*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Jasmine Harris’ initials as JS. They have been corrected to JH.

These stories are in-depth profiles of four of the five candidates running for mayor of Omaha. A representative for Jean Stothert said the incumbent mayor was unavailable for an interview. For coverage of other races check out The Reader’s 2021 city election hub.

Kimara Snipes

Omaha mayoral candidate Kimara Snipes.

Kimara Snipes doesn’t need to be told what she’s up against.

The lifelong South Omahan, president of the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance and member of the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education knows there’s plenty of cards stacked against her in the race for mayor.

Incumbent Jean Stothert’s campaign has raised well over half a million dollars. That’s more than any of her opponents and definitely more than Snipes who’d raised a little under $40,000 by March 22, according to public campaign finance filings.

While her opponents have offices and staffs, Snipes rents a conference room inside a Scooter’s Coffee on North 30th St. and Ames Ave. When her car broke down briefly she took the bus to canvas door to door.

But Snipes doesn’t get caught up in that.

“This is bigger than just the Omaha mayoral race,” she said. “I’m sorry but people [in North and South Omaha] are looking at us. So we have to lead by example through all of this and show people that this is really possible. And we really can take this city, and push it forward. And you don’t have to come from West Omaha to do it.”

Twenty-twenty brought a pandemic that challenged the world in unprecedented ways. Protests for racial and social justice shined a harsh light on stubborn disparities. People demanded solutions. Snipes feels like she’s the person to implement them.

Snipes said Jean Stothert is currently running Omaha like a 20th-century city. To push Omaha forward, it’s going to need 21st century solutions.

Issues that are top of mind for Snipes include ensuring access to affordable housing, improving police-community relationships and creating more job opportunities.

Snipes, like many other candidates, acknowledged we are in an affordable housing crisis that’s contributing to unemployment, lower school performance and lower life expectancies. She said her experience in job training as well as with governing OPS, which she points out has a larger budget than the city’s general fund, equips her with unique skills to fill labor shortages. But she also said Omaha needs to attract more big employers to fill gaps left by Fortune 500s that exited the city in recent years.

This last year has also shown while the city touts its success in lowering crime rates and improving police transparency, many aren’t satisfied. As a neighborhood leader, Snipes said she wants to connect communities with the police. She said Omaha needs to update police practices and look at how the city can spend money to address root causes of crime, though she’s not in favor of outright defunding the Omaha Police Department.

But, Snipes said, none of those issues can be addressed without taking on racial division and inequity in Omaha.

“This tale of three cities, [West, North and South Omaha], is something that has to stop and the first step is really listening and understanding what the different needs of these different parts of the city are,” she said. “And then the mayor has directors of different departments that have commissions and boards. You have to be intentional with those, you have to make sure that all people are represented in that you have to make sure that the leadership is diverse enough to where everyone is represented.”

Snipes said not enough has been done by this current administration, nor others in the past, to break down the barriers creating disparate outcomes and qualities of life between different areas of the city.

These issues are personal to Snipes. While politics have been a part of her life since Snipes’ family started electing internal leadership in 1981, she didn’t have money or the political pedigree when she started running the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance or serving on the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education.

“There’s power in being civically engaged and knowledgeable,” Snipes told The Reader in November. “That’s why I was able to be in poverty and still be out here and be someone considered to be a leader and a decision maker. You can be broke as hell and still do your thing, but people don’t realize that.”

A ballot box outside the Charles B. Washington branch of the Omaha Public Library on the morning of Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Chris Bowling

Representation also matters. While Snipes said she doesn’t want votes just because she’s Black, she knows firsthand what it means to see someone like you swinging for the political fences.

In the ‘90s she helped canvas for Brenda Council, who ran for mayor in ‘94 and ‘97 and lost by narrow margins. People come out when they see opportunity, she said, which is why politicos can’t look at traditional voter turnout records or who’s raised the most money to predict results. This election could activate a group of voters who’ve been disenfranchised by the system. 

