Mayoral Forum: Focus on Crime, Jobs and Housing
Omaha, NE - Voters turned out for a meet and great and forum with the mayoral candidates at Omaha North High School Monday night. Candidates answered questions for an hour and a half. Many of the issues focused on the north Omaha community.
The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Urban League of Nebraska, 100 Black Men of Omaha, African-American Young Professionals, Omaha 360 Collaboration, and the Empowerment Network hosted the event. Questions came from members of the groups.
Each candidate received two minutes for an opening comment, and were asked to include their budget priorities and choices for potential cuts.
State Senator Brad Ashford said his main priorities are private-public partnerships in city housing, youth minority jobs, and increasing private investment in land development. His cuts include merging city and county crime labs and attorney's offices.
Businessman Dave Nabity says he plans to bring business strategy to the mayor's office. His priorities include reorganizing the permit process in the planning department and reducing crime.
Mayor Jim Suttle said there was no money coming in when he took office in 2009. He said he has stabilized the city's revenue stream with the restaurant tax, and that citizens have the services they want. He says he's pushing job creation with a new hotel and business park, and increasing modern city services.
City Council member Jean Stothert says her priority is taxpayer money and Omaha businesses. She would cut the areas that cost the city the most: employee pensions and health care costs.
Former City Council President Dan Welch says there are too many fees across the board. He would cut the restaurant tax and renegotiate police and fire union contracts. He also supports city department audits and shortening the permit process in the planning department.
Candidates were asked a series of yes or no questions, including if they would support the demolition of abandoned houses, and support new mixed-use housing in north Omaha. They were also asked if they support holding landlords accountable for properties that are not taken care of. All answered yes.
Terrie Jackson-Miller, the Executive Director of the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance asked questions regarding how to develop fair and new housing in north Omaha.
Nabity said he supports developing a business district and strategic plan for the city, promising that housing would follow. Mayor Suttle said his administration has legislation pending in the Nebraska Legislature to help deal with the thousands of abandoned houses in north Omaha.
Stothert wants to focus on working with the city's nonprofits and work with the planning department to get new leadership there.
Welch says there needs to be new policy for development, but the city needs to get private sector developers to play ball.
Ashford said he is sponsoring a bill in private investment in demolition and redevelopment, and supports developing parts of Omaha like North 24th Street.
The President of African-American Young Professionals Symone Sanders, asked the candidates questions about their plans related to investing in lowering crime.
All candidates said they support expanding Step-Up, a summer jobs program for Omaha teens. They also said they would expand re-entry efforts for released convicts.
Stothert's crime plan includes keeping kids in school, putting more police officers on the street, and standing with judges on stiffer penalties.
Welch says his crime plan includes fixing social issues like poverty, joblessness, and truancy. Ashford says he would focus on developing a truancy plan, working on juvenile justice reform, and working on a program to work with victims in hospitals to slow retaliatory violence.
Nabity says his crime plan focuses on the law-abiding residents, including bringing back a police auditor and creating community service officers who would serve as liaisons.
Suttle says Omaha is a safe city and the police department will remain focused on getting illegal guns off the street and community policing through neighborhood associations.
When asked a series of yes or no questions about job creation, all said they would invest in jobs. When asked specifically supporting the Ames/Locust Business Park, Nabity and Welch say they are hesitant on the project without seeing a business plan
All five candidates support the redevelopment plan at 24th and Lake. Nabity suggested a master plan that includes a jazz area with venues, music studios, a park, a music conservatory with Creighton and UNO, and restaurants.
Suttle said the master plan is already in place, and the vision is to tie in the history of the area from the 1940's and 50's to today.
Stothert's plan includes promoting and selling Omaha to developers and growing a stronger public private partnership.
Welch said he's not a developer, but wants the plan to attract people from the neighborhood as well as tourists.
Ashford suggested using turn-back financing to develop arts facilities from retail and other private sector businesses.
Candidates also answered questions from voters. The topics included the Omaha school district and mayoral interaction and streets and road maintenance.
All candidates finished their closing statements by pledging to work for north Omaha.