The Omaha Mayoral candidate forum on Saturday, Jan. 23, offered the first glimpse of each candidate and the issues important to them.
The virtual event was hosted by NOISE in partnership with Culxr house, and more than 2,500 viewers attended the livestream. The forum was moderated by KETV anchor and reporter Waverle Monroe and grassroots journalist Peyton Zyla, who streamed from Culxr house.
This mayoral forum offered a glimpse into the values of those running for office by tackling topics like the city budget, environmental justice, police reform, housing and more.
William King is a candidate born and raised in Omaha who hosts radio stations 1690am The One and 95.7 The Boss. He believes relations between police and the community can improve by expanding the Police Athletic League and other outreach programs.
“We’ve got to have great police relations with the community, and the only way to do that is sports,” King said. “I played sports. I’m a product of North Omaha, of Hilltop Projects, and my first basketball hoop was monkey bars, not a hoop, but monkey bars.”
His mother couldn’t read or write, he said, but she made sure he could. King said he is passionate about bettering the community. He believes connecting people with the internet, phones and data is one way to make change happen, as technology equips people with information and allows connections to form.
Candidate Jasmine Harris said that her office would implement a community participatory budgeting process to ensure Omahans’ voices were being heard and taken into consideration.
“Let the community members decide how funding will be spent,” Harris said. “The community is being left out of the conversation. The process right now is that residents get to come and give comments one night. We need to be better at how we are approaching this.”
Harris is from Omaha and has served marginalized communities here for many years. After fighting her way through a system meant to discourage anyone who checks “yes” to the question of criminal charges in their background, Harris said she has paved the way to create second chances for women and girls in North Omaha facing similar experiences.
Mark Gudgel said he recognizes the history of Omaha’s racism and the real implications it has for the community he serves. Gudgel is an English teacher at Omaha North High Magnet School where he said he has witnessed the repercussions that poor leadership has on the next generation.
“There’s no such thing as ‘not racist,’” Gudgel said. “There’s ‘racist’ and there’s ‘anti-racist’ and these adjectives refer to behaviors, not to people. So our behaviors, and our policies, have to be anti-racist if we’re going to combat the racist policies that got us where we are.”
Gudgel has plans for ‘anti-racist’ efforts like improving public transportation as reparation for the redlining that has isolated North and South Omaha and using Tax Incriment Financing (TIF) for affordable housing.
Dawaune Lamont Hayes
Grassroots journalist and activist Dawaune Lamont Hayes joined the race for mayor, he said, after becoming frustrated with our elected officials’ lack of connection to the people they’re supposed to be representing. Lamont Hayes’s community upbringing inspired his passion to see Omaha flourish—which will only happen when leaders address the area’s needs, he said.
“The roots of crime and violence comes from people not having their needs met, whether that’s access to food, shelter, mental health services,” he said. “As well as an environment that could be harmful, poisonous, polluted – that could affect their behavior and overall well-being.”
Lamont Hayes said he will prioritize reallocated resources from departments with excess to address the immediate need within the community. He said he believes that public safety starts with food, shelter and water.
Kimara Snipes is well-versed in building community care as President of the Highland South-Indian Hill Neighborhood Association, which was recognized for their focus on poverty and bridging the gap between police and community. She said she plans on taking the same approach as mayor.
“We all have to sit down at the table together,” Snipes said. “We have to have difficult conversations, we have to ask the police department ‘are your deputy Chiefs including diversity training?’ Once I am mayor, I will lead an all-civilians oversight and review commission for my first year in office to really assess how to restore public trust in our system.”
Snipes created Teen Talk About, a program for at-risk youth where she brought in Police Captain Matuza to get to know the participants, and in three months she said she noticed a difference. She said that officers who know the communities they serve do a better job.
In preparation for his campaign, RJ Neary rode every Metro bus line in the city and talked to citizens about what they wanted to see from their leaders. With a long history in local development, Neary is hyper-aware of how redlining affected the city of Omaha, he said.
“You can tell how the pandemic affected our city by laying the COVID map over the redlining map,” said Neary. “The history of redlining is evidence that we need a specific plan and incentives and programs to foster growth in home ownership for people of color.”
Neary is determined to bridge the separation in infrastructure to help mend the separation of Omaha. He said redlining maps show a disconnected city that neglects people of color, but his office would bring Omaha together.
What comes next?
These candidates are running against Mayor Jean Stothert who has served two previous terms and announced her candidacy for a third term in November. The first opportunity to vote for a mayoral candidate is March 22 in the primary election where the two candidates with the most votes will progress to the general election.
Culxr House and NOISE have made it a priority to inform the community and provide opportunities for them to connect with candidates. There will be more events in the Candidates for the Culxr series, the next being a Woman’s Candidate forum.