These stories are in-depth profiles of candidates for Omaha City Council’s District 5 seat. For coverage of other races check out The Reader’s 2021 city election hub.
Growing up in Midtown, Colleen Brennan wasn’t going to let anyone pick on her little brother, Tim. A child with special needs, Tim was forced to attend a different school than Brennan and her other brother. Modeling from her parents who, according to Brennan, were instrumental in bringing Special Olympics to Nebraska, Brennan was an advocate for Tim early in life.
When Brennan herself became a parent to four children––including one son with nonverbal autism and epilepsy and two kids with a rare kidney disorder called nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (NDI)––she continued to follow in her parents’ footsteps. Brennan, who said she’s developed thick skin as an advocate for her children, fought for a 2012 proposal that became the Nebraska Insurance Reform Bill. Enacted in 2015, the bill covers insurance for families whose kids are profoundly disabled.
“I was his voice, I was his arms, I was his legs,” Brennan said of the son who inspired her activism and entry into politics. “I was his whole advocate because there really wasn’t anybody else who could do that for him.”
As a council member, Brennan is eager to advocate for members of the disability community. By now, Brennan said, she’s well-connected enough that she’ll find an answer or resolution for those struggling. Brennan has lived in this district for over 20 years and her children attended Millard Public Schools, which is Brennan’s alma mater.
Brennan has served District 5 since January when she replaced Rich Pahls. The typically administrative process became front-page news when comments Brennan had made on her blog were deemed racially insensitive by some. Meanwhile the stories were deemed race baiting by others, and Brennan took her seat with ample support from the sitting Omaha City Council members. Brennan has said she wants to find common ground on divisive issues.
“I bring an open mind,” Brennan said. “I try to stay away from hyper-partisan issues, and that is pretty representative of what people think in my district. People are fairly centrist.”
Key among issues in her district, Brennan said, are access to transportation and affordable housing. According to Brennan, people assume that those in West Omaha can afford cars and houses, but that’s far from the truth. Brennan hopes to bring opportunities for accessible transportation, including ORBT and bike lanes, to West Omaha. As for housing, she plans to work with local contractors and developers to find long-term solutions.
“We can’t just tag low-income housing onto other projects,” Brennan said. “We’re going to have to address it head on.”
Brennan also believes that members of marginalized communities, including people of color and LGBTQ individuals, can benefit from ample job opportunities and equal treatment in the workplace. When it comes to policing, Brennan supports increased training and the addition of licensed health practitioners, who would work in tandem with police. She said these efforts require more funding, not less; Brennan considers defunding the police irresponsible.
The council member is proud of her tenure so far. Brennan said she worked across party lines to help approve Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for The Crossroads Project, and she thinks trash and snow removal have gone smoothly. She said to contact her if you see a pothole; Brennan, who is on the Public Works Committee, feels confident she can take care of it. As for COVID-19, Brennan said Omaha can keep case counts low by remaining patient, keeping an eye on how other states are doing and following science.
A District 5 veteran, Brennan said she’s prepared to continue serving the district that she’s called home for over 20 years.
“I know the people in my community very well,” Brennan said, “and I would bring their voice to the table.”
At 33 years old, Kate Gotsdiner is a veteran of Nebraska politics. She began her career as an intern for then-senator Ben Nelson before coordinating Bob Kerrey’s senatorial campaign, leading a Lincoln political finance consulting firm, working as a lobbyist for a legal firm and drafting legislation for Nebraska state senators Matt Hansen and Mike McDonnell. Currently, Gotsdiner is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration from UNO while serving as Donor Services Coordinator for the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.
Gotsdiner said public policy is her passion. She believes she can serve Omaha by combining her knowledge of policy in other U.S. locations (Gotsdiner has resided in Chicago, D.C. and Maine) with her lived experience in Nebraska, where she was born, raised and ultimately returned.
“We have to be mindful about our policy creation and look at the long-term impacts of policy, rather than just the immediate, which is I think what happens a lot of times” said Gotsdiner, who considers foresight a key aspect of public policy.
In Gotsdiner’s mind, you can’t make good policy without the active input of marginalized communities––and that starts with her own campaign. Gotsdiner said she’s trying to run the most inclusive campaign possible, including employing local activists of color like Ja Keen Fox and Lucia Pedroza, with the goal of modeling how representatives can incorporate activists into city policy.
After being born in South Korea, Gotsdiner was adopted and raised in a Japanese-American household in Omaha. She grew up attending local JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) events. Gotsdiner said that although she can speak to her own lived experiences as a woman of color, she can’t speak for other marginalized communities. That’s why, if elected, she promises to collaborate with other underrepresented voices at every turn.
