• Read more about the Omaha mayor's race at omaha.com/mayorguide.
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In their last joint appearance of the campaign, the five leading candidates for Omaha mayor seemed ready to put the grueling race behind them.
The candidates offered suggestions on better connecting neighborhood groups with city government, fixing more potholes and supporting development in the eastern half of Omaha.
But they also were interested in keeping the discussion moving, often waiving their allotted time for rebuttals to other candidates' answers. Some used the event as a last chance to push back at their rivals on hot-button issues.
The forum was hosted by the Benson-Ames Alliance and held at Goodwill Industries' headquarters at 72nd Street and Ames Avenue. Two of the candidates will advance in Tuesday's primary election. The general election is May 14.
Attorney Dan Welch used his time for introductory statements to challenge City Councilwoman Jean Stothert on her advertisements, her campaign contribution from the owner of a north Omaha property where the city plans to build an industrial park and on contributors in her earlier campaigns for other offices.
“I do apologize to all of you for not having an appropriate opening statement,” Welch told the crowd, “but it's late in the campaign and we've got to get these issues out.”
The moderator then instructed the candidates to focus on the forum questions, which drew applause from the crowd.
Issues up for discussion included the candidates' plans for improving the city's transportation system, particularly for older residents.
Mayor Jim Suttle said he's already working on a system that would coordinate the dozens of nonprofit groups' shuttles that serve the elderly.
“The issue should be, if a senior needs to get to a doctor or a dentist or even to go to the hair salon, that they can pick up their phone, punch in what they want, and there's a service,” he said.
Stothert agreed that the city needs to do a better job of working with private groups that provide transportation services, but also restructuring the flow of the overall system.
“We need better coordination with our public transportation system,” she said. “We have a lot of transportation going east and west, but not a lot going north and south.”
State Sen. Brad Ashford said the city can't rely on gas tax funds to keep its streets in good shape. To boost funding for maintenance work, he said he'd work his connections in Lincoln.
“It is a partnership with the state,” he said. “It takes going back down as mayor — I will go back down to my colleagues and twist their arms and get more cash out of it.”
Businessman Dave Nabity pushed back at Suttle's assertions that the city is doing more than it has in years to maintain city streets.
He suggested that the city might be better served by turning over some maintenance responsibilities to private groups, including neighborhood associations.
“Maybe you ought to give over the responsibility of managing the contracts to the neighborhood associations so they hold these people's feet to the fire,” Nabity said.
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