Republican Jean Stothert vows to use her own wheels.
The Omaha mayoral candidate promised Wednesday to give up the mayor's use of a city-leased vehicle and to cut her salary and the Mayor's Office budget by 10 percent each. However, she was iffy on whether she'll give up the mayor's security detail, which has driven around Omaha's top bosses for more than three decades.
“She's saying, 'I'll just use my own car and I'll pay for the gasoline,'” said Daniel Keylin, Stothert's spokesman.
Democratic Mayor Jim Suttle's camp quickly labeled Stothert's first-day promises as “campaign rhetoric” that amounted to little in the way of overall savings.
“These aren't the savings that would be required to keep all of her campaign promises (to roll back taxes). They're not even close,” said Gary DiSilvestro, Suttle's chief campaign consultant.
Suttle and Stothert are in the final two-week stretch of this spring's mayoral election. On May 14, voters will decide whether to give Suttle a second term, or hand the reins of City Hall over to Stothert, a one-term city councilwoman.
Stothert described her promise to cut her own mayoral budget if elected as an attempt to lead by “example.” But it was also a clear attempt to poke Suttle, who was roundly criticized during his first days in office in 2009 for leasing a new Dodge Durango at an interest rate of 24 percent.
At the time, Suttle was criticized for sending mixed messages: on one hand calling for government austerity, while forgoing the use of his predecessors leased-vehicle and entering into an expensive lease deal for a new SUV hybrid.
In the wake of the controversy, the car dealership negotiated new terms with Suttle, and the city now pays $1 a year to lease the vehicle, said DiSilvestro.
Suttle is not the only mayor who has used a city-owned vehicle. In fact, since the mid-1970s, the city has furnished mayors with a car and driver. The driver is also a member of the mayor's security detail, said Buster Brown, the city clerk.
“The logic of it is that he's planning stuff, he's on the phone, going some place and he or she wants to be focused on the speech they're going to give, and not concentrate on driving,” said Brown.
Although Stothert said she would give up the city-leased vehicle, she may still have a city-paid driver.
Keylin said Stothert would like to give up the security detail, but she may be forced to keep it for security reasons. “I'm sure it will be very difficult for her to get rid of it,” said Keylin. “I think the police chief might not recommend that.”
Stothert's pledge to return part of her salary isn't a first either. Other mayors have done it, including Suttle. For the first two years he was in office, Suttle returned a mayoral salary hike that was approved before he was elected.
Stothert also promised to cut the mayoral office budget by 10 percent by freezing salaries and reducing “unnecessary and wasteful administrative spending.” The budget is about $1.1 million. Stothert's promise would save the city about $116,000.
DiSilvestro said the savings would do little to offset Stothert's promise to make it her goal to roll back three tax hikes approved by Suttle, who has argued they were needed to save the city from bankruptcy. He also said it was a far cry from the cuts proposed and implemented by Suttle over the past four years, including $800,000 in cuts to the city's Fire Department.
“This effort today — repeating things she has said before — does not make up for her lack of a plan to make her campaign pledges and the budget balance,” said DiSilvestro.
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