Already surprising things are happening. Snipes’ campaign is being run by Gary Di Silvestro, the campaign manager for Omaha’s last Democratic Mayor, Jim Suttle. Snipes also has secured endorsements from Democratic heavyweights like two-time Congressional candidate Kara Eastman and her one-time challenger Ann Ashford.

Now all she hopes is that when election day comes, the results send a message that East Omaha is here and demanding to be heard.

Mark Gudgel

Omaha mayoral candidate Mark Gudgel.

Mark Gudgel wasn’t looking for a position to hold. The Omaha North High School teacher said his decision to run for mayor was born out of necessity.

In 2020, he watched as protesters filled the streets and COVID-19 swept through neighborhoods. Mayor Jean Stothert and the rest of Omaha’s local government officials sat on their hands, he said, hanging back when the city needed real leadership.

Gudgel thinks the city is done with mayors who uphold the status quo. Instead they need someone who has bold ideas to bring Omaha out of the economic rut caused by COVID-19 and propel it into an equitable, sustainable and successful future.

“It’s just that this city is so badly run,” Gudgel said. “And the more I articulated my vision for what we could and should do to make it a better place to live, the more people continued to encourage me.”

Originally from Valentine, Nebraska, Gudgel’s called Omaha home since 2014, when he accepted a job teaching English at Omaha North. Before that he taught in Lincoln where he also co-founded the nonprofit Educators’ Institute for Human Rights which aided teachers in Rawanda as the country recovered from genocide.

Since moving to Omaha, Gudgel said it’s been apparent that leadership isn’t creating real change, but rather upholding the status quo. As time went on, his ideas for ways the city could improve stacked up. And then things came to a head this summer. Gudgel said the specific moment he knew for sure he’d campaign came the night of July 25 when 120 people were arrested on the Farnam Street bridge over Highway 75

“I was just enraged by that,” he said. “I’d already decided to run at that point but I hadn’t announced [my candidacy] and so if there was any doubt that certainly did away with it. This city needs new leadership.”

About 50 people wait for arrested protesters to exit the Douglas County Department of Corrections on July 26, 2020.

Moving forward, Gudgel said there are going to be a lot of wounds to mend. He hopes to be the mayor people see riding the bus to work or possibly, one day, the mayor whose hotline goes straight to his cellphone. But healing also comes with the recognition that Omaha is not an equal playing field for all.

Some of Gudgel’s key policy proposals include the Omaha Promise which would guarantee all local high school graduates up to $8,000 in college tuition per year and $32,000 total. Gudgel said he would work with local colleges to build partnerships for the Omaha Promise, which would be funded through donations and grants awarded to a private board chaired by the mayor. In addition, recognizing that Omaha is in an affordable housing crisis will be a key issue that his diverse team of advisors would be set on solving.

“You know when it comes to matters of race, equity and social justice, there’s no more room for patience,” he said. “And so one of the things that I’m committed to is that on day one, you’re gonna see in my administration, no matter who you are, you’ll be able to look at my cabinet and see someone that reminds you of you looking back at you.”

Gudgel also sees promise in upping public transit. According to Gudgel, increasing the frequency of bus routes, adding ORBT routes and making Omaha more walkable as well as bikeable can all increase connectivity. Gudgel said if he wanted to take the bus from his home in the Field Club neighborhood to Omaha North, it’d take three times longer than driving. If people aren’t able to afford a car, it severely affects what types of jobs are available to them.

Gudgel also promises to focus on updating the city’s sustainability plan, which he said is leagues behind cities like Lincoln, and advocating for marijuana legalization at the state level as well as further decriminalization at the local level. Finding better methods to fix roads, developing an LGBTQIA+ bill of rights and moving local elections to fall in line with national elections are also part of his platform.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for the political outsider. He experienced controversy when comments made by Steven Bonnell, a contributor and canvassing organizer helping Gudgel’s campaign, drew attention for advocating violence toward protesters in a Twitch stream. Gudgel cut ties with Bonnell saying he knew Bonnell, who goes by Destiny online, to be controversial, but didn’t know he’d made such comments. 

