Why should we vote for you?

Why should we vote for you?

By Juan Perez Jr. January 16, 2013 10:25 am Comments

At Monday’s mayoral forum hosted by the Metro Omaha Property Owner’s Association, voters got a chance to hear a three-minute sales pitch from the city’s best-known mayoral candidates.

Here’s the bulk of each candidate’s response, in their own words and in the same order they delivered their comments:

City Council member Jean Stothert:

“Omaha, as you all know, it’s a great city. It has great traditions, strong commerce and it has a tremendous work ethic. And we have great institutions in Omaha; of education, of healthcare, culture, faith and philanthropy. And yet, our city faces challenges that require the best in all of us. And I truly believe with the right leadership, our best days are ahead of us. It’s gonna require a leader that … will serve as mayor to bring the people together and develop trust and have people have confidence in our city leadership. I can be that kind of a mayor. I’ve had the honor and opportunity to serve the City of Omaha for 14 years in an elected position. I have built trust for the people that I represent. People know that they can come to me, I’m available, I do my homework and I’m honest. I have calculated in the last three-and-a-half years on the Omaha City Council, I have voted over 10,000 times. And every vote I can guarantee you, I’ve studied the issue, I know what I’m voting, and I try to make the best decisions for the people that I’m representing. I know if I am mayor I will work tirelessly to include all of you in the people’s work and I want to make you all proud of our city and proud of the job that your city government does. I do want to make one comment, however, because it is something so near and dear to me that I have been working on for, as I said, over a year now, which is the fire agreement that we had. Again, this agreement was not the deal of the century. We have a lot more that we want to achieve. It was a four-year agreement, but two years of that agreement have passed. In fact, this agreement will expire the end of (2014), and we will actually be back at the negotiating table this year in (2013). But to claim that we didn’t do our financial homework is false. We worked with two different, independent actuaries. We worked with our HR department. We worked with our Finance Department. And this was a very difficult process. Sure, we would’ve liked to achieve more, but again let’s not take that position Washington D.C. is taking now, and that’s ‘if we don’t get everything let’s not do anything’. No, we made great achievements, we’re saving the taxpayers millions of dollars, and as I said before, to reject this contract for those saying let’s reject it. That’s saying let’s go back to that contract of 2004 that allowed spiking and free health care for individuals and retirement at age 45. We’ve made great accomplishments, we have a lot more to go, but in the end we’ve saved the taxpayers millions.”

Businessman Dave Nabity:

“In the back of the room is a board that lists the five priorities that I have as becoming the mayor of the City of Omaha. One: we’re going to reorganize the Planning Department and make government services better. Two: we’re going to remodel government. We’ve got to find ways to deliver government more efficiently so we can invest in the future, in the growth of the city. We’ve got to get the labor contracts under control. If I’d been mayor, they wouldn’t have had to take away the negotiating because the council would’ve been able to trust me and I also would not have passed this (fire union) labor contract. There’s no way I would’ve passed it. It took away management rights, it prevents the mayor from being able to reorganize and downsize the department if that is the most efficient thing we can do without harming public safety. It adds new staffing mandates, new paramedics. It’s expensive. And, you know, there’s been a political ping-pong match going on here, and the ball is the taxpayers. And I think it’s time for new business leadership that will know better than to rush into a labor contracts like this that have the huge economic consequences that these have. We’ve got to get our crime situation under control. We’re not going to get economic development in north Omaha and the kind of growth and jobs we need until we get the crime under control. That’ll be a key and major focus of my administration. And Omaha needs to redesign the way it operates its budget so we can invest in our growth. We need to be able to back-fill and redevelop between midtown and downtown. We need to do more on the riverfront, we need to do more to go after Olympic sports and youth sports and … grow our economy by bringing in visitor traffic for conventions. We’ve gotta do all that, we can’t do that when all of our money gets burned up in pensions and payroll. We just can’t do it. So that will be my commitment, you’ll see that on the board in the back. I need your help. I need your volunteering, I need you to help me financially … and the last thing I want to tell you is don’t vote for anybody who’s been elected to public office.”

State Sen. Brad Ashford:

