Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle's re-election campaign will include pledges to reduce gun violence and create jobs in northeast Omaha — a similar feel to his first mayoral bid.
About 18 months after he narrowly defeated a well-financed recall effort, Suttle faced a packed house of supporters Tuesday night and announced his plans to seek a second term.
“Our journey will continue,” Suttle said. “Just as Omaha has much to offer this country, Jim Suttle and my administration still have much to offer the City of Omaha.”
The Democrat, who turns 68 on Wednesday, held a birthday bash and fundraising event at the Old Mattress Factory in north downtown and used the occasion to announce his political plans.
“All that recall did was make me more tenacious about pulling off a victory,” Suttle told The World-Herald. “I said publicly at the time that when it was all said and done and I beat the recall that I would be a better mayor — and I think that's been exhibited in the 18 months since.”
Despite turning a year older, Suttle said, he has plenty of energy to continue working in the shark tank of local politics.
“I've always said at the outset that I'm going to stay in public office as long as my health is good, and it is. And as long as I have the drive and the belly to get the job done, and I do,” he said.
Several high-profile political figures attended Suttle's party, including Douglas County Treasurer and congressional candidate John Ewing, developer and former Mayor P.J. Morgan, restaurateur Willy Theisen, City Councilman Ben Gray and a contingent of Suttle's Cabinet members and staff.
The bash wasn't solely designed to be a celebration — people close to the mayor estimated Suttle would drum up about $200,000 in donations by the time the party was over.
That figure includes cash the mayor received prior to the event, but some donors wrote checks of $2,500 (or more) for the party.
Suttle's campaign announcement ended months of noncommittal words from the mayor about his political future. It adds the incumbent to an expanding field of candidates interested in City Hall's top chair.
State Sen. Brad Ashford, a 62-year-old lawyer, was the first to officially throw his hat into the ring for the 2013 mayoral election. Ashford, who last year changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent, announced his candidacy last week.
Several others have been mentioned as possible mayoral candidates, including City Council members Jean Stothert and Franklin Thompson, former Councilman Dan Welch and Omaha businessman Dave Nabity.
Ashford wished Suttle a happy birthday, but he said city government needed a culture shift.
“This is the most important election in 50 years,” Ashford said in an interview. “My campaign is about real reform. We need to clean the slate for our kids and grandkids.”
Omaha must rein in lavish pension plans for city employees and work to make government more efficient, he said.
“It's not about Jim Suttle. It's about what's going to happen over the next 10, 15 or 20 years,” Ashford said.
Restaurant owners and landlords played a key role in organizing the recall, and substantial funding came from a handful of business owners unhappy with the labor contracts the city has with the police and firefighter unions.
Suttle also will have to counter opposition to increased property taxes, a higher wheel tax and a 2.5 percent tax on restaurant and bar tabs.
He has defended his administration's tax increases as needed to fund city services and strengthen the city's fiscal position, including maintaining Omaha's top AAA bond rating. Suttle said building a solid financial base for the city would be his legacy.
Resolving a looming shortfall in the police and fire pension system would be a key campaign topic, Suttle said, but he added voters' “No. 1 issue” is crime and public safety.
“This gun violence is very targeted, perpetrators know who the other is. We got to put a dent in it, and we have to do it in a multiplicity of ways, but the biggest one we keep finding is jobs,” Suttle said.
“When people are working, they don't have time to dream and scheme and whatever they're going to do to go and fire a weapon at somebody.”
The city's primary election will be in April, followed by the general election in May.
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