Like other challengers to current Mayor Jean Stothert, Gudgel will likely have to earn a spot with comparatively little cash on hand. As of the beginning of March, Gudgel had raised a little under $60,000, putting his funds close to those of Jasmine Harris and Kimara Snipes. And while mayoral candidate RJ Neary had raised about $250,000, Jean Stohtert had raised double even that.

But also like other candidates Gudgel said there are currents moving through this race that are bigger than who has more money. Many people in Omaha are tired of how this city’s been run, Gudgel said. They want someone who has a bold, new vision that can get the city back on the right track.

Jasmine Harris

Omaha mayoral candidate Jasmine Harris.

There was no turning point in Jasmine Harris’ decision to run for mayor of Omaha. The nonprofit leader has spent her life focusing on social inequities. For years it’s felt like Omaha’s continued re-diagnosing the same problem and coming back with the same solutions.

In 2020, many in the city expressed their frustration with the cycle. Harris is fed up too.

“I don’t think it was a moment. I think it was the conglomeration of everything,” she said. “We continue to address the same things over and over, and it’s like when, when is there going to be any improvement?”

Though she’s never held political office, Harris touts her experience advocating for local and state policy with RISE, a prison reentry program, and history working toward solutions to public health issues such as substance abuse and other societal ills that perpetuate poverty. As a nonprofit leader and community advocate, she’s acutely aware of how badly the city needs to address issues like criminal justice reform, the need for an updated transit plan and access to safe, affordable housing.

Like so many problems in Omaha highlighted by COVID-19 and demonstrations in the summer of 2020, these and many other issues Harris outlines aren’t new.

Rather city leadership has either shied from bold change, she said, or continued practicing policy that maintains significantly different outcomes for people depending on where they live in the city.

Among some of the bold changes Harris is proposing is to increase transparency of the Omaha Police Department. In her plan, she calls for Omaha to join the Police Data Initiative, reinstate the city’s public safety auditor and revamp its citizen complaint review board. 

In Harris’ mind, defunding the police is about restructuring law enforcement to work for their communities. Her plan would also earmark funds to prioritize preventative services including a pilot network of community-run anti-violence groups.

“I am a preventionist by training,” she said. “With public health it’s all about prevention, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure … We have got to start going upstream and looking at why people are even having to call the police. What are those underlying causes, and how can we prevent [the city] from having to spend this much money on treatment?”

Photo illustration by Chris Bowling.

And while these issues might connect more to an East Omaha audience, where policing and crime is more actively discussed, Harris said to move forward the city needs to get connected across all neighborhoods.

ORBT was a good first step toward faster, connected public transit, but it’s not serving everyone. North and South Omaha are still disconnected from frequent, reliable and fast transportation. Harris said as mayor she would increase opportunities for walking and biking in Omaha while also advocating for a light rail system.

“Outside of the introduction of ORBT, [Omaha’s transit system] operates the same way it did when I was in junior high school,” she said. “And that was in the early ‘90s … So seeing ORBT come in, you know, great idea. Many other cities are doing it, [but] I think we missed the mark putting it on Dodge. It should have been actually accessible for the majority of people who are bus riders.”

For Omaha to be successful, Harris said, its disparate communities and neighborhoods are going to have to work together. By addressing the city’s social and structural inequities, she hopes Omaha can spur economic growth. Harris said Omaha’s been hammered by the loss of Fortune 500 companies. The future will depend on empowering small businesses, raising pay to a livable wage and thinking outside the box in terms of workforce development.

The gravity of what her race and possible victory means in terms of representation isn’t lost on Harris either. When she considered running, she called Brenda Council, Omaha’s first Black woman city council member who ran for mayor twice in the ‘90s and lost by narrow margins.

Omaha’s still never elected a Black mayor, let alone a Black woman mayor, but Harris hopes this year will be different.

Even if she doesn’t win, the message her running sends can still have an impact. Like watching Council stick up for Black and brown residents before her, Harris hopes her run and messaging show people things can change if the right candidate is in place and their vision is exciting enough to bring people to the polls.

“I think [representation] means a lot,” Harris said. “I think it means that people see it doesn’t matter where you came from, doesn’t matter your background. It matters what you’re doing in the moment to try and make things better and make things right. And that’s who I am. It’s just being authentic in that sense and showing up as me fully.”