According to Gotsdiner, ensuring mobility justice is among the most pressing challenges facing district five. She said creating bike, scooter and running lanes would make for a less segregated Omaha and reduce carbon footprints. If elected, Gotsdiner hopes begin with a pilot program to connect existing Omaha bike lanes and expand from there.
She’s also determined to make housing affordable. Gotsdiner said she’ll listen to individuals in low-income neighborhoods––not just developers––and look at the whole range of expenses Omahans incur.
“When over half the paycheck is [for] rent and utilities, and you’re trying to pay for daycare, groceries, [and] your vehicle,” Gotsdiner said, “then suddenly everything is going toward just being able to maintain where you are as opposed to being able to save or do anything beyond just survive right now.”
Gotsdiner hopes to bring some form of community policing to Omaha. She’d like to see a true partnership between community and police officers where officers sit down with constituents to understand their needs and become familiar faces in local haunts. While she doesn’t support defunding the police, Gotsdiner is a proponent of police reform and said she’d push for a more holistic approach to policing; for example, she believes mental health professionals should accompany police when they respond to calls.
Ten months ago, Gotsdiner became a mother for the first time. Her baby girl came two months early and stayed in the NICU. As a result, Gotsdiner’s daughter is considered high-risk for COVID-19. Gotsdiner, who has asthma, treats COVID-19 as a serious threat in her own home and said she’d do the same if elected to City Council. She thinks Governor Ricketts should have required a statewide stay-at-home order last spring and firmly believes in mask mandates which, according to Gotsdiner, must be “actually enforceable” via hefty fines. She also believes businesses need to be closed until numbers significantly decrease, and in the meantime, the government should support Omahans who are strapped for cash.
The youngest candidate running in District 5, Gotsdiner hopes to be a voice for those who are underrepresented, including young women and girls of color like her own daughter. When her baby was born, Gotsdiner was unhappy with the government’s policy decisions. The new mom realized things weren’t going to improve unless she stepped in and made a difference for her daughter and other members of the future generation.
“I want Omaha to be a place where my daughter’s proud to be [from],” Gotsider said. “When she goes to college [I want her to] say, ‘I grew up in Omaha and … we’re this wonderful, inclusive city.’ We have that potential, and I think I’m the right candidate to draw different communities together [and] create that city.”
Kathleen Kauth, her husband and their three boys have moved seven times for her husband’s job. Omaha is, hands down, their favorite location, she said. Kauth loved raising her boys with midwestern values and sending them to Millard Public Schools (MPS), where they found robust academic and extracurricular opportunities. The Kauths are here to stay.
And Kauth, who’s lived here since 2012, wants others to stay in Omaha, too. She’d like to battle Nebraska brain drain by creating an internship program (inspired by a similar opportunity in MPS) in which 18-24-year-olds rotate between jobs at local businesses and are paid an entry-level salary for their work. That way, local businesses can test drive potential employees and get a tax break. Meanwhile students sample potential careers, gain real-world experience and maybe even land their first job.
“I love work. Work feeds people’s souls,” Kauth said. “Feeling valued and committed to something is so good for people, and when they find [a job] that clicks, it can change their lives.”
Kauth’s frustration with the conservative movement during the 2020 election cycle inspired her to run for City Council. Particularly troubling to Kauth is what she considers Republicans’ reticence to investigate election integrity.
“There were enough questions about elections around the country that we should have stood up and said, ‘Timeout,’” said Kauth, who recalls having a door slammed in her face and curses hurled at her by conservative constituents asking why Republicans didn’t stand up to election fraud. “Don Bacon said he’s going to start an investigation into the election now, but it’s too late. The time to do that would have been November 4, when we said there were problems. Our election integrity has to be absolute.”
Kauth also has concerns about mask mandates, which she considers government overreach. According to Kauth, the government should provide information, resources and wide guidelines about COVID-19, and leave any other decision-making up to constituents. When she wears a mask, she said, she blacks out and has a headache for two days. Kauth said many people have emotional and physical complications that prevent them from wearing masks.
“I call it the ‘Yes, but.’ Yes, people think [mask-wearing] makes sense, but there’s always an exception,” Kauth said. “It’s very difficult to put a blanket health guideline on everyone.”
As a representative, some of Kauth’s top priorities would be finding the most cost-effective patch for potholes, decreasing property taxes by searching for government efficiencies and supporting entrepreneurship and local business. She’d tackle the latter by taking a close look at government ordinances and cutting regulations on small businesses she finds unnecessary.
