Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Show Has Been UP: Donny & Marie

This show's been available in the show feed now for a few days, but I've just been too swamped to get it updated on TheStripPodcast.Com. Remember if you subscribe -- for free! -- in iTunes or Zune, you'll always get it first. Anywho, enjoy. -sf

March 29: The Donny & Marie Show

As we record this episode of our show, the folks at the Flamingo Las Vegas are busy applying a spankin’ new wrap to the hotel’s Strip side. And while the faces will be the same – Donny and Marie, of course – they’ll look a little less cheesy, a little more rock n roll. As Donny Osmond explains this hour, the original wrap was thrown up in a hurry when the sibling duo opened there in 2008. But now they’ve weathered a withering recession and passed their 500th performance, so it’s time for something more current and durable. How much longer can they dominate Vegas? Donny’s answer: Forever. Sort of. Stick around to hear what the big brother has to say about their future and hear him play some bits of their first album of new music in decades. Also, Marie chimes in a bit as well.

In Banter: Celine's return, Terry Fator's gay puppet, the Loews Las Vegas' William and Kate deal, the ex-Rao chef's new gigs, and much more.

Links to stuff discussed:

Steve’s bathroom-related Tweet
Blog wrap-up, review, Flickr and special edition of The Strip, re: Celine
Steve’s Las Vegas Weekly column about rude Vegas tweeting
Steve’s Pine Mouth affliction, per ABC News
Terry Fator’s Berry Fabulous
Loews Las Vegas' $249 Royal Wedding Deal
The Alaska Daily News on Alaska’s new Vegas effort to lure tourists to Palin Country
Doug Elfman’s take on MGM Grand’s Scott Sibella on "Undercover Boss"
Former Rao’s chef Carla Pellegrino’s new restaurant and taking over the Trop place
Donny & Marie tickets at the Flamingo
The sites of Donny and Marie
Apple suing others for use of the term App Store

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Carolyn Goodman on DREAM Act, Domestic Partnerships

[UPDATE: Hear the whole interview with Carolyn Goodman by clicking here or right-click here to download it. Also, check out my AOL News/Huffington Post Politics piece on the race.]

My fascinating and lengthy chat with Las Vegas mayoral frontrunner Carolyn Goodman will find its way into several different pieces I'm working on in coming days, of course. But because this morning I reported the strange responses to the DREAM Act and domestic partnership questions from Councilman Steve Ross and County Commissioner Larry Brown at a Hispanic Democratic group's forum on Wednesday, both also candidates in the April 5 primary, I decided to post this transcript with Oscar Goodman's wife.

These are important issues not because any Las Vegas mayor has the power to enact federal immigration legislation or to repeal a state gay partnership law but because if this race goes to a head-to-head general, it could come down to interest groups like Hispanics (and their unionize allegiances) and gays who may or may not be motivated to do the grassroots work that turns the tides of close, low-turnout contests.

It also matters because County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who seems to have a 50-50 chance along with Brown of going one-on-one with Goodman after next week, is a staunch supporter of both the DREAM Act and fully legalized, federally recognized marriages for gay couples. Chris G. is by far the most effective grassroots campaigner in serious contention, and she can use this to fire up these groups on her behalf.

Also, as I explained earlier, it could be bad for Vegas, which has pushed hard to court valuable gay travel dollars, if the mayor is seen in any way as anti-gay. True, the mayor does not have jurisdiction over the Strip, but the national press and certainly the gay media and gay tourists won't care.

So, without further ado, here's what Goodman told me:

Friess: Do you know what the DREAM Act is?

Goodman: Yes.

Friess: And what do you think of it?

Goodman: You know, it was something I read about the other day and to be perfectly honest with you I remember reading it. I remember something came across my computer and should I do this and could I participate and I couldn’t because we had another event. And I thought, this issue, it’s an embryonic something and it’s something that just started and it needs addressing and exploration.

Again, as with Ross' remark yesterday, I'm puzzled how this topic has not come to the attention of prominent candidates for public office before. And given that Goodman has made her reputation as an educator and school founder, the fact that the DREAM Act is all about education makes it surprising she thinks it's an "embryonic" topic. Appealing to Hispanic voters was a deciding factor in Harry Reid's win over Sharron Angle last year and his support of the DREAM Act was a key part of that. Angle also ran menacing, fearmongering anti-immigrant ads that accelerated her demise.