RJ Neary

Omaha mayoral candidate RJ Neary.

RJ Neary remembers what it was like growing up here. The lifelong Omahan and real estate broker recalls playing pickup baseball in Dundee after moving to Omaha from a small farm in Iowa. Then and now it seemed like Omaha was the best place in the world to grow up and raise a family.

Neary still believes that’s true, but Omaha has to reckon with some serious issues if it wants to keep that dream alive for years to come.

“I think I have a vision for Omaha and a perspective that’s unique,” he said. “And I think I can get it done. I’ve got big ideas for it. I’m gonna worry about the next generation, not the next election.”

Neary grew up in Omaha, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and then moved back to his hometown to start and run a bar for four years. He soon joined Investors Realty in 1985 and has been there ever since.

The Omahan said he decided to run because the city is falling behind. Twenty-twenty shined a glaring light on systemic inequities. Meanwhile the city had a meek response to issues like climate change, infrastructure and keeping talented, smart Nebraskans from looking for educational and career opportunities out of state.

As someone who has a history of working across the city, Neary said he’s the candidate best suited to building large coalitions and uniting people across divisive lines. And with four other candidates opposing Jean Stothert, many mirroring similar campaign promises, there’s a necessity to separating himself from the pack.

On his list of endorsements he sports Republican and Democrat past mayors as well as federal and local representatives. He’s also been able to out-raise his opponents by a large margin, gathering nearly $250,000 by March 22—still a long shot from incumbent mayor Jean Stothert’s nearly $600,000 coffer.

But like many other candidates, Neary is confident his campaign and platforms will resonate this cycle. Leadership needs to take care of people’s basic needs like trash and infrastructure, but for Omaha to succeed it really needs an advocate that’s going to lead the city to a bright future.

“I’m a big Omaha cheerleader,” he said. “I drive people around and show them Omaha … take them in different buildings and projects. I’m the number one tour guide.”

Selling that optimistic, excited vision of Omaha will be key to bringing in new businesses and building neighborhoods young people want to live in. That can’t be done without acknowledging that there are some key factors holding Omaha back—namely, racial and social inequities.

Neary said he wants to build a four-year plan to make sure city services are being received equitably. He’d also appoint the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager to a cabinet-level position where they’d advise all decisions and report on the city’s progress toward serving people of all races, sexual orientations and other backgrounds equally.

On policing, Neary supports reforming some police tactics as well as building better community relations. He’d invest more in P.A.C.E. (Police Athletics for Community Engagement), which connects officers and at-risk kids through community sports programs, while looking into trauma-based crime prevention as well as sending social services to non-violent 911 calls rather than police.

From there, he’d like to put a lot of power in the hands of younger generations. That includes making it easier to build “creative neighborhoods” where startups, restaurants, local retail and new apartments concentrate. It would also mean offering $5,000 to $10,000 grants to people from bigger cities like Los Angeles, New York or San Francisco to relocate here.

Neary might have an uphill battle against some, specifically in East Omaha, who’ve come to associate development with rising rents and other signs of gentrification. But Neary doesn’t see it that way.

“I think it’s the opposite of gentrification. [We’d be] dealing with what we’ve got, but making [it] usable,” he said. “Let’s create jobs in the neighborhood, let’s do it in the next couple years, not 10 or 20. Paint matters. Let’s make sure the neighborhood feels right. It’s often the first gallon of paint in the first broken window that can turn things around.”

Ultimately, Neary said, it comes down to Omaha being at a crucial point of deciding what kind of city it wants to be. For Neary who has years of experience developing and planning the physical makeup of the metro area, it feels like apropos timing.

“I’ve seen how things work. And there’s a whole army of companies like mine, and engineers and attorneys, making sure there’s new neighborhoods,” Neary said. “There’s forgotten people and forgotten neighborhoods. We’ve done a lot of things right in Omaha, but there are some things we need to correct. And when I’m knocking on doors, people want a more fair, more equitable [Omaha]. That’s what they’re telling me all over the city.”