Kauth herself runs a local business, K.T. Beck Enterprises, LLC, where she serves as a mediator and conflict coach for CEOs and c-suite executives, in addition to families struggling with elder care disputes.
“My job is to get people to see each other’s points of view,” Kauth said. “If you shift a point of view even slightly, you create incredible room for creative solutions.”
Although she works as a mediator, Kauth’s degrees are in public policy, sociology, and criminology. When she considers criminal justice on a local level, Kauth believes Omaha can cut down prison overcrowding and recidivism rates by developing individualized reentry programs that prepare people for successful careers outside of prison.
A firm believer in personal responsibility and accountability, Kauth thinks marginalized communities benefit from job opportunities and entrepreneurship.
“When you [put in effort], you’re going to succeed,” she said, “We have laws in places that protect people from all sorts of discrimination, so are people willing to do the work? It’s a very individual thing.”
As she seeks to balance out the Democrat-majority City Council with her conservative values, the frequent-mover-turned-Omahan feels optimistic about Omaha’s future.
“What we have here is special,” Kauth said. “We can grow Omaha from the inside and from the surrounding community, [and] make it an incredible place.”
Patrick Leahy is a busy man. When he’s not working as Senior Architect and Senior Planner for CMBA Architects, the Omaha native serves as Secretary of the Mission Park Neighborhood Association and Chair of the Government Affairs Committee for Nebraska’s American Institute of Architects (AIA) chapter. He’s also a father of four and grandfather of two, ages eight months and 15 months.
“[My grandkids] are so great. They always smile when you come into the room and then they go home after a few days, or a few hours,” joked Leahy, who considers himself a husband and father first and foremost.
Leahy also sat on the Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors for a decade as well as on an Education Committee for the Nebraska Society of Healthcare Engineers. The architect said he doesn’t join all these organizations just for show; instead, he wants to make a real difference. Leahy is running for City Council because he believes he can use the negotiation and budgeting skills he’s honed in his work, in addition to the government experience he’s gained through AIA, to develop nonpartisan solutions to local issues.
“I could bring a fresh approach because I haven’t been in politics my whole life,” Leahy said, “but I have enough experience that I can hit the ground running.”
A self-declared consensus builder, Leahy is committed to making Council meetings more accessible to the general public by varying the time of day at which they’re held. So, if constituents work during the day, they can attend evening meetings, and vice versa.
He’s also dedicated to battling systemic racism by increasing access to transportation and housing for members of low-income and marginalized communities. In terms of the former, he’d like to bring ORBT and bike routes to west Omaha, to connect underserved populations with jobs. As for housing, Leahy recently took a deep dive into Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and is confident TIF can fund Missing Middle Housing, which promotes diverse communities by integrating multi-family homes into residential neighborhoods.
“[People from marginalized communities] are not looking for handouts,” Leahy said. “They’re probably working more than 40 hours a week, they don’t get health care, they’re struggling. We should help them.”
Leahy is an advocate of community policing, in which officers help out in neighborhoods, whether painting houses or walking constituents to their cars after work. He’d also push for more training, especially when it comes to how officers handle behavioral health crises, and he believes such training will require additional funding. Although Leahy thinks the U.S. arrests and incarcerates people too quickly, he believes most officers care about constituents, and he said Omaha has one of the best police forces around. Leahy considers pushback against police a problem in how people perceive them.
He also said that when it comes to policing––and any other issue that disproportionately affects underserved communities––he’ll listen to what leaders in communities of color have to say.
“You shouldn’t just try to assume what [marginalized communities need]. Go in and meet with them and ask open-ended questions,” said Leahy, who plans to consult with pastors, activists and neighborhood association leaders from these neighborhoods. “Let them spell out their concerns … before you start [working on] any solutions.”
A healthcare architect who bases his facilities on the needs and workflow of providers, Leahy said he pays close attention to medical research and data––an approach he’d extend to COVID-19. Leahy, several of whose family members have chronic illnesses, believes masks save lives and wearing them should be a nonpartisan issue based solely on science. He also praised the University of Nebraska Medical Center, saying the public should listen to epidemiologists from the world-renowned institution.
If elected, he said, he’d combine his respect for data and evidence in all policy decisions with his enduring passion for the city of Omaha.
“I love the city of Omaha,” Leahy said. “That’s why I still live here when I could go anywhere. I just want to make it a little better.”
