Compare all five candidates on the issues, via The World-Herald's mayoral election guide.
In a five-way race for Omaha mayor, the time to develop a platform appears to have passed.
Less than three weeks before the April 2 primary, a Thursday night debate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha stood out not because of the candidates' individual messages, but for how often they targeted their opponents.
The three Republican contenders — Dave Nabity, Jean Stothert and Dan Welch — spent much of the hour-plus event attacking one another on the finer points of city police and fire contracts.
Mayor Jim Suttle, the lone Democrat in the race, rejected State Sen. Brad Ashford's calls to eliminate many state sales tax exemptions. Ashford is an independent.
Nabity, a businessman, said the mayor's efforts to bring jobs to north Omaha have been ineffective. Stothert, a City Council member, dueled with Welch on their respective records.
The discussion, moderated by local television and radio personalities and sponsored by 1290 KOIL, mostly stuck to each campaign’s primary concerns and scripts: crime, taxes and job creation.
But it was clear that the GOP candidates seek to draw contrasts with one another in what's officially a nonpartisan race — taking multiple opportunities to steer talk to controversial city labor contracts.
All of the challengers criticized tax hikes that Suttle said were necessary to balance the city's budget.
“It seems like every financial challenge that has happened in the past three and a half years has been answered with a new tax or a new fee,” Stothert said.
Suttle, Nabity and Welch each said labor negotiating powers should be returned to the Mayor's Office, rather than stay in the hands of the City Council.
“This particular fire contract that my friend Jean was the lead negotiator on is probably going to be the most expensive contract the City of Omaha has ever known,” said Welch, a former councilman.
Stothert said the contract reached by a council team and independent negotiator raised retirement ages, saved more in health care costs and put the city's police and fire pension fund on a path to solvency.
“This contract was a good contract,” she said. “If we would have rejected this contract, it would have been back to court. ... I didn't want to put the city in that position.”
Nabity said the city's work on labor contracts fails to consider agreements reached in other cities.
Suttle said the council rejected his proposed labor deal, then “plagiarized 98 percent of it, added ... additional operating costs, and called it good and shoved it back to the public.”
Candidates continued to link crime prevention efforts with job creation and economic development. Specific approaches to north Omaha's struggles with street crime varied.
Welch said crime in north Omaha is severe enough to inhibit economic development.
“We also have to look at how we can get people to jobs in other parts of the city,” he said.
“Not necessarily in the northeast part of the city, if those jobs don't exist. And that means transporting them out of the area, or opening businesses on the fringes of the area.”
That approach won't work, Suttle said.
“The model here to date has been to put the warehousing and industrial jobs down I-80 toward Gretna,” he said. “The problem is people in poverty in north Omaha can't get there.”
Nabity said north Omaha has suffered from failed efforts to create jobs, such as a security company that folded shortly after it was recruited to the area by the Suttle administration.
“I have a problem with a lot of promises to north Omaha that never get fulfilled,” he said.
Stothert, meanwhile, focused on bolstering education in economically-stressed areas of the city.
Ashford said increasing job training opportunities for young people was one of many issues on which the mayor must better partner with the Legislature.
As for crime in north Omaha, Ashford said, “It hasn't gotten any worse, but it hasn't gotten any better. It's going to take a collaborative effort to achieve these goals of reducing violence.”
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