***

Read how each candidate answered our questionnaire

What would you consider the city of Omaha’s number one problem that we need to address within the next year? What about a larger problem we need to solve in the next 10 years?

Kimara Snipes: We face an escalating rate of growth in violent crime.  We must restore the public trust damaged during justice demonstrations last summer if Omahans and police respond as one in preventing and solving crimes.  An immediate issue that will be a crisis in 10 years if we do not act now with intent is the critical shortage of affordable housing in Omaha.

Mark Gudgel: In the next year, we need to find our way safely out of this pandemic together. In the next ten years, we need to end brain drain or this will be a ghost town.

Jasmine Harris: Omaha is not working equitably for all of its residents. People in our city are struggling with the same challenges I faced two decades ago as a single mother, and our community is at a tipping point. We are in a fight for our lives and our city’s future – one where our families, communities, and neighborhoods have equitable access to the resources they need to thrive. Creating equitable access to opportunity and civic participation means we can work together to create a city with liveable wages, a region-wide public transportation, improved green infrastructure, and safe, accessible and affordable housing. When everyday people are included in the decision-making process, we get tangible solutions that resolve the real root causes of our community’s challenges.

RJ Neary: Within the next year we need to address our city’s recovery from the Covid pandemic, especially the impact on restaurants and other small businesses. Longer term, we need to address climate change and start to implement a climate action plan. 

What solutions are you proposing to fix those problems that your fellow candidates are not?

KS: Omaha should become a 21st Century city, but we can’t get there if we continue to settle for 20th Century politics.  I will draw on my experience to invite leaders from the private and public sectors – business, labor, education and the faith community – to serve on a 21st Century Omaha Advisory Panel (21-COAP) in the Mayor’s office.  We would fundamentally change the way we approach innovation and City services.  This would include initiatives like a complete streets program to broaden our planning to seek equity for all modes of transportation, and efforts to expand wi-fi access in Omaha.  It would also include a review to ensure the city is pro-active in supporting small business growth and development and working with the Chamber and others to recruit new and better jobs, particularly in the high tech economy, reversing the trend of Fortune 500 jobs leaving Omaha.

MG: re: pandemic—To me that means public information campaigns, assisting in facilitating the distribution of vaccines, strict enforcement of mask mandates in public until every person has been vaccinated, support for businesses and their employees, and taking our cues from the experts at UNMC until we all get through this together.

re: brain drain—Conagra is gone. TDA is gone. Kiewitt just built their new 1100 person facility in Colorado. There have to be employment opportunities in this city. There also has to be better public transportation, a commitment to fighting the effects of climate change, and incentives like my “Omaha Promise” policy that offers free college tuition to young people. I did a Zoom with some young folks from Omaha the other day, and two were in college. They were in California and Illinois. I heard it said recently that Omaha’s number one export is talented young professionals. If we don’t get a grip on this problem immediately, this city won’t be worth living in ten years from now.

JH: Unlike most of my opponents, I’ve lived and persevered through many of the challenges that everyday people in our city are facing. I know what it’s like to feel as though this city is working against you. I’m proposing that we equitably invest in neighborhoods across our city with development plans similar to what we’ve seen in Midtown and Blackstone. I will advocate for creatives, small businesses, and entrepreneurs by creating a resource network that caters to their growth and development, specifically prioritizing those from impacted communities. It is also critical that we address the root causes of why people come in contact with law enforcement, and work to meet those needs to the best of our ability.

RJ: While I don’t want to comment on other candidates, the fact is that we’ve seen mostly inaction on climate from the incumbent and a lack of leadership on Covid recovery.
 