A self-declared live entertainment junkie, Jeff Moore spent his pre-COVID weekends watching live music at Slowdown, The Waiting Room and the CHI Health Center, as well as Stir Cove. From Prince and Queen to Pink Floyd and Kiss, which was his first-ever show at age 14, he’s seen some of music’s all-time greats.
And he’d like to see more of them in Omaha. While volunteering with his wife at the Omaha Visitors Center before COVID-19, Moore realized that Omaha needs an identity, an attraction that not only incentivizes young adults to make Omaha their forever home but also brings people from near and far to the city as a tourist destination. As a council member, he’d work with the private sector, including fostering collaboration between small businesses, to create what he calls an Omaha of tomorrow.
“We can turn Omaha into something you can’t miss in the Midwest,” said Moore, who attended Gross Catholic High School and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I don’t want to be a flyover [state] anymore. I want us to be bringing people from Minneapolis, Kansas City, Des Moines … they come now, but we can do better.”
When he’s not checking out local bands, volunteering in the community or spending time with his wife and 27-year-old son, Moore works as a State Farm insurance agent, a position he’s held for 32 years. Moore said his experience as an insurance agent and small business owner has prepared him to review city budgets and find opportunities to cut spending––and property taxes––without eliminating jobs. According to Moore, his life work has made him highly responsive to customers; if elected, he’d encourage the active input of constituents, whether Democrat or Republican.
“My truth is my truth and my opinions are mine, and people can help me change if I need to,” Moore said.
Outside the office, Moore has served on the Omaha Planning Board since 2016. As a Board Member, he sees development cases before they make their way to City Council. This city government experience, Moore said, would make his transition to Council seamless.
In addition to cutting taxes, Moore said he’s committed to ensuring public safety by supporting first responders, including the fire and police departments. According to the Omaha native, police officers want to go home at the night’s end, and they want the people they’re interacting with to do the same. He believes there’s a fine line between protesting and rioting, and police need to shut down the latter to protect people. Moore would not support defunding the police or reallocating their funds––he said he’s never seen a problem resolved by taking money away––but he would advocate for additional training.
“As ‘Omaha nice’ as we are, we should be able to have a force that is the best trained in the Midwest in dealing with problems,” Moore said. “I don’t want to see people hurt, imprisoned for no reason. I’m not a lot for reform. I think we can make things better without taking away.”
Moore, who is half-Mexican and was bussed to what is now King Science & Technology Magnet Center prior to attending Gross Catholic, believes in equal protection under the law and supports policies that help members of marginalized communities get hired. If elected, Moore said, he’d treat everyone with dignity, regardless of their identity.
Although he considers himself a lifelong leader, Moore doesn’t pretend to know all the answers; instead, he intends to collaborate with constituents and small business owners like himself to put Nebraska on the map as a sought-after destination.
“I always try to go in and make things better, and then not overstay my welcome,” Moore said. “This shouldn’t be my career. This should be something that I’m doing for the city of Omaha, because I truly believe in Omaha.”
While working at a Lincoln lumberyard during his college years, Don Rowe got his first taste of politics. The lumberyard owner invited Rowe and his peers to meet Lincoln City Council and Mayoral candidates, which motivated Rowe to start writing letters to elected representatives.
Fast forward several decades, and it was once again at a lumberyard where Rowe got inspired to dive into local politics. Rowe’s boss at Millard Lumber, where Rowe has worked for 25 years, suggested he run for City Council. After talking with family and praying about a potential candidacy, Rowe was all in.
A father of three and grandfather of 13, all of whom live within an hour radius, Rowe is transitioning to part-time work at Millard Lumber, for which he serves as Vice President of Sales. He hopes to dedicate his newfound time to serving on the Omaha City Council, where he believes he can transfer his skills in negotiation, budgeting and strategic planning to developing nonpartisan solutions for Omaha.
“In talking to my wife, we decided I’m not the guy that’s going to just hang out, go fishing and play golf every day. I want to have purpose,” said Rowe, who attends Kingsway Christian Church near Pacific Street and serves on the Board of Trustees for Hope International University, a Christian university in California.
Rowe grew up in North Omaha. He has fond memories of standing on the corner of Fontenelle Boulevard and Grand Avenue, sporting a safety patrol belt and helping kids cross the street. Having lived in Nebraska his whole life, Rowe feels he understands midwesterners––including District 5 constituents.
“People in district five are just hard working, nose-to-the-grindstone [individuals with a] typical Midwestern work ethic,” Rowe said. “They want to be able to enjoy a night out once in a while, and they’re willing to pay taxes. They just don’t want it to be wasteful.”
