Former Mayor Mike Fahey is publicly endorsing State Sen. Brad Ashford's mayoral campaign, a potential blow to Mayor Jim Suttle that could divide local Democrats.
The endorsement was “the result of looking beyond party lines and onto what is best for Omaha,” Fahey, a Democrat and two-term mayor, wrote in a letter this week.
“Today, more than ever, Omaha needs a mayor who has the knowledge, experience, and proven ability to be effective in economic development, education, crime, housing, public safety, and state government,” Fahey wrote. “Brad's experience and accomplishments in these areas are both extensive and extraordinary.”
Ashford's campaign planned to publicize Fahey's endorsement today before distributing the three-paragraph letter to potential donors and supporters.
Fahey's full-throated support for Ashford represents a threat to Suttle's re-election campaign, although the current mayor's supporters say the endorsement is hardly a surprise.
“This is not something that's got us all atwitter over here,” Suttle campaign manager Gary DiSilvestro said.
“Each of these candidates has to run on their own records. Endorsements aren't the key to victory. They have to run on what their ideas are for the city,” DiSilvestro said.
Fahey is a proven fundraiser and highly-respected figure within the local Democratic Party. And although the race is officially nonpartisan, Democrats make up Suttle's core of support. The prominent Democrat's support of Ashford, an independent, lends credibility to the challenger and could broaden his appeal with voters.
Jim Rogers, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party and a longtime Suttle supporter, repeated Wednesday that the incumbent's support from the party is secure.
“It's a real clear-cut candidate we have to support, and Mayor Suttle has an amazing list of accomplishments he's done for the city,” Rogers said. “Ashford's been in the political scene for eons and has people on both sides of the political spectrum that have been supportive of him or good friends.”
Fahey wrote that he knew of “few people who have created or preserved more jobs in Omaha than Brad Ashford.”
“And I know of few people who have more experience or worked harder in the areas of economic development, education, public safety and the challenges confronting our inner city,” Fahey wrote.
Fahey's support for Ashford first emerged last year, when the former mayor and other leading Democrats were listed as supporters for an Ashford fundraiser. Fahey said at the time that his support was “nothing against the mayor” and that he and Ashford were longtime friends.
Before that, Fahey supported Suttle during the 2009 campaign against Hal Daub, made another $1,000 contribution to Suttle in 2011 and was listed as a donor to the mayor's birthday fundraising bash.
There has been some tension between the former mayor and his successor.
After becoming mayor, Suttle blamed Fahey's administration for Omaha's budget woes, saying he didn't know the depth of the city's fiscal problems until after his election — even though he had been on the City Council for four years.
Fahey said those comments were disappointing, but he opposed a failed effort to recall Suttle from office. Observers also have said Suttle's mayoral ambitions during his council tenure led to some friction with Fahey's office.
Fahey did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
“The mayor must also be willing to listen to the viewpoints of others, and put forth a commitment to work collaboratively with others to reach acceptable outcomes,” Fahey said in his letter.
This year's mayoral campaign already features five candidates, including City Councilwoman Jean Stothert, former council President Dan Welch and businessman Dave Nabity.
Other Democrats previously listed as Ashford's fundraising sponsors included 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.
“We're not about to burn any bridges with these folks,” DiSilvestro said of the rival campaigns' supporters. “At the end of the day, we're going to be asking for the support of a lot of people who might be supporting someone else in the primary.”
World-Herald staff writer Robynn Tysver contributed to this report.
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