Now onto the gay marriage/domestic partnership discussion:

Friess: The other question asked of all the candidates [at the mayoral panel] was whether they would support repealing the state’s domestic partner law. And of the people on the panel, Commissioner Brown and Councilman Ross said yes, they would like to stop the state from recognizing domestic partners.

Goodman: A crystallized commentary on that for me is difficult because you know I am about the rights of the human being but I’m also about legal rights. I’m certainly accepting of anybody and anybody’s rights to determine for themselves their own lifestyle as long as it’s not causing problems for anybody else and it’s legal. One of the things I remember asking years ago of my uncle who is a very astute lawyer because I didn’t understand, I had many friends and I’ve had friends all my life who are gay. I said I don’t understand why a legal contract wuldn’t suffice to bind two people together. You and I would have a legal contract, same sex let’s say, and I would agree that everything that’s mine it’s 50-50. If I die you would get everything, split down the middle. All I would say is why a legal binding contract wouldn’t work for a couple.

Friess: Well, because the federal government doesn’t recognize it.

Goodman: No, no. you and I are a same sex couple. And we enter into a legal – I’m not talking marital – but I’m saying. Understanding and wanting to hear everything. You and I are both guys and we’ve been together let’s say 20 years. I want to enter into a contract with you where I will say. We are 50-50 partners in everything. Everything. If I die, in my legal document, I say I want you to have everything.

Right, but I still wouldn’t get your Social Security. I still wouldn’t get your pension...

Goodman: [laughs] And at this point, what’s in there? But lookit, those are finite details. I’d like to know before I would even discuss it, what are the issues we’re dealing with here? My first question is, why wouldn’t a legal binding contract that you and I….

Friess: Well, let me ask you this. You’re a heterosexual couple, you can just go to City Hall and get married. I’m a gay couple, I have to go to lawyer and spend thousands of dollars to approximate the same arrangement. Is that right?

Goodman: Oh, you mean you have to spend the money to have the contract drawn.

Friess: The state law now, the domestic partner law, it allows for the same rights for gay couples as straight couples or any rights the state provides to gay couples.

Oh, OK.

And that was the question. The question was, would you support repealing that?

Goodman: I would not support anything until I knew more and would give that thought. I have always believed in the right of the individual to determine his own life interactions and lifestyles. At this point, you know, you’re saying about Social Security, what other things are there. Why is it that I would be intent if I were a gay couple to have this? Then again, that’s not me. I’m so easily…

Friess: Why’d you get married?

Goodman: Probably because it was a religious thing, I think. I don’t know. That’s the way we were just raised. This is what you do if you’re going to have a family. Today, I think so many people live together, they don’t marry.

Friess: Let me just ask you directly. Do you support or don’t support legalized gay marriage in this country?

I cannot answer one way or another at this point because I haven’t spent enough time looking at the whys and wherefores one way or another. What I do know is that I think everybody has the right to their own determination, how they live. Should I get further in questioning that for myself and getting advice both legally and emotionally from people, I would come to a conclusion. I can’t tell you I have one at this moment because I don’t. Were you my son and were you gay, I would say you and your partner must do everything you can to make your life meaningful and as rich as you want it to be. It’s up to you to do this. If that is paramount, and what are the reasons for this, I would want your input. I know I would talk to a lawyer to help you in your determination in your own life. And I can’t tell you because first of all I’m not a lawyer and second, I don’t have the full amount of information that I would give a binding statement one way or the other.

OK. So, this evening her campaign manager, Bradley Mayer, texted me to clarify Mrs. Goodman's position:

Wanted to make sure to clarify with you that Carolyn absolutely supports domestic partnerships as allowed under SB 283. She is not in favor of repealing.

Huh. But then why didn't she just say so? Again, as with the DREAM Act, I just don't understand how people who believe themselves to be up on current events -- let alone leading candidates for a major public office -- don't have clear views on important issues of the day. Gay marriage is not a new topic. It's fully legal in five states and D.C. now, although the feds don't recognize it except for when the IRS can make a play for grabbing higher taxes from same-sex partners. Why didn't Carolyn's astute lawyer uncle explain to her the problems with private contracts, the history of courts invalidating them and various institutions -- schools, hospitals, cemeteries, etc -- ignoring them?

