Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and the State of the City
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert speaks to guests at the River City Republican luncheon in Omaha, Neb.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and the State of the City

Jean Stothert

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert stopped by the Pizza Ranch on Thursday to give a lunchtime “state of the city” address to the River City Republicans, touching on issues such as crime, economic development, and taxes.

Stothert had just come from a meeting with the manager of a West Omaha Target, which experienced an active shooting incident on Tuesday. “I could not be any prouder of the Omaha police department,” Stothert said. “This shooter at Target had 13 magazines on him. He dropped four on the floor, but had the rest in his coat. It could have been 10 times worse than Von Maur.”

The city had 30 homicides the previous year, compared with 150 in Kansas City. Omaha also has a relatively high clearance rate for homicides, which is the rate at which they are solved, which is about 86-87 percent. This is compared with a 35 percent rate in Kansas City.

The department is about 100 officers down for its targeted budget number of 906 officers, which Stothert attributes to efforts to “defund the police” in the previous two years. “We used to have between 16 and 1800 [applicants] — for this current class we had 300 applicants,” Stothert said. “Now that is a worry to me.”

One hot-button issue in Nebraska are high property taxes. Jean Stothert has cut the property tax levy three times as Mayor, two percent each time. She tells constituents that the city takes up only 21 percent of the tax bill as opposed to Omaha Public Schools, which take 62 percent. She brought a copy of her own property tax bill and went through it line by line to demonstrate.

Stothert reads from her own property tax statement.

Stothert put special emphasis on funding from the philanthropic community for various projects around the city, such as the development of Gene Leahy Mall and Heartland of America Park, Lewis and Clark landing. “We put in $60 million total, and the philanthropic Community put in $400 million.” The Kiewit Luminarium science museum at Lewis and Clark landing is also funded entirely with private funds, primarily from Kiewit. She also noted the City of Omaha owns the Orpheum Theater, but Omaha Performing Arts raises the money, and does the operation and maintenance for the facility. Omaha Performing Arts will also be opening the Steelhouse across from the Holland theater downtown, a “music venue that will get bands and entertainment too small for the convention center but too big for venues like the Slowdown.”

Stothert mentioned the new city library at 72nd and Dodge, which will cost $150 million, $20 of which comes from the city — the rest is private. She also emphasized that it will still remain a public library, despite rumors to the contrary. There will be another new library downtown at 1401 Jones, which replaces the recently-demolished Dale Clark library. Stothert emphasized that this demolition was not due to Mutual of Omaha wanting to buy that particular space. “That has been in the works for 10 years. It was not because of Mutual of Omaha. We were planning to do it anyway.” The new Mutual of Omaha building will be a $600 million dollar skyscraper at the west end of the Gene Leahy Mall. Mutual of Omaha has 4,000 employees in Omaha, and they will occupy the entire building.

Stothert’s final topic of discussion was the Streetcar project, and she covered many of the same points brought up by Aimee Melton at the River City Republican’s last luncheon. She and four other former Omaha Mayors — Suttle, Fahey, Daub, and PJ Morgan — signed on to an editor that ran in the Omaha World-Herald over the weekend. This editorial is in response to one written by Warren Buffett against the Streetcar project in January. Stothert was personally told in advance about the editorial by Susie Buffett, Warren Buffett’s daughter, who was able to arrange a meeting between her father and Mayor Stothert to talk about the project before the editorial ran. “He doesn’t like it for the same reason we like it,” Stothert said. “He said, ‘well, it’s permanent; you can’t move it.’ Well, that’s how you get development around it. You don’t see development around a bus line, because tomorrow you could change where the bus is going.”

Stothert took a few questions from guests, including one about Metropolitan Utilities District suggesting they were raising their rates in response to the streetcar project due to replacing water mains along the route. “Some of those lines, those mains on that street car route, were built in the 1800s,” Stothert said. “Some of them are 150 years old. Most of them are between 100 and 150. They should be replacing them. They had over 35 main breaks in a short period of about five years.” The city will be paying for the demolition of the streets in order to lay down infrastructure for the streetcar. MUD will have to pay for the replacement of the lines, but Stothert said the city would even loan MUD the money to pay for that. “If you don’t have the money right now to replace them, we’ll give you the money, and you pay us back over time. But you don’t have to raise rates.”

Stothert was elected to a third term in office in 2021 with 64.37 percent of the vote and is currently the longest-serving Mayor of Omaha.

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