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Omaha mayoral candidates attend forum at Big Mama's Kitchen

It was Mayor Stothert's first in-person forum of the 2021 primary
Posted at 5:51 PM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 19:43:54-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert attended her first in-person forum of the 2021 city primary on Wednesday in North Omaha, joining Kimara Snipes, Jasmine Harris and RJ Neary.

Organizers with Black Men United and a lunch-hour crowd quizzed the candidates about local issues at Big Mama’s Kitchen, it was part of the restaurant’s Hungry Club community meetings that it has hosted for years.

The questions covered housing inequality, juvenile justice, job training, road repairs and economic development in North Omaha.

Black Men United President Willie Hamilton said he wanted to be sure the mayoral candidates focused some attention on helping small businesses grow and helping fight the loss of talented young people of color to other communities.

"A lot of people talk,” he said. “We need a plan. We’re tired of just talking.”

Stothert, the Republican incumbent in the officially nonpartisan mayor’s race, spent much of the forum defending her administration’s work in North Omaha.

She offered examples, saying the city in 2020 resurfaced 20 lane miles of street in Northeast Omaha and said the city set more money aside to help neighborhoods get unimproved streets up to code.

“I think there has been so much progress up here, from the roads to economic development, to working with nonprofits … to adding more affordable housing,” Stothert said.

Snipes, a member of the Omaha Public Schools board, said she would work to improve the city’s communication by working more closely with neighborhood associations.

She said the city needs to learn to listen better and get the right people around the table to address problems, including working more with OPS and other school districts on workforce development.

Snipes talked about her work in North and South Omaha to improve outreach about COVID-19 testing, saying, “This last year has shown us that your lives depend on leadership and proper communication.”

Harris, a leader with RISE Omaha, a local nonprofit that helps people re-enter society after serving criminal sentences, said Omaha is at a tipping point and needs new leadership to meet the moment.

She said Omaha needs someone who will address equity in every decision the city makes, not just when people are voting and not just when people are looking.

“A lot of people don’t feel like North Omaha has been at the table with these (city) decisions,” Harris said. “So to do it right here in the community, to talk with people, it’s really important.”

Neary, chairman of commercial real estate broker and property manager Investors Realty Inc., talked a lot about his plans, including one to incentivize developers to build more affordable homes.

He spoke about the need to invest more in a transit system, in more routes for ORBT, the rapid bus system, so it can connect more parts of the city with the people who need to get around it.

“To me a better Omaha lifts up struggling businesses and individuals,” Neary said. “We need a city that’s more sustainable, has good paying jobs and lifts up all people.”

A fifth mayoral candidate, Omaha North High School English teacher Mark Gudgel, couldn’t attend because he was teaching class, his campaign said.

Early voting is already underway in Omaha. The city’s in-person primary is Tuesday, April 6.

Watch the entire forum below or on the Black Men United Facebook page.