A group of prominent local Democrats, including former Mayor Mike Fahey, is sponsoring a political fundraiser for one of Mayor Jim Suttle's rivals.
In a signal that factions within Suttle's own party could abandon the incumbent, Fahey and other leading Democrats are listed as some of the 100 supporters of an Oct. 2 gathering for State Sen. Brad Ashford, a registered independent and a challenger to Suttle in next year's mayoral election.
Other Democrats listed as Ashford's fundraising sponsors include State Sen. Steve Lathrop, former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, former congressman and Building Bright Futures executive director John Cavanaugh and his brother, Douglas County Clerk Tom Cavanaugh.
Notable Republicans are listed among the event's supporters as well.
The executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party, Jim Rogers, said Suttle holds a secure position within the party despite some individuals' support for other candidates.
“It's pretty clear-cut,” Rogers said. “We'll be campaigning in earnest come the turn of the year for the municipal elections.”
Fahey supported Suttle during his 2009 campaign against Hal Daub, made another $1,000 contribution to Suttle last year and was listed as a donor to the mayor's birthday fundraiser in June.
Fahey, who served two terms before Suttle's election, told The World-Herald he lent his name to that fundraiser before Ashford announced his candidacy.
“Brad and I have been friends for almost 40 years,” Fahey said. “It's nothing against the mayor. It's a longtime friendship with Brad, that's all.”
But Paul Landow, Fahey's former chief of staff and a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Democrats could be leaving Suttle's corner in search of “stability.”
Suttle's term has been marked by a series of controversies, both before and after a failed effort to recall him from office.
“You'd have to say that they're looking for new leadership after four tumultuous years,” Landow said.
“Dislodging an incumbent is always extremely difficult, but with that said and with all the issues that have cropped up over the last four years, a strong challenger has the potential to do well,” he said.
Suttle's campaign consultant, meanwhile, said it's not unusual to see a lack of unanimous support from a candidate's party during the officially nonpartisan race.
“You can always find people within a candidate's party that won't be totally supportive or have differences of opinion,” said Gary DiSilvestro, the mayor's consultant.
“We'll be competitive. ... We're bringing in a lot of dollars right at the moment.”
Suttle's campaign chest held some $94,000 at the beginning of the year, and checks are still coming in from his birthday fundraiser. The mayor will hold his annual event with architects and engineers in the coming weeks, DiSilvestro said.
“My main point is that it's not unusual for any elected official or candidate to have people in his own party that support someone else,” he said.
Ashford said he's been able to draw a wide array of supporters through relationships he's built during his career.
“I've tried to reach out to people who I've literally worked with over the last 24, 25 years,” Ashford said. “It just happens that many of them are Republicans or many of them are Democrats.”
Republican sponsors for Ashford's fundraiser include State Sen. Abbie Cornett, former State Sens. Chris Abboud and Curt Bromm and former Nebraska GOP finance chairman and 1994 gubernatorial candidate Gene Spence.
“Our philosophy in this campaign is to reach out to Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Ashford said. “I could care less which party they're in because ideas come from everywhere.”
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Other Democrats on the list are State Sen. Steve Lathrop, former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, Douglas County Clerk Tom Cavanaugh and his brother John, a former congressman and executive director of the Building Bright Futures organization.
The event has 100 listed sponsors, including several Republicans.
Fahey supported Suttle during his 2009 campaign against Hal Daub, made another $1,000 contribution to Suttle last year and was listed as a donor to the mayor's birthday fundraiser earlier this year.
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