When Ed Truemper decided to run for Omaha's District 1 City Council seat, he heard the incumbent was “unbeatable.”
And the numbers certainly appear to favor Democrat Pete Festersen.
As of March 13, Festersen's campaign had $115,000 in the bank — nearly $100,000 more than Truemper. And Festersen won the primary by a ratio of 2-to-1, even with a high Republican turnout.
Truemper, a critical care pediatrician, will face Festersen, a first-term council member, in the May 14 city election. The two are vying to represent Benson, Dundee, Florence and Westroads, mostly Democratic areas.
Festersen's résumé includes working for Mayor Mike Fahey's administration and a stint as vice president of public affairs for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. He said he's seeking re-election to continue the work he did in his first term, including advancing renovation projects in the Dundee, Benson and Florence business districts.
But going into the last few weeks before the election, Festersen is seemingly far enough ahead that people in political circles are already speculating about what he'll do in 2017. The big question is whether he's getting ready to run for mayor.
“I get asked that a lot,” Festersen said.
Festersen doesn't engage, though. He says he hasn't thought much further than this election, and he's enjoying his work with his business. But he did acknowledge that he enjoys public service and would like to continue in some capacity.
For now, Festersen faces Truemper, a Republican challenger who has never held public office.
Truemper, who moved to Omaha a decade ago, said he wants to give back to his adopted city. At first he wasn't involved in city politics at all — to the point where he didn't vote in local elections.
“I thought the city was humming along. I didn't get involved,” he said. “I wish I had.”
Two incidents brought his attention to city government.
The first was a patient, a young, obese boy with diabetes, who came in with a severe case of pneumonia. Toward the end of a two-month stint in the hospital, the boy's grandmother asked what they could do to help prevent another illness.
The doctor suggested the boy play basketball in the neighborhood, and the family refused. Surprised, Truemper asked what the problem was. Gunfire, the grandmother answered. She didn't want the boy to be shot.
“I was stunned,” Truemper said.
That opened his eyes to the realities of living in a high-crime area in Omaha.
The second was the shortfall in city firefighter and police pensions.
Truemper's priorities include budget transparency and a renewed focus on efficient services.
“In my mind, we need to get back to basics in this town,” he said.
Festersen says that after watching Dundee and Benson grow, he believes the Florence area is next. He points to his work in helping create business improvement districts and tax-increment financing in Dundee and Benson.
“A little bit of public investment brings in a lot of private investment,” he said.
He's especially proud of the Benson district, where you can hardly find an empty storefront.
“It's the hottest spot in town in terms of economic development,” Festersen said.
As a council member, Festersen took a more conservative position than some of his fellow Democrats, voting against many tax increases. He was part of the council that took bargaining power from the mayor in an attempt to rein in union contract costs.
He said he's happy with the resulting fire contract, but there are more changes he'd like to make to the contract.
His other priorities include seeing through the Crossroads Mall redevelopment and gradually adding more police officers to the streets.
Festersen said he sees his resounding primary victory as a referendum on a tough four years on the council.
“We've been through a lot of challenges in the last four years,” Festersen said. “It's been time-consuming and labor-intensive for all of us.”
Contact the writer:
Occupation: president of his business, Strategic Business Development LLC
Elected offices: Omaha City Council, 2009 to present
Education: master's degree in public administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha; bachelor's degree in history from Connecticut College
Family: wife, Paige, and two daughters, Anna and Caroline
Occupation: critical care pediatrician at Children's Hospital & Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center
Elected offices: none
Education: medical degree from the University of Mississippi; master's and bachelor's degrees in biology from the University of Mississippi
Family: wife, Mary Jane, and his son, Matthew
Q&A with the candidates
The World-Herald surveyed candidates for the Omaha City Council about their views on several issues facing their council districts. For other coverage of this and other City Council races, check omaha.com/election.
What is the single biggest challenge facing District 1?
Festersen: I believe the most important issues facing District 1 and our city are crime prevention, holding the line on taxes, and economic development. I've worked hard to be a unifying force on the City Council to help prioritize these issues, and I will continue to do so in a second term.
Truemper: Our unfunded pension liability. Not only because it puts our firefighters at risk of losing their pension in future years and saddles our taxpayers with an enormous amount of debt, there also is a lack of funding for services our neighbors should expect from the city, such as park, street and sidewalk maintenance and public safety.
What in District 1 holds the biggest potential to drive economic growth and development?
Festersen: The historic neighborhood business districts and the redevelopment of Crossroads Mall are driving economic growth and development in District 1. It has been an exciting time to be involved in the renaissance of new jobs, business development and vitality in the Dundee, Benson and Florence business districts.
Truemper: Enhancing our neighborhoods. Growing our population in District 1 will bring economic growth, because people like to shop locally. In order to enhance our neighborhoods, we must make sure to maintain the identity of the neighborhoods while enhancing infrastructure.
What are three of your policy goals for your term? Please be specific.
Festersen: Our city has faced many challenges over the last few years, but I'm proud that I kept my focus on the priorities I identified when first elected. I voted against tax increases and pushed for major pension reform. I introduced a measure that added more police on our streets and voted for new police cruisers. I renovated the Benson, Dundee and Florence neighborhood business districts and helped facilitate the redevelopment of Crossroads Mall. In a second term my top three policy goals will continue to be fighting crime, holding the line on taxes and creating new jobs to keep our neighborhoods safe and strong.
Truemper: 1. Making public safety relevant to the needs of our individual neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods have seen an increase in violent crime while others have seen an increase in property crime, theft and vandalism, and we need to address each of these appropriately. 2. Creating transparency of tax dollars for our citizens. Citizens need to be able to hold their representatives accountable, which can only happen if they are able to follow decisions from start to finish. 3. Creating and reviewing performance metrics for our departments. This includes input from our constituents as to what they need from our departments so we can continue to serve our citizens effectively.