District 5 constituents also want to feel safe in their homes and on the street, according to Rowe. He said a strong police and fire department are integral to ensuring safety and, as Omaha expands westward, those systems will be stretched; if elected council member, Rowe would work to provide them necessary resources.
While Rowe thinks the city should add co-responders––including mental health personnel––to the police force, he is opposed to defunding the police.
“Honestly, I think we have a model police department that many cities in the country would love to have,” Rowe said.
The former owner of a kitchen and bath remodeling company in Lincoln, Rowe believes Omaha can support marginalized populations by incentivizing businesses to set up shop in underserved neighborhoods. That way, he said, members of these communities will have greater access to job opportunities.
He also recognizes the need for affordable housing, the lack of which he considers a crisis. According to Rowe, Omaha can tweak zoning requirements to make way for Missing Middle Housing, which offers diverse and cost-effective housing opportunities, including duplexes and multiplexes. Particularly exciting to Rowe is the potential for these developments to foster community among residents.
“[Constituents] want to [really] know their neighbors, look out for each other and carry in [groceries] for the next door neighbor,” Rowe said. “[That stuff] doesn’t happen today, but I think it can happen … [in] the core of the city.”
When it comes to COVID-19, Rowe considers masks an annoyance––but a necessary one. Although he originally thought mask mandates were government overreach, Rowe had a change of heart after some friends contracted COVID-19 and others, including his hairdresser, were forced to temporarily close their businesses. Rowe did note, however, that he measures risk and makes his own decisions; when his grandkids come over for Sunday dinner, for example, it’s masks off.
With his career transitioning to part-time and his kids out of the house, Rowe believes this is his moment to contribute to the Omaha community by serving in public office.
“[With] my faith, I just have a heart for people,” Rowe said. “I think I’m the guy.”
From the moment Destiny Stark earned her journeyman card, she took ownership of her local labor union, IATSE No. 42 (part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). First she was a trustee. Then, in a special election, she won the seat of Secretary. Soon after, she was appointed First Political Coordinator for IATSE No. 42.
And now Stark, who’s lived in Omaha since just before her tenth birthday, is determined to serve on City Council.
“As a union leader one of my core values [is] doing everything I possibly can to empower folks to raise their quality of life,” Stark said. “It’s about making sure that everyone is represented, and listening to the voices that are typically marginalized.”
Among these groups, Stark said, are LGBTQ+ individuals, BIPOC and folks that are not able-bodied. She said that, in her current position, she reaches out to and represents marginalized voices that are not her own, and she’d do the same as a council member.
“Even the best ally can always learn something new from talking to someone [about] their lived experience and how it reflects upon our communities,” Stark said.
She also intends to advocate for women and laborers like herself. According to Stark, Omaha city government does not have a voice for laborers. Stark hopes to become that voice.
The union leader considers her work as a journeyman a way to honor her father, who passed away when she was five. Stark’s father, an auto mechanic, was likewise a blue-collar worker. She recalls watching wrestling with him as a small child, even though she didn’t really enjoy the sport––she just loved to spend time with him.
“I always was a … daddy’s girl,” Stark said. “I wanted to be like my dad when I was little and … I still want to be like my dad. I’m good with my hands, so I went to a trade.”
Stark filed her candidacy on Feb. 10, which would have been her father’s 60th birthday, as another way to honor him. She said her dad was constantly going out of his way to help members of his community which, according to Stark, is the job of a representative.
If elected, Stark would work to close the gap between low-income and upper-middle class households by ensuring that affordable housing really is affordable. According to Stark, housing should not cost more than 30% of the resident’s income. An advocate for mental health who often provides resources to her union members, Stark said she’d also work to expand OPD’s mental health resources and push for reforming marijuana laws.
“A lot of our charges right now are for minor cases,” Stark said. “It’s a mark on their record that can keep them from having better income, job opportunities … housing and overall quality of life.”
Her concern for underrepresented voices extends to the pandemic. Stark supports the local mask mandate and believes COVID-19 disproportionately affects those who are marginalized, including people who are not able-bodied.
“A lot of them have been forgotten about,” said Stark, who also anticipates the need for safe infrastructure as people venture back out. “Their lives have been on pause in a lot of cases because they cannot safely leave their house. It’s not fair to make our community members suffer like that.”
Stark graduated from the Omaha Community Playhouse Theatre Technology Apprentice Program (TTAP) the first year they partnered with Metropolitan Community College. She believes her career will lend itself well to serving on Council, from her ability to understand collective bargaining agreements to her knowledge of Omaha, through which she guides people who come from around the world to work on local productions. Stark said she’s also accustomed to being a leader in fast-paced and potentially dangerous environments backstage, where safety is her top priority.