“During my career I’ve been asked to be involved in many different things and part of it was government. When I first was elected to office in 1986, the city was losing corporate presence, ConAgra was about ready to leave the city, we passed LB775. We passed LB775, it kept ConAgra here, kept (Union Pacific) here, brought new business to Nebraska. We’ve created hundreds of thosands of jobs in this state because of that legislation. And we did it because we brought people together within three months to pass a bill with (Former Neb. Gov.) Kay Orr and the Legislature that made a huge difference. It saved our state, it saved our economy in many respects. It was very, very important. I was asked … to be part of the initial MECA board because we wanted to get back to the river. We wanted to get back to the river because, quite frankly, what we were dealing with was an old smelting plant. You couldn’t walk down there. I used to jog down by the UP yards when they were vacant, and the odors would emanate from the ground. It was tough, it was tough. And I was asked to be on that original board, we went around the city and we said ‘do you want us to get back to the river, do you want us to build a convention center and arena?’ I worked for 10 or 15 years on the Old Market development, the very beginning of the Old Market. When the Old Market was all there was in retail, all there was in business activity in Omaha for many, many years. I was asked to be involved in those things. I was honored to be involved in those things. We brought the Qwest Center in on time and on budget … It has transformed our city. It was a team effort, but I was very, very proud to be a part of that team. Very, very proud to be a part of that team. The (Omaha) Housing Authority was in difficult trouble when I was asked to get invovled in the housing authority. We had a federal order, mandate to build, put 300 units online within three years and we didn’t have the money to do it. So we went to the private sector, we went to the private investors, we went to the landlords and we said ‘help me get this done.’ And Oct. 1, 2006, the date the mandate required us to have those 300 units online … (a judge) dismissed the lawsuit, because we succeeded. We didn’t succeed because of me, we succeeded because of the team. We succeeded because we brought people together, collaboratively to make a difference and to do something that was meaningful for Omaha. We can do so much better in housing. We can do so much better in education. It is the mayor’s role to bring people together to work with the City Council, and on those contracts, they did as good a job as they could do. They really did. It’s tough work to do a labor contract. I used to negotiate them all the time. It’s very, very tough, and they deserve credit. The mayor deserves credit, the City Council deserves credit. But what we have to do – like we do in the Legislature, in the Unicameral, non-partisan Legislature — we need to find solutions in the center. Not on positional polls. And as mayor, that’s what I will pledge to you that I would do. I would take it on like any other project I’ve been asked to go over the last 25 years.”

Former council member Dan Welch:

“Omaha is a great city. And I am thrilled to be an Omahan. I’m thrilled to have a family that’s resided in this town for a very, very long time. But we do have problems, and we’ve gotta take those problems head on. I feel for too long we’ve been nibbling around the edges on our major issues, with regard to the killings and gang violence in northeast Omaha, with regard to our police and fire contracts and pensions, with regard to the sewer mandate that is just now at $3 billion. And we need a mayor who’s willing to get in there and say no. It’s time to turn it around. I have to respectfully disagree with you, Councilwoman Stothert and with you, Mr. Mayor. I don’t think we’ve seen reform. If that’s what you think reform looks like, we have a difference in opinion. I do think Omaha can do better, and I think I’m uniquely situated to take Omaha to the next level, to solve these problems. I have a small business, I’ve been a small business owner for 15 years. I’m an attorney and my legal training I think is going to help me with regard to negotiating these contracts. I can tell you back in 2003, when I originally read this contract, there weren’t a whole lot of people that were complaining about it. When I saw it, I was shocked. It was that bad. And with regard to the two contracts we have now with police and fire, I would’ve opposed those as well. Those aren’t fair for the taxpayers. They simply aren’t. I also am not happy about a new restaurant tax. I’m not happy about our increases in property tax and wheel tax and fees. I think our city is over-regulated. And these problems could all be solved, and will be solved. More than anything else, I can tell you this: I have the passion to do this job, and maybe most importantly, I have the political will to get this done. I will bring civility back to City Hall. And I will work with all people to acheive our shared goal of a greater, growing Omaha.”

Mayor Jim Suttle:

“I was at a reception about two years ago when someone said to me, to my face, ‘Suttle, what’s going to be your legacy for the city? Hal Daub had the Qwest Center, now the CenturyLink, Mayor Fahey built the new ball stadium, what are you going to build and put your name on it?’ And I stopped smiling, and I thought a minute and it hit me … I said, ‘my legacy to the city is to put the financial house in order and to put the principles in stone that will be followed for decades so it never happens again.’ That is the Suttle legacy to you, the citizens, the taxpayer-investors of this great city. We have that simple equation working that I referenced earlier, that you do every day: revenue, it must be a stable stream, minus those expenses which must be managed and controlled, should always be a positive number. That’s my legacy as your mayor. But something else happened on the road to the forum. I had no idea that I would be fighting a 104-day historic flood. That’s the second legacy I leave you with in this city. You see the plan I had modernized in the third level of the City Hall for our emergency operations. I had homeland security in mind at the time, but it’s the same plan we follow for blizzards or tornadoes and floods. That was upgraded some one-and-a-half years prior to the event, so when the (Army Corps of Engineers) told us we were going through the flood stages, I knew as an engineer what was going to happen and three things that were going to pressure our city. That plan went into effect within hours. And as I look back at some of the scary moments we had … where we nearly lost our city, my administration because of this aggressive appraoch, saved this city millions and billions of dollars in assets, thousands of jobs, 12,000 homes that were in the path of the waters if it came down from north of the airport. But because I’m a stickler for details, also in that plan is the accounting side. I’ve worked too long with the federal government and military and New York City and others, we spent $31.6 million, we will get all of that money back from the insurance and from FEMA, except for $1.6 million, which is the burden on you and I as taxpayers. That’s leadership. That’s what I do as a mayor. That’s what I will continue to do in the second term.”