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STOP MAKING SENSE: So Long to All That

A few parting shots about the Goodman ethics hearing

Jeremy Parker

Two weeks ago, Mayor Oscar Goodman was found to be in violation of Nevada ethics statutes, and I've been waiting to weigh in.


Some late thoughts:


• Mayor Goodman was only found to be in violation of one of the eight charges against him: promoting and hosting a cocktail party in Washington, D.C., for his son's political consulting firm, iPolitix. But knowing all the facts now, I'm not so sure that that finding was justified—at least not completely so. According to testimony (and by and large, much of the testimony was undisputed), Goodman received a memo from the Democratic wing of the U.S. Conference of Mayors indicating that they were looking for new technologies to assist campaigns. Hizzoner knew his son Ross' company iPolitix had a unique product that filled that bill. So he called his son and informed him of this. What was he supposed to do? Sit on his hands and deprive the Conference of Mayors of the kind of product they were looking for? That wouldn't be quite fair to the conference. After all, Goodman wasn't hawking his son's product to the conference; they virtually came to him.


When Ross Goodman contacted the Conference of Mayors, he was treated no differently than any other product vendor; in fact, Goodman fils said he never identified himself as the mayor's son. It was the conference's staff that proposed the cocktail party, after being unable to fit an iPolitix presentation into the agenda, and it was they who suggested having a mayor sponsor the event and put his name on the invitations, the latter of which iPolitix did, not the mayor. It was not Ross Goodman's responsibility to know the ethics laws, and Mayor Goodman's involvement seems only to extend to turning his cocktail party over to iPolitix. Certainly Hizzoner could have exercised better judgment here, such as checking all this with city or private counsel; disturbingly, he says the possibility of ethical impropriety never even occurred to him. But I really don't see any venality present in these machinations. After all, had there been no pre-existing cocktail party for iPolitix to sponsor, it's pretty likely that they could have just planned their own. And had it been a Ross Goodman-less iPolitix that approached the mayor, it's plausible, perhaps likely, that he would have acted the same way.


And as for iPolitix's using the mayor's name to attract mayors to the cocktail party, let's face it: Those who came would probably have gone to the cocktail party regardless, just as they went to several other cocktail parties that weekend. That's what happens at these conventions, and in Washington in general: You get an invite for free eats and drinks, you tend to show up—if only for the free eats and drinks. You can't even be a summer intern in D.C. without getting a few invites to cocktail parties.


• All this being said, Mayor Goodman still displayed a shocking ethical blind spot. He kept insisting that as he held no influence over the other mayors at the party, and could not use the power of his office to pressure them into buying his son's product, he comes away with clean hands. What he repeatedly failed to understand was that his very capacity as mayor should keep him from talking up his son's business and product. Goodman was posed a direct hypothetical: Would it be ethical for him to call up the mayor of Toledo and pitch his son's product? The mayor said yes, as long as he didn't use city phone lines. But that's ridiculous. Why is the mayor of Toledo taking Goodman's call in the first place? Because he's Oscar Goodman, citizen extraordinaire? No. Because he's Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas. With Goodman's office comes access, and if he uses that access to promote his family's private business, then he's using his office—abusing his office. And that's what he did every time he talked up iPolitix at the Conference of Mayors—which he attended as mayor, and on the taxpayers' dime. It's for that that Goodman should be admonished, and, in part, he was. But that blind spot was also what saved him: One of the commissioners cited it as the reason that Goodman's ethics violation was not "willful." Um, maybe, but I always thought ignorance of the law was no excuse.


• It was not the purview of the Ethics Commission to judge whether the mayor's Bombay Sapphire Gin endorsement and the liquor-sponsored "World's Biggest Happy Hour" in 2002 was in violation of city policy against promotions of commercial products—which, of course, it was. (City Manager Doug Selby demonstrated his own blind spot; it seemed not to have occurred to him at the time that plastering Bombay Sapphire Gin all over an official event constituted a commercial endorsement.) The commission found that the endorsement deal was aboveboard and that the use of city film crews to produce and distribute video news releases of the party was permissible.


But I question the endorsement deal itself, particularly the $50,000 to the private, nonprofit Meadows School for scholarships. Mayor Goodman testified that liquor distributor Larry Ruvo offered $100,000 to the Meadows School in return for the endorsement, and he responded, "No, some of that has to go the city." Some of that? How about all of that? Really, why is the mayor using his official capacity to raise money for a private entity like the Meadows School over the public needs of Las Vegas? And make no mistake: He was again using his office. City officials and the mayor himself repeatedly pointed out the blurred distinction between Goodman's public life and his personal life in justifying the filming of the Happy Hour. But that works both ways: The value of that endorsement was tied to Goodman's being the mayor, not just Goodman the man. (Despite Ruvo's testimony to the contrary—he said he would have offered Goodman more for the endorsement had he not been mayor, an assertion that doesn't pass the laugh test.)


Not to mention the precedent this sets. Say a future mayor, if not this one, has a beef with the Clark County School District and wants to bypass the public schools (i.e., undermine the public schools) by instituting school vouchers. Why, just pimp out the mayor's office! Endorsements in return for funding private school scholarships! Yippee!


• Finally, someone's going to have to explain to me what the Jane magazine charge was all about. As best I can figure, there was some confusion as to where the $2,000 that Jane gave the city ended up, and if the mayor accepted it as a personal honorarium. (It went into city coffers.) I don't know if Goodman can be bought, but I think I can say that he wouldn't risk his office for $2,000. This mayor would never sell out so cheap.



Jeremy Parker writes about politics biweekly. His website is lasvegasweblog.blogspot.com.

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