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Mayor

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Jeff Turner
SENIOR STAFF WRITER

Being around Heath Mello is electrifying. The man has a commanding presence that could persuade people of almost anything. The night of the primary, Mello was out there talking to constituents, and he smiled, like every politician. However, a sincerity was coming from Mello. The guy was talking to these people, and maybe he was genuine – maybe he wasn’t, but it wouldn’t be ludicrous to say that he was good friends with everyone in the room, whatever the truth is tossed aside.

The notable response will be that a candidate should be about policy, and have substance, and it shouldn’t be about how ‘well liked’ they are. Mello is ‘well liked’, and that would be essential to his term as Mayor, the biggest reason being that people are more likely to listen to someone they can stand to be around. With being ‘well-liked’, comes an aptitude for persuasion. That would be all Mello would need to adapt to the needs of the people of Omaha as the policy of the day changed.

Our current mayor does not seem to demonstrate that trait. Despite what claims Mayor Stothert might make (no one really wants to seem like they’re nerve wracking to be around), the evidence shines through.

None more so painfully obvious than the statement from Police Chief Tim Dunning saying that he had blocked her cell phone number. He ended up endorsing Mello.

Stothert claimed during her first debate that people didn’t like to work with her because “she’s a leader.” While it is true that if one focuses on being liked by everyone; they will be lost in the tide, there is also something to be said for the leader that can command inspiration and convince people to follow him or her and work with him or her of their own volition. That person is Heath Mello.

A criticism of Mello that keeps coming up is how nervous he seems to distinguish himself from Stothert. Mello is a moderate democrat, and so it is fitting that he adopts a style of campaigning that is reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s initial run for governor of Arkansas. Charm and persuasion take center stage. Unfortunately, he will have to hit her on something tangible. As lovely as the idea is, a candidate cannot win without at least one attack ad, it’s not realistic.

Mello ought to hit Stothert on the bus systems. The buses are hard to come by, it’s hard to not find a bus in many other towns. Omaha, in this regard, is more reminiscent of a small town than a sprawling metro. The city has a surplus, and the bus systems demand funding.

Mello also ought to focus on events where he meets constituents in person. There is a genuine difference between seeing him on TV and meeting him. It is a difference that could win Mello the race if properly utilized.

Heath Mello will bring a fresh new perspective into Omaha politics, and especially into the Nebraska Democratic party, which has largely been dominated by old white men (Rep. Ashford, Senator Kerrey, Senator Nelson, Mayor Suttle). His policy flaws pale in comparison to what he could get done with pressure.

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Photo Courtesy of The Omaha World Herald

Jessica Wade
OPINION EDITOR

The campaign for Omaha’s next mayor is under way, and it seems incumbent Jean
Stothert has significant competition from former State Sen. Heath Mello.

So far, one of the biggest questions of the campaign is how the next mayor will handle infrastructure, including the problem of Omaha’s weary streets, the possibility of a streetcar line and downtown development.

Whichever candidate wins, both Mello and Stothert plan to improve public transport, which is great news for students like UNO freshman Hilario Mendez, who relies on public transit to get to his internship downtown.

“Most of the time I use the metro to get to my job downtown,” Mendez said. “I have no car, so the bus plays an essential part to arriving on time for work.”

The idea of a streetcar that would run from downtown to midtown is quickly gaining traction and is supported by both candidates. However, Mello and Stothert have different ideas on how to fund the estimated $140 million project.

Mello has proposed an infrastructure bank which would consist of money gathered from local and federal taxes as well as private donations. Mello said this system would help to diversify the ways in which the city brings in money for infrastructure.

Stothert suggested other options such as business improvement districts, tax incentives, and privately donated money.

Stothert and Mello aren’t the only people advocating for a streetcar. Midtown 2050 Corp. is a new nonprofit developed by some of Omaha’s most successful employers.

The goal of this group is to “maximize midtown’s potential” by linking the businesses and university campuses and neighborhoods of the area with infrastructure, like a streetcar, that will help to connect these important Omaha institutions.

A streetcar would be great for the businesses and universities of downtown and midtown, but to UNO students, that money would be better spent improving roads and the current metro system.

Mendez said that considering the geographical location of where the streetcars would be placed, they likely wouldn’t assist UNO students in any way.

“Whether you are taking the number two bus from Dodge Campus or the number 11 from Scott Campus, both buses can drop you off pretty deep downtown, removing any assistance or necessity form the streetcars,” Mendez said.

Former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford was recently hired as Midtown 2050 Corp.’s president and executive director.

Ashford told the Omaha World-Herald that the group sees a vigorous revitalization of midtown as critical to Omaha’s economic progress. He added that it would not only generate more activity and tax revenue, but it’s also needed to attract talented young employees and entrepreneurs.

Referring to UNMC’s Buffett Cancer Center and the major corporations in the area, Ashford said, “they have to compete for the best talent they can keep for a long time, and that
means young people.”

There’s something else that will attract young people: affordable universities. Rather than using tax dollars to fund a streetcar, the state of Nebraska would benefit further by possibly putting the project on the back burner and focusing on fixing current infrastructure issues. Or, even using some of that money to make up for NU’s budget problem.

Whatever outcome of the election in April, hopefully the mayor of Omaha will implement a plan that will benefit all of Omaha, not just midtown and downtown.

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