On May 11, the day of the general election, Stark will turn 35; she hopes to win on her own birthday. As she seeks to honor her father, Stark believes that by helping all constituents she can make Omaha a more diverse and desirable city in which to live.
“We need to have better representation of everyone so folks will want to come here … and stay because they feel welcome, safe and included in conversations,” Stark said, “[Let’s] make sure their voices are truly being represented.”
contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
See where the candidates stand on the issues
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?
Colleen Brennan: They are the same problem. The City must find a reasonable balance between making our streets safe and efficient for automobile traffic and improving our mass transit system for the more urban needs of our future. The Mayor, City Council and Planners are already working through the issues and developing the best choices available. In the end, we’ll have to make some difficult decisions that stand no chance in pleasing everyone.
Kate Gotsdiner: The number one issue is our racial division in Omaha. This needs to be addressed immediately as there are many ways Omaha is physically divided.
In the next 10 is also racism and inequality.
Kathleen Kauth: Number one problem in Omaha – over regulation specifically in the permits and planning that leads to companies building and moving outside of Omaha to Sarpy County. In the next 10 years – strengthening and attracting small to mid-sized businesses and entrepreneurs to come to and stay in Omaha.
Patrick Leahy: Next year: Get through this pandemic and past it. Get everyone vaccinated, back to school and back to work. Post Pandemic Recovery that has more equity and inclusivity. Create a comprehensive strategy plan to optimize & improve post pandemic recovery for transportation, jobs, health, and housing. Enhance economic development.
Next 10 years: Better mass transit, bike paths separate from traffic in east west direction, interconnected the good north south ones we already have. Improve roads.
Jeff Moore: I believe the number one problem the city faces is taxes. The 10 year problem that we will need to address is affordable housing.
Don Rowe: I believe balancing the budget coming out of the pandemic will be a real issue for the next Administration and City Council. When the Federal Government bailouts end we will be faced with the reality of spending within our means. I am not in favor of tax increases. We will need to keep a check on our spending.
In the area of economic development, my fear is that we may find ourselves ignoring the core of our city. I believe our core must be strong for all other areas of the city to prosper. I am in favor of our developments that are under construction today, such as, The Crossroads, Heartwood Preserve and Avenue One. But, I want our core to be able to compete for those office and entertainment dollars in the future.
Destiny Stark: Next year: COVID-19
Next 10 years: Affordable Housing
What is the number one problem facing your specific district that needs to be solved in the next year? What about a larger problem your district needs to solve in the next 10 years?
CB: No matter in which district you live, transportation remains the critical problem today and in the future. However, the perspectives are different. In my district, the problem is addressing commuter problems, and as you move downtown, the problem becomes more about access to mass transit. As I mentioned initially, it’s all about finding a good balance.
KG: The number one problem facing my specific district is the lack of bus accessibility,
In the next 10 years I would say the lack of diversity. The schools are fantastic but Millard is severely lacking diversity which is a huge asset to child exposure and development for future inclusivity.
KK: The number one issue facing District 5 is the same – stabilizing our business community, and long term – attracting new businesses, and encouraging our youth to stay local.
PL: Next year: Get through this pandemic and past it. Get everyone vaccinated, back to school and back to work.
Next 10 years: Create commercial centers like village point or Blackstone that are sustainable and have more local businesses. More mixed use districts with jobs, retail and housing that will retain more college graduates and provide all ages with more places work, live and learn.
JM: The number one problem for my district that we need to address is taxes. It will more than likely be taxes/spending over the next 10 years as well.
DR: Affordable Housing and Housing Affordability are two different issues our city faces today and I believe into the distant future. I look forward to working with the city departments to increase access to affordable housing. I believe a few adjustments to our zoning rules and a careful review of our building and safety codes could make affordable housing projects easier to develop. I believe affordable housing has become an issue in all seven districts. I am especially interested in the concept of the Missing Middle Housing.
What solutions are you proposing to fix those problems that your fellow candidates are not?
CB: I haven’t heard one unreasonable idea from any of my opponents. From what I’ve seen they are all good people, who want to do a good job. There is not even that much difference between our views on the issues.
KG: I propose a pilot system for bike lanes that run throughout Omaha so everyone can access all parts of Omaha without needing a vehicle. Also expanding the bus system to also reach all districts.
