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David McGrath Schwartz

Mayor riled by showgirl remark

29 December 2006

Insulting him is one thing. But don't talk about his showgirls.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman shut off a speaker's microphone and had city marshals escort the man away from the podium during last week's City Council meeting after the man referred to the frequent mayoral companions as "bimbos."

The man, who identifies himself as Al Hessen, later was kicked out of the council chambers after shouting from the audience. Before he left, Hessen made anti-Semitic remarks aimed at the mayor, who is Jewish.

Goodman's refusal to allow Hessen to finish his comments has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada to contact the city and remind officials that citizens should be allowed to speak during the appointed public comment period regardless of how offensive their remarks might be.

Citizen participation is held at the end of each council meeting. Members of the public are allowed three minutes to address the elected body on any topic they wish.

Hessen approached the microphone during the public participation portion of the City Council meeting on Dec. 20, identifying himself as a Navy veteran and a city resident, according to video of the meeting.

"Last week we witnessed our shill of a mayor, accompanied by a couple of scantily clad bimbos, promoting an $80 admittance fee to attend the New Year's Eve festivities on Fremont Street," Hessen said.

"When I first viewed this charade, I thought Mayor Goodman and his bimbo babes were filming a commercial for Viagra."

Goodman interrupted.

"You can say whatever you want about me, but don't malign those ladies, OK? Now sit down. I've had it with you. Sit down," Goodman said, getting visibly angry.

"Do you understand that I'm allowed to speak here? This is a First Amendment right of mine," Hessen protested.

Goodman then cut off Hessen's microphone. Goodman asked a city marshal to have the man sit down.

As the man continued to stand at the podium and insist on his right to speak, Goodman said, "You may have an opportunity if you act like a gentleman. I'm not going to allow these ladies to be maligned by you."

Goodman called for anyone who wanted to talk about something other than homelessness. Hessen said something from the audience that could not be deciphered from the audio recording of the meeting.

Goodman then asked the marshals to remove the man from the room.

Hessen stood up and, pointing at Goodman, said, "If your parents had been incinerated in Auschwitz or Treblinka, you wouldn't be around to abuse the homeless. How do you like that?"

There were gasps from the audience. But Goodman calmly repeated his request to have Hessen removed and did not respond further.

Hessen could not be reached for comment this week.

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said that no matter how offensive their comments might be, people must be allowed to speak during the public comment section of the meeting.

"They're obligated to exercise more restraint in that regard," Peck said of city officials.

The ACLU plans to write a letter or address the City Council directly regarding the organization's concerns about public comment at council meetings.

Peck said the bimbo comments were foolish but should have been responded to instead of censored.

"I think the council deserves better (than Hessen's speech). I think the institution deserves better. But offensiveness is not the basis for censoring people during public comment sections of the meeting," he said.

As for those who disrupt a meeting, Peck said the city can -- and should -- evict people exhibiting such behavior.

A regular slew of gadflies and frustrated citizens who want the city to take action on some issue regularly populate the public comment portion of the meeting. Last week's meeting, for example, saw a number of homeless and their advocates there, to address the closure of Huntridge Circle Park and other homeless issues.

Hessen previously has not been a regular attendee during those portions of the meeting.

Goodman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.