pinstriped suit, the mob lawyer who cut his teeth in Philadelphia courtrooms — and rose to become a three-term mayor of Las Vegas known for shameless flamboyance, the occasional controversy, and an unflagging loquaciousness — was, for once, at a loss for words.

“I guess I kidded myself,” he said, sighing, “that it couldn’t happen here.”

Like all big-city mayors, Goodman, 78, trained for years to deal with any disaster that could befall his town. He never imagined he or his wife, Carolyn Goodman, who succeeded him as mayor and has served for the last seven years, would have to put that training to use. But on Sunday night, they were awakened at home with the news that a gunman had opened fire from a 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay, killing 58 and wounding hundreds at a country-music concert.

In the wake of unimaginable tragedy, the town’s famous buoyancy has kept them going, too.

Camera icon Aubrey Whelan / Staff
Mayor Carolyn Goodman at a vigil Thursday night.

“It’s the lowest low one can possibly imagine,” Carolyn Goodman said Thursday, after attending a vigil for an off-duty Vegas police officer killed in Stephen Paddock’s shooting rampage. “But I’ve been struck by the beauty of good people. So many did what they could in a time of desperation.”

One example: In the days after the shooting, community organizations and blood banks were almost overwhelmed by donations.

The Goodmans have always functioned as mayor-cheerleaders, never missing an opportunity to boost their adopted hometown. They moved here in 1964, when he was a freshly minted Philly lawyer and she a graduate of Bryn Mawr College — long-enough ago to now consider themselves natives, they say. (Still: “You can’t take the Philly out of the boy,” he said, asking a reporter whether Pat’s Steaks was still open.)

Oscar Goodman made his name defending Philly mobsters such as Nicky Scarfo and Phil Leonetti, and has never shed the eccentric mob-lawyer persona. That attitude translated well into Vegas pomp, and into a political career that spanned 12 years. Now largely on the political sidelines, he’s watched with pride as his wife has navigated their city through the crisis.

Like nearly everyone in town, the Goodmans had friends among the 20,000 concertgoers in the crowd Sunday night.

“Everyone’s going to have to overcome nightmares,” Oscar Goodman said.

He may have grown up in Philly, but Vegas made him, he says, and Vegas will help him — and everyone else — somehow soldier on, he says. It’s in the city’s nature to keep moving. Its people will, too.

“This evil person isn’t going to change us,” he said. “Our veneer is very tough, but our hearts are mushy. And we’ve shown the mushy side this week.”