KK: I don’t discuss other candidates – they can speak for themselves. My proposals include evaluating all the ordinances and regulations to determine if they are valid and necessary, or if they are merely obstacles to growth and getting rid of them if they are. It also includes working with businesses to develop a young adult internship program that would give both the businesses and the young adults experience with a variety of people and jobs.
PL: Better mass transit, start with more ORBT bus routes East-West and North-South (https://www.ometro.com/routes/orbt/) and better roads. Use the latest City of Omaha $100M Federal Stimulus award to invest in infrastructure ($50M in 2021 and $50M in 2022).
JM: I’m not sure what my fellow candidates are saying is their top priority, so I can’t begin to answer what I will do differently than them. However, to work on the tax issue, I want to work to make Omaha a Midwest destination. A place that will be known, for music, art and entertainment. If we can get more visitors to Omaha, we can increase our tax revenues which could help Omaha keep their taxes stable or possibly even get them lowered. I also believe that with more entertainment here, we would possibly hang on to more of our young people.
As far as the affordable housing issue, we need to work with the state to help with incentives for builders to take on affordable housing projects. Builders need to be able to make money on projects and further incentives may jump start additional housing needs.
DR: I believe my business experience will help us find solutions to the economic issues that will arise in the next few years. My ability to work and negotiate with others will allow us to make significant progress in creating win-win solutions for the entire city.
DS: My union leadership and trade background has taught me creative approaches and problem-solving, that others often would not think to pursue. I’m always excited to review the annual proposed city budget and continue to review the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) combined with our district and city’s real-time needs to continue to identify and offer solutions to the community.
How would you describe the Omaha government’s current and historic approach to racial, social and geographic equity?
CB: Most people have no idea that before WWI Omaha city government was one of the most progressive in America, routinely hiring and advancing African American and immigrant populations. That began to change at the time of the 1919 Race Riot but remained relatively stable until the end of Boss Rule in about 1932. There is no question that from 1932 through the early 1970s, Omaha city government was not friendly to its African American population. The Civil Rights Era was particularly harsh. Since that time, Omaha has grown more progressive but has experienced a rollercoaster of advances and setbacks. In the last thirty years, thanks to the leadership of Brenda Council, Tommy Warren, Fred Conley, Frank Brown, Franklin Thompson, Ben Gray and others, many important advances have been made, but there is much that still needs to be done.
KG: Seriously lacking. Statements are great but there is a lack of action to unite all aspects of Omaha.
KK: A government is a reflection of who the people select to run it. The best chance to feel represented is to be actively involved with selecting your government, and then staying involved to make sure they are acting as they said they would.
PL: We can do better with racial equity and inclusivity, more listening forums in the underserved areas allowing more diverse ages, incomes, and races at the table when addressing our city challenges. Work for better economic development for everyone.
JM: This doesn’t let Omaha government off of the hook, but historically I believe they probably acted as many other northern cities have. I have felt that over time that the city has gotten better on racial, social and geographic inequities. I am 57 years old and I feel that progress has been made but it will need to continue to get better. As progress has been made, I do not mean to offend those that have suffered these indignities recently.
DR: This is an area that I need to listen and learn from other community leaders.
DS: Lackluster at times.
Where do you most see inequities appearing? (For example, criminal justice, access to housing, commercial development…)
CB: As most African American leaders will tell you, the inequities you mention begin with economic opportunity. Housing, crime and commercial development all stem from that foundational issue. For the last fifty years, a myriad of programs have been thrown at the problem without meaningful success. Without question the legacy of systemic racism is responsible, and for me that is where some form of “reparations” may create an opportunity. I’ve read some great ideas on reparations recently and am highly supportive of what might be accomplished.
KG: Criminal justice is the most obvious but also access to housing is huge.
KK: Inequities in sentencing decisions is the primary issue I see. That again boils down to the judges that are elected, and getting involved in elections to ensure your voice is heard.
PL: Most inequities are access for affordable quality housing (Missing Middle Housing would help with this) and in criminal justice.
JM: How do I answer this question? I have not been a victim of these inequities so to say where I see them the most is difficult. The criminal justice system appears to be the one that is most problematic at this time.
DR: I believe we need to attract new businesses to North Omaha. Our highest unemployment rates are in this part of the city. An influx of new jobs in this area would help with all of these issues.
DS: Access to safe, affordable housing.
If the issue arises again, would you support defunding the police? Would you support divesting funds from the police toward social programs?
CB: My ideas about what is good or bad for the African American community come directly from African American leaders who I’ve known for decades. Defunding the police is a bad idea. Diverting funds from the police in any way is a bad idea. Minneapolis thought it was a good idea and crime has doubled, tripled and even quadrupled in every category – particularly in their African American community. I’m all for exploring better ways to promote racial justice and avoid unnecessary conflict. I consider myself an anti-racist but pursuing political fads at the expense of the people we’re trying to help is no answer.
