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Omaha mayoral candidates Neary, Stothert debate

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 11:04 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2021 at 12:02 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha’s mayoral candidates officially opened the election season with the first mayoral debate between challenger RJ Neary and incumbent Jean Stothert.

Stothert and Neary earned their spots on the ballot after coming in first and second in the primary election earlier this month. Before you cast your vote on Tuesday, May 11, hear what the candidates have to say about issues important to Omaha.

Thursday afternoon’s hour-long debate at the Omaha Press Club covered a lot of ground, from affordable housing to public safety.

The political newcomer said he’s learned a lot by being an Omaha businessman for 40 years. The incumbent said experience with the city budget is critical to leading this city.

Stothert is aiming to be the longest-serving mayor in Omaha’s modern-day history.

“Omaha is a great city, and I would never say it’s ‘status quo,’ ” she said. “If you look at the successes and momentum from the last eight years, and it’s remarkable. We have a plan — we will develop the strategies to keep things going. Elections are about the future.”

But Neary believes it’s time for change, that eight years is long enough for a mayor to serve.

“Omaha is ready for change and needs change, and that’s why I’m running,” he said. “We need new leadership that won’t let corporations leave downtown; that fix streets, and fix them right; and that will listen to the best med center in the world when we have a pandemic.”

Medical marijuana

6 News asked the candidates for reaction to something Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said last month. As debate neared over a bill to allow medical marijuana in Nebraska, the governor said: “If you legalize marijuana, you’re going to kill your kids. That’s what the data shows around the country.”

Neither candidate supported the statement.

“No, I don’t agree with that. And I would support medical marijuana,” Stothert said. “I do not support legalizing it for recreational use. I am a nurse. I recognize there are many medical benefits for medical use of marijuana. That is what I would support. The governor and I are allies, but it doesn’t mean I agree with every position he takes.”

Neary said: “I’ve watched mothers beg state lawmakers for medical marijuana for their kids. It’s heartbreaking to watch the callousness of the governor to say that. People need cancer treatments.”

Improving Omaha streets

There was plenty of give-and-take on a hot topic in the City of Omaha: roads.

“I have a street in my neighborhood that was just replaced, and they came back four times and pulled panels and replaced them,” Neary said. “Something is not right with our streets. I don’t want to get into tit-for-tat, but we’ve had eight years to fix these — the voters had no choice than to vote. They were backed into a corner.”

Stothert defended the ballot measure.

“The voters spoke. They’re not forced into anything. This is what a democratic system is like,” she said. “Mr. Neary has said he publicly supports what we did. We asked, ‘Do you support  the bond?’ and ‘Do you support the tax that goes with i?’ And it passed overwhelmingly.”

Brain drain

Both candidates also talked about how to keep the best and brightest here in Omaha

“I want to be optimistic and positive, but I think I deserve a tinge of skepticism to make sure this will happen,” Neary said. “When I knock on doors, I heard people say they want the street fixed. ‘I don’t want to put all this money in a park.’ ”

But Stothert said the city is on the right path, especially with the Riverfront private-public partnership.

“This Riverfront redevelopment is going to be transformational for downtown,” she said. “If any investor would put in $50 million and get $350 million back, you’d think that was a pretty darn good investment.”

Experience

Neary said this was his first-ever debate, but that he wanted voters to know that doesn’t mean he lacks experience.

“For 40 years, I’ve been solving problems and creating opportunities all over the City of Omaha,” he said. “I will do that — with new leadership — in 19 days. You can go with the status quo, or you can go with new leadership.”

Stothert stood by her record.

“The pandemic handed us challenges we never thought we’d have. We handled it well and faired better than many cities across the country. We ended the year with a surplus when we had had such a revenue shortfall,” she said.

Watch Thursday’s debate

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