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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Mob Connections May End Vegas Councilman's Career
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
April 14, 2003

                                  The "Christoff" Election Mailer, March 10, 2003

            The Result of the Mailer :Political Cartoon by Jim Day, Las Vegas Review Journal, April 11, 2003

Las Vegas is known for its colorful characters. For instance, the town's mayor, Oscar Goodman, was pictured playing himself - a mob lawyer - in the movie Casino. During his first campaign for mayor in 1999, Goodman was so forthright in his presentation of his true self and his profession that the honorable citizens of Sin City elected him by a landslide. They once again showed overwhelming support for the gin swilling, outspoken pitch man for Vegas' deteriorating downtown in last week's city primary where he retained his office for a second term by an 86% margin over his challengers; a garbage collector, an octogenarian, a construction worker, and a used car salesman.

Mayor Oscar Goodman with martini
There's another interesting character on Goodman's council that did not fare so well in last week's election; two term Councilman Mike McDonald. The difference between McDonald and Goodman is vast. Goodman catapulted into office by  fearlessly boasting that he would rather have his daughter date a mobster like his former client the late mob enforcer Tony Spilotro, than date an FBI agent. He also said that there is no mob. The Vegas voters loved his celebrity and arrogance.

In direct contrast to Goodman, McDonald was elected in 1995 because he was a young, humble policeman. His pitch was that he could play a double role: police officer and city councilman. The voters in his ward loved his understated modesty.

   Golf course villa owned by mobster's family
Then something amazing happened. The straight shooter cop started wearing a $20,000 Rolex President watch, Italian silk suits, and driving several expensive new SUV's while his absences at the police station caught his superior's attention. But that was not the end of the transformation. McDonald joined an expensive social club, and moved into a half million dollar golf course villa owned by Bobbette Tegano, the mother in law of Joey Cusumano, a member of Nevada's Black Book of persons banned from entering casinos. He also proudly accepted the nickname "Flash," after it was coined by one of his new friends.

Soon special favors began happening for a politically connected strip club owner who expanded his business in violation of city laws. The expansion occurred without permits, traffic studies, or additional parking. The city turned its back and nearby residents sued. McDonald's name surfaced when it became known that his landlady was related to the strip club owner's "best friend in the world."  This caused questions to be asked of the councilman such as does he pay rent for the villa, coincidentally just down the street from the strip bar owner's estate? Also, McDonald started abstaining on all items coming before the council that affected the strip club's owner, Frederick "Rick" Rizzolo.

In 1999, a new mayor was elected. Oscar Goodman never tried to conceal his friendship with Cusumano and others who brought shame on our city. However, Cusumano may have concealed a hidden ownership in Rizzolo's strip club, enough so that on February 20, 2003, eighty federal agents including FBI and IRS criminal investigators raided the club to seize computers, ATM machines, files, video surveillance tapes, and other undisclosed items. Criminal indictments are expected within the next several months.

Then, on February 22, several days after the nationally reported raid, Goodman hosted Cusumano at his home at an engagement party for his daughter. The press went wild, especially since Rizzolo is Cusumano's cousin and Goodman once was the strip club owner's attorney! Sin City's "pure" image was threatened, and the mayor said "So what!" Several months later, he was overwhelmingly reelected. So much for our town's moral values!

Not too long after his infamous house party, Goodman endorsed McDonald's reelection. Then, the political mailers began.

Peter "Chris" Christoff, a long-time community activist, appeared before the mayor and council in February on business related to the closure of the Vegas veteran's hospital. Christoff was pissed off because, as a former Marine, he and the vet's organization he heads was livid that they would be severely inconvenienced if they fell sick. His anger with the city overflowed as he began his plea. The TV cameras rolled as the grizzly old soldier took on city hall.  McDonald jumped into the fray.

           Peter "Chris" Christoff (LV Sun)
"He's an idiot," McDonald whispered to the councilman sitting nearby. Little did he know that his microphone was open and at least 40,000 TV viewers clearly heard the slur. Christoff, who is hard of hearing, went on with his presentation. McDonald responded, "You're a liar!" Christoff bristled, and responded in kind.

Later that day, Christoff viewed a replay of the incident. He vowed to get even, saying "The Marines have landed!"

On the day filing for office began, Christoff was first in line to file for McDonald's seat. Soon thereafter, the mail boxes in Ward One began to fill with stinging postcards from Christoff about his nemesis' ethics, and associations. The news media picked up the story and, even in the middle of a war, space was made on the front page. McDonald responded with endorsements from unions, politicians, and even Mayor Goodman, but none helped.

Polls continued showing that the Christoff mailers were having an effect. The councilman did not offer rebuttal. Christoff explained that his research was impeccable, and no rebuttal could help the incumbent. He was right on two counts; his research was accurate, and the councilman was in trouble.

Election night, McDonald was trounced, but by whom was the surprise of the night! Christoff gathered a meager 7% of the vote. Out of nowhere, 44 year old trauma nurse Janet Moncrief surged ahead of all contenders and almost took the election outright when she garnered 48% of the votes.

In Nevada, if a contender for municipal office gets 50% plus one vote, the election is over in the primary. Moncrief was just 2% short of total victory. Also, she had spent only $12,000, mostly her own money, while McDonald spent close to $500,000 to almost lose with 44%. She attributed the stunning upset to her walking every street in the ward. When McDonald was confronted by reporters after hearing of his near defeat, he appeared desperate. With his bleached blond hair neatly coifed and wearing an American flag shirt, McDonald told the audience that he had been the victim of a dirty campaign. The runoff is scheduled for June 3.

 Janet Moncrief, RN (LV Review Journal)
The next day, McDonald's torture really began when the newspapers and TV stations started featuring front page and lead stories showing the angelic looking nurse in her scrubs standing in an emergency room doing a press conference. She talked about being frugal and asked the voters who they wanted to have spending their tax dollars - a frugal trauma nurse, or a spendthrift? She said she wanted to "nurse Las Vegas back to health." Both are statements that resonate at a time of fiscal crisis for the gambling city and state.

    Goodman consoles McDonald
What happened?  Why would Sin City covet a mobbed-up mayor, but not a mobbed-up councilman? What's the difference?

As I said, Goodman was brutally honest with the voters. He told them that he was a mob lawyer, and proud of it. McDonald portrayed himself as a selfless law enforcement officer - a straight arrow. Several years later, he suddenly left the force under questionable circumstances after his golf course villa digs and other questions were exposed.

Four years after he suddenly resigned from the police department, he sent out mailers last month still showing himself in his old police uniform, albeit, many pounds heavier. In the meantime, Christoff exposed McDonald's darker side with his mailer that stated on its front, "People are judged by the company they keep. How would you judge Councilman Michael McDonald?" The voters believed Christoff even though they did not like his method of getting his point across.

Now, most political experts in the state are predicting a landslide win for the once unknown trauma nurse who has captured Sin City's heretofore cold heart. In the meantime, McDonald is expected to squander at least another half million dollars on TV ads to try to bolster his sinking image. However, most believe the massive last-minute expenditure will backfire if used by Moncrief to point out his spendthrift ways. Some even believe that a moral resurgence has begun in the least likely of places - Vegas - and many would not be surprised come June 4 to find an ex-councilman/cop working as a security guard at a certain strip club.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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