The World-Herald surveyed Omaha City Council candidates about their views on several issues facing their council districts. For other coverage of this and other City Council races, click here.
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Even though incumbent Chris Jerram was embroiled in a high-profile controversy less than two months ago, the Omaha City Council's District 3 race doesn't exactly have the makings of a knock-down, drag-out fight.
On St. Patrick's Day, Jerram was photographed grinning as he held up a T-shirt that depicted fellow council member and mayoral candidate Jean Stothert as a stripper on a pole. Some called for his resignation.
But two weeks later, voters in the heavily Democratic district voted more than 2-to-1 in favor of the first-term councilman and former Douglas County Democratic Party chairman.
Still, his opponent, Republican JR Jasso, was heartened by the results. When the video producer in Creighton University's marketing department saw that he had gotten 32 percent of the primary vote, “I was on cloud nine,” he said.
He said he decided then that he could make up the difference. That 2,000 people had voted for him, he said, fueled his fire to keep going in an uphill race.
Jasso is new to politics. Although he's lived in the Omaha area all his life, the 52-year-old Jasso first showed up on voter registration rolls in 2006, according to the Douglas County Election Commissioner's Office.
Over that span, Jasso's political allegiances have shifted. In 2008 and 2009 he voted as a registered Democrat. But during President Barack Obama's first term, he said, he had a change of heart.
“I just became disillusioned with the Democratic Party,” he said. “Each of us have an opportunity to bring something to the table. I just felt like there were too many things being given away. People have to pick themselves up by the bootstraps.”
Over the past several decades, Jasso has been the target of more than a dozen civil court cases over unpaid debts. He's had his wages garnisheed as he's worked to pay back what he said were mostly medical bills for himself and family members.
The last of the debts was settled late last year, he said.
“I'm like a lot of citizens. You run into debt,” he said. “I won't apologize for having been, I won't say poor, but not having earned enough to cover everything. I've learned to be responsible when it comes to money now.”
He said he intends to cut taxes if elected. Talking about tax increases with his elderly neighbors led him to run, he said. He also said he wants to reduce crime and overhaul the fire union contract, which he said is too generous.
Jasso has yet to raise the $5,000 that would require him to disclose the names of his donors or how he's spending his campaign funds.
Jerram, meanwhile, has raised more than $28,000 from donors including philanthropists Dick Holland and Mike Yanney. His campaign sits on nearly $72,000.
In his first term, Jerram demonstrated a willingness to think outside the box to solve problems — sometimes with disregard for political fallout.
Just months after he was elected, the city faced a budget crunch. In an effort to close the gap, Jerram recommended a tax on satellite TV dishes.
The idea was loudly derided, and eventually the council approved a property tax increase instead. But it was just one example of Jerram's approach to solving the budget crises the city has faced over the past four years.
He was also one of the leaders in the battle over the 2011 city budget, when he successfully identified numerous cuts that allowed the council to pass smaller versions of taxes originally proposed by Mayor Jim Suttle.
“Had we not done what we did, we'd be like Vallejo, Sacramento, Scranton and all those other cities that went into municipal bankruptcy,” he said. “I'm very proud of the work we did.”
He's proud of his part in creating Heartland Workforce Solutions, a nonprofit that serves as a one-stop shop to help low-income residents find and qualify for employment.
Jerram said he looks forward to continuing his work on economic development. A construction plan along 16th Street and some work along Farnam Street west of Midtown Crossing should build upon the work that's already started in the area, he said.
Jerram gets excited when he talks about redevelopment. He said it involves many of the same skills he uses in law: Solving complex problems and connecting different interests so that everyone wins.
As for the T-shirt incident, Jerram apologized to Stothert, and said he has learned from his mistake.
“You have to remember even in a jovial, loose setting like St. Patrick's Day, you are who you are,” he said. “Don't lose sight of it. Providing a good example is paramount.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-3144, email@example.com
Meet the candidates
Public offices held: City Council, 2009-present
Education: law degree, Creighton University; bachelor's from Ohio Wesleyan University
Family: married, two children
Occupation: video producer at Creighton University
Public offices held: none
Education: bachelor's of journalism, Creighton University
Family: three children
Q&A with the candidates
What is the single biggest challenge facing District 3?
Jasso: I hear time and time again 'Stop with all the taxes!' The people of my district are being asked to continually share a larger burden of debt. However, it is a burden we can lessen if we do things in a more efficient way at City Hall. If we get the unfunded pension liability under control as well as provide efficient and effective city services, as a city we can grow and thus spread the tax burden to more people and lessen it for each of us.
Jerram: Maintaining my commitment to keeping our neighborhoods safe and committing the resources necessary to do so.
What in District 3 holds the biggest potential to drive economic growth and development?
Jasso: Midtown and Aksarben have been viewed as benchmarks for economic growth and development. Within those two developments, small businesses are the pistons that keep the engine moving. When people feel comfortable at these venues, they return time and time again and bring others with them.
Jerram: We need to expand outward on the successes in my first term with urban renewal, development and infill projects in downtown, Little Italy, Midtown Crossing, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Aksarben Village.
What are three of your policy goals for your term? Please be specific.
Jasso: I will listen to the issues and concerns of the people not only in my district but to all the citizens of Omaha. I will think creatively yet realistically. One high yet reasonable expectation as a council is to get the pension issue under control. Public safety is essential not only to keep citizens in Omaha, but also to attract more people and businesses.
Jerram: A) Continuing my commitment to public safety by adding police officers and improved policing technologies like we have implemented during my first term.
B) Continuing to recruit and work with investors and developers to invest in mixed-use developments throughout the district, creating new housing, urban infill and jobs.
C) Identifying and implementing methods to make our government more efficient.