Calling all former Omaha mayors: Jean Stothert wants your words of wisdom.
The Republican city councilwoman, who scored a landslide victory Tuesday over Democratic Mayor Jim Suttle, said she plans to ask four Omaha mayors to attend a mini-summit to help her prepare to take the helm June 10.
The bipartisan wish list: Democrats Mike Boyle and Mike Fahey and Republicans Hal Daub and P.J. Morgan.
“They have more than 25 years of combined service as mayor of Omaha, and I believe I can learn from them,” said Stothert.
Sothert and Suttle have agreed to meet sometime soon, perhaps as early as Friday, to talk about the transition.
Stothert made history Tuesday as the first woman elected as Omaha mayor. She trounced Suttle, earning 57 percent of the vote. She did it, in large part, by racking up votes in western Omaha. However, she also won the traditional Democratic-bastion of South Omaha and other Democratic neighborhoods such as Florence and Benson.
“My effort during this campaign was just not to secure Republican votes. I'm going to be the mayor of all of Omaha,” she said.
More election coverage from The World-Herald
• Photo gallery: Election night photos from Stothert and Suttle campaign rallies
• More coverage: Suttle: 'History will show we did the right thing'
• Full results: Check out vote totals in races for City Council, OPS board
In her victory speech Tuesday, Stothert promised to be transparent, listen well and give “straight answers” and “straight talk” to the public.
She also extended a very verbal olive branch to the Omaha firefighters and police officers, whose unions vigorously opposed her candidacy on the airwaves and in voters' mailboxes.
“There is a competitive relationship between myself and union leaders that in no way affects my admiration for your service,” Stothert said in front of about 250 of her supporters gathered at the German-American Society hall.
“If you wear a police or firefighter's badge, please know I will be honored to serve as your mayor,” she said, “and to work with you to make our community safer.”
Steve LeClair, president of the firefighters'union, said the unions and the mayor-elect would need to try to repair a fractured relationship for the good of the city.
He also congratulated her on her victory.
“She was elected by a clear decision on the part of voters. We didn't think she was the best candidate, but I do have to congratulate her,” he said. “There is a time for campaigning, and that time is over. There is a time for governing, and that time is coming now.”
“We should have a joint common goal of providing the best service to the citizens that we serve, that we all serve,” said LeClair.
LeClair and others had said they realized Suttle's re-election hopes were always an “uphill battle.”
Suttle, whose stormy term was highlighted by an unsuccessful recall attempt in 2011, accepted his defeat with grace.
He made it clear that he believes history will treat him better than Tuesday's voters.
Suttle continued to stand behind his tax increases -- which in part cost him the election saying they were needed to save the city from bankruptcy.
“History will show that we did the right thing,” Suttle said.
Besides the tax increases, Suttle was saddled by a public perception that he was either arrogant or politically tone deaf.
He stumbled several times during his term, including giving secret pay raises to his department heads. During the recall election, he had to apologize after his campaign bused homeless people to the polls.
Suttle managed to eke out wins in only two of the seven council districts. His base support came primarily in eastern Omaha, east of 72nd Street.
In the Republican western suburbs, Stothert crushed Suttle, beating him by two-to-one.
All told, Stothert took 118 of 171 precincts.
The race was always an uphill fight for Suttle, especially after the April primary when he scored a second-place finish behind Stothert.
In contrast to Suttle, who acknowledged that he wasn't a good politician, Stothert was comfortable in the public limelight.
From the moment she entered City Hall in 2009, Stothert carved out a high-profile position as Suttle's chief critic on the council. She wasted few opportunities to publicly criticize the mayor. In fact, she lambasted him a few days after he took office for leasing a red SUV at an incredibly high interest rate.
By the time she entered the mayor's race last summer, Stothert had established a political brand in Omaha as the conservative councilwoman who opposed all tax hikes and stood up to Suttle.
With high name recognition, she joined a field of widely known challengers. She came in first in a five-way primary in April, outpolling Suttle as well as Dave Nabity, State Sen. Brad Ashford and former City Councilman Dan Welch.
Stothert ran a strong campaign. She stocked her campaign staff with Republican veterans and never lacked for volunteers. She raised more than $1.1 million.
For the most part, she ran a classic challenger's campaign in which she criticized Suttle for myriad decisions while offering few details of what she would do in office.
She hammered Suttle repeatedly for the tax hikes. And she set a goal of repealing those tax hikes, without offering any details of how she planned to make good on her intentions.
“Suttle lost because he could never gain the likability or popularity that's necessary to be mayor,” said Paul Landow, a University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor and former chief of staff for former Mayor Mike Fahey.
“Stothert won because she was new and fresh,” Landow said. “And her message was, 'I'm not Jim Suttle.'”
Stothert also worked hard. She and her husband, Joe Stothert, knocked on thousands of doors, even venturing out in a snowstorm.
Even some Democrats acknowledged her high energy level.
“There is no harder campaigner working with more energy than Mayor-elect Stothert,” said Councilman Chris Jerram, a Democrat. “For those who solicited my opinions during the campaign, I was frequently quoted as saying no one will outwork her.”
Now that Stothert has the reins of power, Landow predicted that she will find it far different than being a council member. She must now make good on her campaign promises.
“Her biggest single challenge is going to be to live up to her campaign rhetoric,” Landow said. “She will have to come up with a way to do that (because) her credibility will be at stake.”
World-Herald staff writers Paul Goodsell and Juan Perez Jr. contributed to this report.
Contact the writer:
After 156 years of men in charge, Omahans have their first female mayor. She was the third major female candidate, after Brenda Council in 1994 and 1997 and Betty Abbott in 1977.
Stothert is the first mayor to call Millard home. The suburb was annexed in 1970. No one from Millard had won the mayoral race since, although Millard's namesakes, Ezra and Joseph Millard, were Omaha mayors around 1870.
Voters went west
In fact, Stothert lives farther west than any previous mayor. P.J. Morgan lived near 114th and Pacific Streets. Stothert lives near 118th and Q Streets. Most mayors in the past 40 years lived in central or eastern Omaha.
Stothert won without the support of either the fire or police union. She's the first mayoral candidate since P.J. Morgan to do that.