I had a great time with Mrs. Goodman and Commissioner Brown and I have great respect for both of them. But it seems like these sorts of moments show candidates that have surprisingly not participated in or considered the predominant cultural dialogues of our time. That's just strange.

* * *

P.S. Mayer needs to get with Carolyn on the use of the term "lifestyle." It's one of those things that drives GLBT people bananas. See the NLGJA Stylebook here for why.

P.P.S. Proving that Vegas remains a small town at heart, Mayer was the campaign manager for Mark Manendo, the successful state senate candidate who I covered extensively here because his opponent, Grandmother Kathy McClain, sent out a blatantly gay-baiting mailer. Who ran her campaign and was responsible for that malicious hit job? Gary Gray. He's both Chris G.'s husband and campaign manager.

LVW Col: The Sahara Strands The Stratosphere

Here's my latest LVW column. My full chat with Frank Riolo, CEO of the Stratosphere, will be available as a podcast next week. Enjoy. -sf

With the Sahara closing,
the Stratosphere faces an identity crisis

Decay Alley was coming back into view as Frank Riolo and I concluded lunch last week on the 106th floor of the Stratosphere, aka the Top of the World restaurant. The dining room takes about an hour to make a full revolution, and we were almost back where we had started. We took a break from our chatter and gazed down sadly, quietly, almost mournfully.

Once upon a time, you’d assume that Decay Alley referred to the tower’s Downtown-wardly vista that encompasses dodgy Naked City and the least glamorous segments of Las Vegas Boulevard. But the blight in those areas is so commonplace and expected as to be unremarkable. That variety of downtrodden urbanism is perpetual and not unique to this city.

The view Riolo and I took as we finished up is something you just don’t see anywhere else. Below us were several blocks of economic misery on an epic scale: a gleaming, abandoned, 60-story Fontainebleau; the weathered, see-through frame of a stalled 4,000-room Echelon; gigantic blank rectangles of land where great promises of development go indefinitely unfulfilled. And now, as of just a few days earlier, the latest addition to this hit parade stood to our bottom left: the doomed Sahara, slated to shutter in May.

“Nobody likes to look out and see abandoned buildings and empty plots of land,” said a pensive Riolo, the CEO for Stratosphere owner American Casino & Entertainment Properties LLC. “It’s not good for anyone.”

It’s a wonder he doesn’t occasionally feel compelled to fling himself off his tower.

Read the rest as LasVegasWeekly.Com

Odd Brown and Gay Moments In The Vegas Mayor Race

This week, I've finally started doing some reporting on the non-partisan race to replace Oscar Goodman as mayor of Las Vegas. The primary is April 5, there are 18 candidates in the scrum and the leader at the moment by all accounts is Goodman's wife, Meadows School founder Carolyn Goodman. I spent some time with the couple the other night at a Martinis With The Mayor event and I have a sit-down interview with Mrs. Goodman this afternoon.

But last night, I attended a forum featuring four Democratic candidates, Councilman Steve Ross, county commissioners Larry Brown and Chris Giunchigliani and activist Katie Duncan, put on by Si Se Puede, a Hispanic Democratic group. Carolyn Goodman, a registered independent, and Victor Chaltiel, the wealthy and free-spending Sheldon Adelson-backed Republican, were not invited because they're not Democrats.

I live-tweeted the event, which was emcee'd by ex-U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who seemed to relish in taking (loving?) shots at the current mayor. At one point, in asking about graffiti prevention policy, she quipped: " "Do you agree with removing thumbs or do you have other ideas?" Later, when a question arose about being a spokesperson for the destination, she wryly noted to the audience before letting the quartet answer: "I don’t think any of these candidatess would go to a fourth grade class and say the only thing they would want on desert island is a bottle of gin."

But a few other moments stood out involving the two fellows to your right, Ross (left) and Brown. [Photo from Twitpic courtesy of @TheLMurrieta]

First, the candidates were asked their views on education and the DREAM Act, the federal bill that would create a path to citizenship for immigrant students who have lived in the U.S. for a certain length of time but are not legally here. It's important to the immigrant community because so many of these kids have been raised in the U.S. despite their undocumented status -- which many may or may not even kn0w -- and then cannot get college loans because they're not legal residents.

