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When Carolyn Goodman began her week, the independent mayor of Las Vegas probably didn’t anticipate that in a matter of days she would become one of the most-talked about public officials in the national conversation surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Only now she is, and in the eyes of critics, for all the wrong reasons.
It all stemmed from a pair of remarkable TV appearances — first on Tuesday with MSNBC’s Katy Tur and then Wednesday with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in which she doubled down on her head-scratching plan to reopen the city’s casinos and hotels with no apparent guidelines in place to ensure safety.
On Wednesday, Nevada’s leaders united to send the three-term mayor a pointed message: Not so fast.
“We are clearly not ready to open,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) told Cooper Wednesday night, noting the number of coronavirus-related deaths and infections in the state are still climbing. According to the most recent figures kept by the state, Nevada has more than 4,000 reported cases and 187 reported deaths.
“We will rebuild our economy,” Sisolak said. “Las Vegas will continue to thrive, but I can’t do that if I lose more people. We need to protect their health and their well-being.”
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), whose district includes Las Vegas, echoed Sisolak’s comments, stressing in a separate CNN interview with host Don Lemon that lifting restrictions has to be done “the right way.”
“You can’t open up too soon,” she said, because doing so could “cause death or health problems for individuals and then the economy will tank even worse and it will take us longer and be harder to come back.”
Meanwhile, Nevada’s largest union issued a harsher critique, calling Goodman’s remarks “outrageous.” In a statement, the Culinary Workers Union said it has lost 11 members to the coronavirus.
The rebukes of Goodman came at the end of a yet another whirlwind day for the mayor, who this week injected herself into the ongoing national debate over how to balance mitigating the country’s coronavirus outbreak against rising concerns of economic depression by pushing to reopen Las Vegas’s casinos and hotels under the assumption that “everybody is a carrier” of the new virus.
“Let the businesses open and competition will destroy that business if, in fact, they become evident that they have disease, they’re closed down,” Goodman, 81, told MSNBC’s Tur on Tuesday. “It’s that simple.”
Those comments raised eyebrows, and ridicule, nationally. While other public officials have urged swift reopenings of local business, most have based their argument on the idea that it’s safe to do so. Meanwhile, Goodman is advancing what Tur described as a “modern-day survival of the fittest.”
But rather than retreat into a moment of self-examination or soul-searching amid the outcry, Goodman wasted no time venturing onto a show hosted by one of television’s cleverest interviewers, who has voiced outrage at the acts of officials elsewhere who seem to be rushing to reopen.
Cooper gave her 25 minutes, a supersized segment by TV standards. It was no contest.
She swiftly went off the rails. He alternated between dramatic expressions of exasperation and bewilderment. Over the course of the interview, Goodman, who has been a vocal critic of Nevada’s lockdown order, argued that the responsibility is on businesses, not her, to find a way to open safely and appeared to suggest she had offered her city to be a “control group” for the virus.
“We offered to be a control group,” she said. “I did offer. It was turned down.”
Wednesday’s interview began amicably enough until Cooper started pressing Goodman about whether it is safe for her to be “encouraging hundreds of thousands of people” to flock to casinos where they will smoke, drink, gamble, touch slot machines and breathe recirculated air for hours on end before returning to their home states and countries.
“Doesn’t that sound like a virus petri dish?” Cooper asked.
“No, it sounds like you’re being an alarmist,” Goodman shot back.
This back-and-forth played out throughout the interview: Goodman trying to stay on message against Cooper as he voiced and displayed through facial expressions ever-mounting incredulity. At one point, he even took off his glasses to rub his eyes with both hands.
Any semblance of a conventional interview vanished entirely when Cooper displayed a graphic that showed how the virus could spread from a single carrier in a restaurant in China to multiple diners nearby, prompting Goodman to cut in.
“This isn’t China,” she interjected, “this is Las Vegas, Nevada.”
“Wow, okay, that’s really ignorant,” Cooper said. “That’s a restaurant, and yes it’s in China, but they are human beings, too.”
Not long after the interview, Goodman was trending on social media as many viewers dissected her performance.
“Anderson Cooper may have just ended her career,” tweeted professional poker player Daniel Negreanu. “I couldn’t imagine a public official coming off worse in an interview. There should be a mercy rule.”
Cooper, however, wasn’t the only person put off by Goodman’s remarks Wednesday.
While the mayor doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Las Vegas Strip, the four-mile stretch of hotels and casinos is south of the city limits in unincorporated Clark County, her comments prompted full-throated rebuttals from state leaders Wednesday night, who urged people to continue following social distancing guidelines.
“We need to send a sincere message and a consistent message,” Sisolak, the Nevada governor, told Cooper. “It’s difficult when we get one person that’s leading people astray, and I’m disappointed in that.”
Sisolak and Titus, the Nevada representative, were also taken aback by Goodman’s apparent suggestion that Las Vegas could be a virus “control group.”
“I will not allow the citizens of Nevada, our Nevadans, to be used as a control group, as a placebo, whatever she wants to call it,” Sisolak said.
Later on “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon,” Titus urged Goodman to “listen to the scientists and the health-care specialists and stop talking about my constituents as though they’re guinea pigs in some grand experiment that she’s trying to conduct.”
Goodman also drew ridicule from one other high-profile figure Wednesday: late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who grew up in Las Vegas.
On Twitter, Kimmel slammed the mayor as “dangerously misguided,” writing, “I am not easily shocked anymore, but the interview she is doing … right now is bonkers.”
“Carolyn Goodman should resign before lunch arrives today,” he wrote in another tweet. “She is an embarrassment to my hometown.”
He went on to revisit Wednesday’s interview in a scathing monologue on his ABC show.
“Mayor Goodman has a lot of thoughts,” he said, “and the one thing those thoughts have in common is that none of them make any sense.”
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