McCook's city fathers managed to avoid getting scorched by the political firestorm swirling around the community's favorite son.
It took some explaining to constituents who were upset about the way their hometown hero — Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat — voted Monday to cast the crucial 60th vote in the health care debate in the Senate.
Nelson's vote happened to come on the same day that the McCook City Council voted to tweak the timing of sending payments to a sculptor for work on a bronze statue of Nelson.
Life-size bronzes depicting a teenage Nelson receiving his Boy Scout Eagle rank from his parents will be erected on the grounds of Nelson's vacant boyhood home.
Nelson is one of four Nebraska governors who either grew up or lived in McCook, a southwest Nebraska community that was the home of the state's most acclaimed politician, former U.S. Sen. George W. Norris.
Councilman Jerry Calvin said Nelson's health care vote upset and angered some constituents.
“They felt betrayed,'' he said.
He said some people had the mistaken belief that city funds were used for the sculpture.
“Not one penny of taxpayer money is involved,” Calvin said. “People were upset (with Nelson's vote), but good golly, Miss Molly, let your emotions ride and then think with a clear mind.”
Mayor Dennis Berry said some residents wanted the council to delay the sculpture project. “But we stuck to our guns, approved it and moved on.”
The council faced similar opposition several months ago when it voted to rename the local airport “McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport'' to honor the U.S. senator for his support of federal air service funding and other local initiatives.
That was before Nelson became the deciding vote on moving the health overhaul legislation ahead.
“To a few people, if you have the wrong letter behind your name,” as a Democrat or a Republican, “you're bad,'' Berry said.
The sculpture project is a gift from the McCook Foundation via the Nebraska Community Foundation.
The city acts as a pass-through agency for the funds. The agreement approved this week allows a $4,000 payment each time one of the three bronze figures is cast, instead of a $12,000 lump sum.
“We felt we needed to stress that this sculpture project was started long before Senator Nelson exercised his voting privileges (on health care) as a senator and had nothing whatsoever to do with the current situation,'' Calvin said.
“It was a donation to the community. It stresses small-town life, the Boy Scouts and what you can accomplish with your life.''
The Nelson sculpture will be titled “On my honor.''
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