My climate action plan will call for the following 10 major deliverables:
Identify and report on all major Climate Risks to our CityProvide a Strategic Climate Vision of actual emissions targets and outcomesReducing waste at all levels of city governmentIncreasing the use of natural climate solutionsEnsuring the creation and implementation of resilient local food systemsMake sure that economic and environmental goals are aligned at all levelsTransition to Low-carbon energyDeploy decarbonized and efficient transportation system Ensure that environmental protection for Omaha residents is equitableThrough community conversation strategies, engage residents in making our climate action plan a reality 

My Covid Reset plan calls for us to:
Appoint a pandemic czar who will provide key metrics for Omaha’s COVID recovery and coordinate with UNMC, federal government, public health officials, academic institutions, employers, and other key stakeholders to provide all Omahan’s with access to resources for COVID-19 recovery Reallocate 5% of the restaurant tax into the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote Omaha attractions for 2 years up to $4,000,000.00 Advocate from the mayor’s office for any and all future stimulus funding to include cities of Omaha’s size to the direct city funding criteria, and allocate the funds properly to local businesses and toward rent and utility relief programs Develop a small business recovery task force that will build a city-led partnership between Greater Omaha Chamber, Omaha financial institutions, and Omaha’s commercial property landlords that will support the growth of  local restaurants, start-ups theaters, mom and pop shops, etc., are not left behind and are able to thrive in 2021 and beyond


How would you describe Omaha government’s current and historic approach to racial, social, and geographic equity?

KS: We do not have a great equity record compared to the ideal, but not even when compared to comparable cities.  Our people are better than this, but our local government lags behind the public on these issues.  There is despair, unemployment and underemployment, an affordable housing crisis, lack of a complete streets initiative on transportation.  Most important, there has been serious damage done in police-community relations and the Mayor should be a leader who can restore that trust. Accountability, transparency, and reform shouldn’t come by subjecting taxpayers to a losing lawsuit, it should come from strong and competent leadership.

MG: Deliberately destructive. I mean, we know when and why the Doubletree hotel was built. We know when and why 480 was built. I subscribe to the teachings of Ibram X Kendi in believing that the only way to fight racist policy is with antiracist policy. There is no “not racist” category. Either you’re part of the problem or the solution. We need to pump time, energy, and resources into North and South Omaha, to fight for equity in those places that the city’s past policies have rendered disadvantaged. We need to respond to that deliberate racism with deliberate anti-racist policy.

JH: Omaha suffers from the lasting effects of the same inequitable policies as every city across America, including redlining, concentrated poverty, overcriminalization of BIPOC residents, and underfunded public schools. Our city leadership hasn’t done enough to address the roots of these issues that still hold back and disenfranchise people today. While some of my opponents believe that the answer to this is to funnel more money into large corporations and downtown development, I believe that we need to connect our city and restore our vibrant neighborhoods to the North and South.

RJ: Omaha is a great city but struggles with inequity. Racial inequities have been embedded in housing and the economy long before COVID-19, although COVID has made the situation even more challenging. Redlining, racialized zoning, segregation, predatory lending and exclusions in federal programs (and carried out locally) are examples of public policies that have produced the racial disparities that permeate housing and economic policy in Omaha today. While Omaha has made some strides forward, the fact is that we continue to be segregated and outcomes are determined more by zip codes than by merit. 

Where do you most see inequities appearing? (For example, criminal justice, access to housing, commercial development…)

KS: The only answer to this question is “yes.”  On accountability I can work with the Chief, just as I have worked with the leadership of police precincts.  But that requires commitment.  I will also be the first Mayor in the country to commit to attending meetings of the civilian review board during my first year in office. We’ll identify where we can make progress with intentional decisions. On housing and development, we’ll initiate an immediate review of city codes, ordinances and incentives to determine if we are encouraging and enabling commercial and residential development to address underserved communities and affordable housing needs.

MG: Er … all of the above. And more.

JH: Racial inequities exist throughout much of our societal infrastructure and city services, including the criminal justice system, housing access, public transportation, and investment of our taxpayer dollars. It’s too prevalent to pick just one. However, in my professional career advocating for criminal justice reform, I have seen the devastating impacts that the system can have on peoples’ lives. If we focus on prevention instead of just criminalization and incarceration, we can improve the quality of life for many of our residents while also keeping people from coming in contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.

RJ:

  • Housing
  • Health care
  • Wages
  • Educational outcomes
  • Economic Opportunities
  • Environmental pollution (lead)
  • Law enforcement

If the issue arises again, would you support divesting funds from the police toward social programs?