The point is, the DREAM Act is one of the most significant pieces of the Hispanic Democratic agenda and the candidates are appearing before an Hispanic Democratic group. It's been in the news constantly for years and, in fact, Sen. Harry Reid's championing of it helped rally the Hispanic vote that is widely credited with his victory last fall.

So what was the response of Ross, generally seen to be in fourth or fifth place in the polls for mayor?

"I don't know enough about that to answer one way or the other."

Huh? How is it even possible for a candidate -- nay, an elected official -- to not know something this basic? Either he's tragically ignorant or he didn't want to give his true answer because he knew the group wouldn't like it, but either way it looked awful for him.

The other thing was County Commissioner Larry Brown saying he would support repeal of Nevada's domestic partnership law, which passed two years ago. Ross said he would support repeal, too, but he had already been endorsed by the conservative group Nevada Concerned Citizens so that wasn't a surprise.

This actually matters a great deal and here's why: If the next mayor of Las Vegas is seen as hostile to gay couples, it would be disastrous to the decade-old efforts to aggressively court GLBT tourists to the destination. It was former Mayor Jan Jones way way WAY back in the 1990s who was only the second big-city mayor in America to endorse gay marriage -- Willie Brown of San Francisco was first, of course -- and then Jones took that message into her gig as a veep with Harrah's. There is a straight line from Jones' early and vocal support of marriage equality to the world's biggest gaming company's revolutionary efforts to court gay travelers to MGM and Wynn catching wise to the lobbying efforts that resulted in the domestic partnership law. The casino industry knows this is a very, very important and sensitive minority. The gay media will go nuts if there's even a whiff that Las Vegans have elected an anti-gay mayor.

So it matters if Brown, who is either second or third in the polls and has a 50/50 chance of facing off with Carolyn Goodman in the June general election, is in favor of stripping gay Nevadans of hard-won rights. Oscar Goodman as equally full-throated as Jones in his support of gays and gay business and culture, even appearing as half of a gay couple in a gay "Christmas Carol" spoof. (Chris G., the other candidate jockeying for second place in the primary, has long been an ardent pro-gay activist.)

The way the question was asked at the forum, however, the candidates were only allowed to give a yes or no answer. Near the end, Titus said she had received a request to ask the candidates to explain their views on domestic partnerships but she felt it had already been answered so she replaced it with some milquetoast question about general mayoral qualifications.

Afterward, then, gay activists Derek Washington, Laura Martin and Chris Miller chased Brown for an explanation but, uh, he ducked into the bathroom. When he came out, he was ready to talk to them but they weren't nearby so instead he sat down with me for a half-hour for my story.

Here's the odd exchange we had on that topic:

Friess: There’s a gaggle of gay activists who are waiting to ask you this. The question was, do you support repealing…

Brown: I’ve got to talk to Derek, because he has to explain to me first of all what the state law is and what we do at the local government in interpretation of it. I was the first one to answer out of that. I have to make sure what I answered yes or no to.

Friess: You answered yes to repealing the domestic partner law.

Brown: And I think they said that came from a Nevada Concerned Citizens survey. I’ll stand by the answer and I’ll have Derek and the other guy who’s chasing me around explain the background and the history, the status, how it affects local government. I remember having these conversations two years ago [when he was running for County Commission] because it was a partisan race. My concern back then was, separate fromt eh state law because I’m not real sure what it says …

Friess: I can tell you what it says. The law basically allows same-sex couples or non-married heterosexual couples to register as domestic partners and it grants them any rights that are given to married couples within the state.

Brown: And my big discussion two years ago is, what impact that has on the local government. It doesn’t matter if it’s a domestic couple or boyfriend-girlfriend or whatever gender, whatever, what impact fiscally does it have? So if it’s state law and the city has adopted it, I would have to be educated better.

Friess: Where do you stand on gay marriage?

Brown: Gay marriage or civil marriages or…

Friess: Do you think a gay couple should be able to get married either in the state or in the country?

Brown: Uhh, I’d have to get, uh, there’s some conflicting beliefs. Some conflicting beliefs.