KG: I would not support defunding the police but rather looking at police reform with finances. I would support divesting funds from the police toward social programs.
KK: Never. Never in a million years would I support defunding the police. It is a simple-minded slogan that puts everyone’s lives and safety at risk. I also would not divest money from them to support social programs. I would increase their funding for better equipment and training and I’m very interested to hear more about how adding social workers to the police units works. The officers and social workers will need to develop a cohesion based on trust and respect to best serve the community. I strongly support recruiting from the communities being served, and if an officer does engage in inappropriate conduct – they need to be investigated and removed if warranted. Trust between the police and the community is the best way to improve safety for everyone – including officers.
PL: I would not defund the police, I would support more funding for training, community policing, as well as additional funding for social programs that have shown quantifiable results.
JM: Isn’t defunding and divesting funds from the police basically the same thing? I do not support either. I have never seen a problem fixed by taking money away from it. I support adding additional funds to the police department to make sure that the police are highly trained so that every person is treated safely and civilly. Omaha has some mental health and social programs. Their funding should be increased as well but I don’t see a time when these counselors would go out on 911 calls instead of police because that would be very dangerous.
DR: I will never vote to defund the police. I believe it is important for us to have a well-trained and supported police department.
I do believe there are many cases where a trained mental health provider could help de-escalate a call for help. I think funding for the co-responder program should come from outside or in addition to the existing police budget.
DS: Yes. By continuing to seek and expand alternative methods to help serve the public it allows police to focus more and respond to the calls their training qualifies them for, alleviating their need to respond to the current average 15,000-20,000 calls per year, related to mental health. This can be done by increasing training for dispatchers to recognize non-violent situations, hiring more mental health, trauma informed crisis experts to de-escalate the initial situation, find short-term resolution and follow up afterwards.
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?
CB: The biggest and most important lesson we have learned both in Omaha and the rest of America is that politics is out of control. We are at each other’s throat and the truth is almost impossible to know. We do not live in a society where half the people are bent on evil. We live in a democracy that depends on truth and integrity to function, and those virtues have become far to fleeting. If we are to weather this storm, we must come together to find common ground, build trust and reasonable solutions – not hype petty divisions with the sole purpose of finding political gain. At our core, we are a good people. We must reach out and find each other again!
KG: I learned that I am more resilient and flexible to change and with the unconventional, such as juggling working from home, being a stay at home mom, and pursuing my masters degree all at once. If I were to win I would apply those lessons by looking at different aspects of what is not working for my district and propose alternatives that may be unconventional but ultimately could be of benefit.
KK: That the government when given the chance will over reach and erode personal civil liberties. Once gone, they are not easily won back. I would work to ensure that the government serves as a resource for information and support, but does not mandate how people are to run their businesses, manage their health, or live their lives.
PL: Pandemic: We need to listen to the epidemiologist at University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Creighton University Medical Center on health crisis responses, not political opinions. As a healthcare architect I understand healthcare facilities, delivery and the value of experts, research, data, benchmarks, and measuring results.
Racial Outcry: Solution is more education in schools and the workplace such as the training I attended by the Racial Equity Institute through the Sherwood foundation Feb 8th and 9th, 2021. This will take people throughout society working together for change.
JM: What I know is that I do not have all the answers. I have learned that I need to listen more and try to work with people that have opposing views. It doesn’t have to be so difficult. We can have opposing views and still work together to create a better Omaha. If I get elected, I will work with people that voted for me and those that didn’t. I will answer questions with honesty even if a person doesn’t like my answer because that is how I would want to be treated, honestly and with respect.
DR: I believe we really need to listen to one another and learn from each other’s life experiences. Not one of us has the solution to all of our problems, but collectively we can face anything that comes our way. It is unfortunate that so many things became political last year. Things that could have been done in a much more positive way were compromised and mishandled. My work experience has allowed me to become an excellent negotiator. I will work for win-win solutions to our issues.
DS: Elected officials must continue to lead by example. Taking time to take to the streets, talk with individuals and organizations regarding their neighborhood, organization and overall community needs and safety to ensure their voice is not only heard, but will be strongly considered when voting on an agenda item or composing resolutions. Providing ongoing, public transparency when it is known in advance, such as when the City Council does not have the ability to take on meaningful change on items they vote on and would need to be further addressed in another body of government, such as the Legislature.