KS: I support investing wisely in efforts to curb and prevent crime.  I applaud the recently added police budgeting for mental health professionals, not just for the counseling they can provide our first responders, but also because they should become first responders to so many non-violent police calls that involve persons with mental health issues.  We have a growing trendline for violent crimes in our city and we can’t turn that around without recognizing and acting on two priorities – restoring public trust and address root cause issues like unemployment, housing, mental health and poverty.

MG: I don’t support defunding the police. I do support social programs being part of what they do. We need democratically elected civilian oversight of our public safety. We need officers not in uniform offering water and a tee-shirt rather than handcuffs and a ride to our protesters and our unhoused. We need to address the root causes of crime, namely poverty and policies that disadvantage the poor. We need to destigmatize mental illness and offer real and useful support to those in need. In short, we need to change the way we do business. We also need a little more common sense being applied. If I’m mayor, no public servant is going to retire on the pension of a CEO at the expense of the taxpayers. We have to do better in this arena, and my budgets and policies will reflect that as mayor.

JH: When I take office, one of my first priorities will be to review the budgets of every City department and agency to see where we can find efficiencies and identify programs that need to be reworked to be more equitable. The Police Department would be no exception to this – we absolutely need to take a hard look at how they are funded and where money could be reallocated to include more mental health and substance use professionals in the process. To change the outcome of our policing system, we need to use different approaches. I would increase resources and funding for the Behavioral Health Unit of OPD to the levels needed for the amount of calls we receive in order to connect people with mental health and substance use resources and services. We also must address the other social determinants of health like safe and affordable housing, jobs with living and equitable wages, and transportation in our city. 

RJ: I believe in investing in social programs but not at the expense of funding the police.
Last year brought a global pandemic that exposed weak points in our society and protests that demanded change to long-standing issues.


What lessons did you take from 2020 and, if you were to win, how would you apply those lessons to your position?

KS: I have a long history of advocating for equity and for our neighborhoods.  I have worked with the police and the community on preventing violent crime, particularly in North and South Omaha.  So when Omahans expressed their frustrations and desire for social justice, I listened.  I’m saddened that was not the response of many elected officials. Leaders can’t fail to listen any longer and expect Omaha to grow as a city.  I will be a Mayor who is front and center when Omahans want to be heard.

MG: I scoff at the idea that the lessons were only from 2020. I think 2021 is about to look at 2020 and say “Hold my beer.” If we don’t get out in front of these things in a meaningful way, I think this city is in for a nasty shock in the months ahead. What I’d like to offer as mayor in regard to these issues is visible, vocal leadership. The people will hear from me and see me and have access to me when they want it. If the people of this city are hurting and their response is to protest, they can expect me to be there in support of them. If masks will save lives (as we know they do), the people can expect me to wear one, and to enforce a mask mandate until we can be safe again. I think our city suffered most in this past year for want of real leadership. I hope to have the opportunity to offer that in city hall.

JH: The events of 2020 further exposed many of the issues that we already knew were prevalent in our city. Too many Omahans are struggling to make ends meet. Too many of us are unable to access the basic services and resources that we need to thrive. These structural inequities are major contributing factors to the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 had on BIPOC communities. We don’t have time to wait to change our approach – we have to act now to meet peoples’ most pressing needs by advocating for expanded accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine, educating the public on the virus and vaccine, and working to address the other social determinants of health that have contributed to the harm of this pandemic.

2020 also showed us how much we can come together as a community to fight structural racism and move forward as a city. My campaign has focused on harnessing that energy to continue our movement for change. I believe that if we work together, we can make Omaha a place where everyone can thrive, regardless of zip code.

RJ: I think there is a difference between being a polarizing leader and a unifying leader. If I had been mayor during 2020 I would have led from the position of unifying and not dividing our city. I think you lead by example, and I would have engaged directly with all Omahans on these key issues and sought daily to preserve safety and achieve justice while moving the city forward. My entire career has been about getting things done and solving problems, by bringing all the relevant and affected parties to the table. My philosophy is, if there’s not enough room at the table, you build a bigger table. That’s the kind of mayor I will be if Omaha is kind enough to elect me this spring.

contact the writer at news@thereader.com


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Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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