We moved on to other topics at that point. But, again, I'm baffled -- as I was with Ross and the DREAM Act -- that a major elected official hasn't given serious thought to an issue like this. He doesn't know where he stands on gay marriage? Or civil unions? Or domestic partnerships? Doesn't he pay even a passing notice to the news? Is there even a week where there's not some gay news in the mainstream press nowadays? Is it credible for a Clark County commissioner, arguably one of the eight or nine most powerful people in the state, to claim he needs to be "educated" on this?

I'm not beating the gay-rights drum here. I'm not. I'm just saying that people running for public offices at this level ought to have a familiarity with the most significant social issues of the day. Telling an Hispanic group you don't know what the DREAM Act is is lethal to a candidacy. Telling the world that you oppose a domestic partnership law that was passed with a veto-proof majority in the state legislature could be extremely harmful to your city's main industry, tourism.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Strip IS Live Tonight @ 8 p.m. PT!

It's the Donny & Marie show tonight at 8 p.m. PT on The Strip, deploying at least parts of my recent conversations with both of the sibling stars. You can watch Miles and me and listen via UStream by going here:

I believe we've made tremendous progress on the technology/equipment front for both the recording sound and our ability to broadcast solid audio, so wish us luck and join us! Or wait for the podcast version, probably out on Tuesday. That's your call!

Las Vegas Sun v. Reader Nastygrams: Duh, Winning

It's become so routine in recent weeks to take stock of yet another major laurel for the Las Vegas Sun's "Do No Harm" series led by Marshall Allen and Alex Richards, and this weekend they netted yet another triumph en route to becoming the favorite for the paper's second Pulitzer in three years. So congrats to all involved yet again for winning Best of Show at the National Headliners Awards in Atlantic City. Nicely done.

But the more interesting development from the NHA honors over the weekend was first-place recognition of the LasVegasSun.Com for "journalistic innovation" for "Attempting to Elevate Online Commentary." Here is how the Sun itself described what it's done:

In winning the innovation award, the Sun was recognized for successfully tackling a problem that has bedeviled online journalism ever since the door was opened for readers to comment about stories. The practice has frequently devolved into vitriolic exchanges among readers hiding behind anonymous handles.

The Sun instituted a two-tiered reader comment system, allowing those who prove their identity and register on the site to comment on stories. Those comments remain permanently attached to the story after it is archived.

Other comments, by unregistered readers, are attached to the story but can only be viewed by linking to them on a separate page, and are removed after 72 hours.

That's pretty interesting. Anyone in the media biz knows that reader comments can be useful and enlightening but that unrestrained anonymous blather is counterproductive and cowardly. Back when AOL News decided to freeze all comments for a while as they tried to figure out how to tame this beast, I received countless angry emails -- almost all anonymous, of course -- saying someone had robbed them of their Constitutionally protected right to free speech. Most sites, including AOL, have reverted to allowing someone else to verify the poster's identity via an AOL or Facebook account, for instance, but that's easy to game, too.

Of course, this problem isn't new and it's not restricted to the Web. It's just that because the Internet has made it so much easier, the lunatic letters have completely lost their charm.

Charm? Well, sure. Pretty much every reporter with a sense of humor who has worked for a while has a classic nastygram tacked to their cubicle wall from a completely unhinged reader. Back when it took real effort to do so, there was a peculiar respect owed to whoever did it. Also, it's hilarious how self-important, arrogant and petty people can be when you don't actually have to interact with them.

It still happens, of course, which is why the Las Vegas Weekly ran in print this image of a wonderful bit of prose from "Sucker's Advocate" that came in on a quaint ol' postcard -- Constitutional rights fully intact! -- to editor Ken Miller:

Ken is my editor, by the by. And while this is a fun one, it's not nearly as directly insulting to Ken himself as my all-time classic. It came 12 years ago, also by postcard, when I was covering the county commission for the Review-Journal. It was in response to this hard-hitting piece on the opening of one of the first of those oxygen bars. Yes, this is the stuff that got someone fired up enough to do this:

Frown face!

Now, had this been posted in the comments section of a website, I probably never would have noticed it. Instead, it's always on my desk along with my other favorite keepsakes such as these:

OK, time to do some paying work. Happy Monday and congrats again to the Sun peeps.