The field of Republican candidates vying to be Omaha mayor keeps growing.
Omaha City Councilwoman Jean Stothert announced Thursday that she'll run for mayor in 2013, making her the third Republican candidate to launch a bid for the office.
The southwest Omaha council representative announced her mayoral ambitions on her campaign website Thursday morning, shortly before making a formal announcement at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.
Former Omaha City Council President Dan Welch announced his mayoral bid Wednesday, saying he wants to help the city deal with its “monstrous problems.” Republican Dave Nabity, an Omaha businessman who led a failed effort to oust Mayor Jim Suttle from office in a 2011 recall vote, announced his candidacy last week.
“Many in Omaha want new leadership,” Stothert said at a press conference Thursday. “They want someone who will keep the promises made to them. They want someone who will give them straight talk and straight answers.”
Stothert's mayoral bid, and proven fundraising heft, signals the 2013 mayoral election will be highly competitive.
State Sen. Brad Ashford announced earlier this month that he would run. A former Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican, Ashford officially became an independent in December. Suttle, a Democrat, will also seek re-election.
Republican insiders have long figured Stothert would enter the race, though she declined to comment on her ambitions until Thursday.
Stothert's tenure has been marked in part by fierce battles with the city's fire union, since the council rejected a proposed fire contract and took over labor negotiating powers from the Mayor's Office.
Stothert serves as chairwoman of the council's labor negotiations and public works committees and also serves on the council's public safety committee.
Former Mayor Hal Daub and Council President Tom Mulligan were among local GOP notables who attended Stothert's announcement.
Stothert said she would be independent-minded, despite her political affiliations.
“Many, in fact the majority, of what I have done has not been partisan at all,” Stothert said, saying her work on labor contracts, infrastructure and public safety hasn't been motivated by partisanship.
“Those aren't Republican or Democrat issues, those are issues for all people in Omaha,” she said. “I'm here to represent all of Omaha, not just a certain faction of it.”
Stothert said her biggest policy disagreements with the Mayor's Office relate to taxes, and she hinted that fiscal issues would be a key subject during her campaign.
The city should seek additional mergers with county government or agreements to streamline spending, she said.
If elected, Stothert said, she couldn't promise to immediately repeal a controversial restaurant tax. The city must first get issues related to its health care and pension systems in order and find other efficiencies, she said.
“After we do that, then we can roll back the taxes,” Stothert said.
Both Stothert and Welch represented southwest Omaha's District 5 while serving on the City Council.
An 11-year member of the Millard Public Schools board, Stothert was elected to the City Council in 2009.
Welch was elected to the council in 2001 and re-elected in 2005, before declining to seek re-election in 2009.
Welch said the fact that he's remained out of politics for the past several years could be an advantage during his campaign.
“When you're inside, you get mired in the details and minutiae,” Welch said. “I'm removed from that. I see the error in the ways of those battles.”
As a councilman, Welch often tangled with then-Mayor Mike Fahey and the Police and Fire Departments.
The 42-year-old drew criticism from local firefighters when he endorsed reducing staffing from four to three firefighters per truck to cut city costs.
Welch said the Republicans in the mayor's race will be philosophically similar.
“It's going to come down to style and who people can believe will be a reasonable person. People want reasonable people, they don't want extremists in any way,” he said. “It's absolutely necessary if we're going to tackle these monstrous problems that we have.”
Those problems, Welch said, include the pension system for city employees, gang violence and a massive sewer project.
The city's primary election is in April, followed by the general election in May. All Omaha city offices are elected on an officially nonpartisan basis.
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