The candidates elected this May will play a huge role in shaping our future. Local elections are extremely critical to our City’s success, and the fact that all Omaha Public School Board seats are open underscores the importance of voting.

VOICE’s steering committee spent the past month digging into these local races, and we are endorsing several candidates. Our VOICE-approved slate is below with a few bullets explaining why we endorse those candidates.

We took this effort very seriously. We did our homework. Our research methodologies varied a bit for each race; they generally included face-to-face interviews, open-ended written response questions, phone interviews, discussions with others knowledgeable of the candidates and the issues, and independent research.

We encourage you to vote for the following candidates:

Mayor: Jim Suttle

Jim Suttle deserves your vote for Mayor. His accomplishments over the last four years are undeniably worthwhile and have moved Omaha in the right direction. When the Mayor took office in 2009, the City faced an extraordinarily difficult financial situation, the national economy had yet to recover, and the flood of 2011 was looming.

Despite the challenges, Mayor Suttle has ensured the City maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates throughout his tenure. Mayor Suttle also put Omaha on firm financial ground by getting the AAA bond rating back. And there’s no question that his leadership during the flood of 2011 helped to prevent a significant disaster.

Mayor Suttle signed the Equal Employment Ordinance into law in 2011. Under his leadership, the City has been a good partner in summer youth workforce development, the affordable housing development in North Omaha, education initiatives, and gang violence intervention. His recent pledge to support a local ban on assault weapons demonstrates his continued level-headed, albeit not always popular, commitment to the safety and vitality of our community.

Mayor Suttle’s opponent, Councilwoman Jean Stothert, is an extremely knowledgeable politician who was able to demonstrate thorough understanding of the issues. Her policies, however, simply don’t align with VOICE’s values. Namely, she voted against the Equal Employment Ordinance in 2011, and while she didn’t indicate she would actively work to repeal it, she still reinforced her opposition to it during our interview.

Her views on urban design, sustainability, and arts and culture also misaligned with ours, and she didn’t mention either South Omaha or North Omaha during our hour long interview; a clear sign that her focus is elsewhere.

If elected, we encourage Mayor Suttle to ensure that his administration expand its level of transparency and improve its ability to meaningfully engage citizens. Furthermore, we would like to see Mayor Suttle refocus efforts on North and South Omaha, two areas that continue to demand attention and resources.

In short, re-electing Mayor Suttle will ensure our city continues to move in a positive, progressive direction; Councilwoman Stothert, if elected, would stop us in our tracks.

Omaha City Council

District 1: Pete Festersen

District 1 has seen strong leadership over the past term in Pete Festersen; leadership the District and city will continue to benefit from over the next four years if re-elected. Festersen has been a strong proponent of Midtown revitalization, leveraging the redevelopment of the Florence, Benson, and Dundee neighborhood business districts. Festersen has also helped facilitate a $300 million redevelopment plan for Crossroads Mall. Furthermore, as chairman of the City Council’s Planning Committee, Festersen supported new environmental and transportation elements to the City’s master plan and is committed to ensuring their implementation. Finally, Festersen exemplified his vision for a fair and inclusive Omaha in his support of the Equal Employment Ordinance.

District 2: Ben Gray

Ben Gray is a strong unifying leader that has moved District 2 forward.  His no nonsense, direct and always-available style promotes action and allows goals to be achieved. Gray has advocated for neighbors to encourage positive development and fought to keep predatory businesses out of his district.  Gray has been on the front lines in the battle against crime and violence.  Perhaps the single boldest move came when he led the initiative to make Omaha equal by introducing the Equal Employment Ordinance. He showed strong leadership, tackling difficult conversations head on and building a broad and diverse coalition of support. This unifying approach is what ultimately got the ordinance passed. Councilman Gray’s vision for a better Omaha, and his ability to work with people to realize that vision, is exactly what our city needs to keep moving forward. District 2 and the city will benefit greatly from continued stable and open leadership we have seen displayed by Gray.

District 3: Chris Jerram

Voice supports the re-election of Chris Jerram for City Council in District 3.  Jerram is outspoken and transparent in the way he performs his work on the City Council.  He supported the Equal Employment Ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT citizens in employment and has worked hard negotiating the revised labor agreement with the Fire Department.  He has been an effective chair of the Public Safety Committee advocating for practical solutions to issues with the Police Department and has overseen difficult public hearings following two highly publicized issues relating to use of force by the Police Department.  He has advocated for the businesses in Midtown, helping to ensure growth and development remains strong in Midtown at both Midtown Crossing and the UNMC campus.  Jerram has been supportive of the redevelopment efforts in downtown, increasing cycling efforts and the Dundee streetscape plans.

District 4: Garry Gernandt

In District 4, VOICE believes the choice to be clear. Re-electing Garry Gernandt aligns with all of VOICE’s values.  In his time on City Council he has advocated and strengthened the voice of South Omaha residents and the entire city.  From advocating for cultural centers like Lauritzen Gardens and the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium to promoting environmental awareness of industrial sites and their redevelopment, he has shown an ability to bring residents, developers, and government together for common sense solutions.  Gernandt also understands the nuances of government’s responsibility on social issues and supports equal access and mobility through his voting for the Equal Employment Ordinance, his advocacy of the work of Habitat for Humanity, and his tireless efforts in the Vinton Street redevelopment.  Gernandt is in step with VOICE’s values at virtually every turn.

Districts 5–7: no endorsements

Despite our best efforts, we are unable to offer endorsements in Districts 5–7. Only two of the six candidates responded to our requests for interviews, which left us in a bit of a pickle. Unfortunately the political election system we’ve created doesn’t afford us an opportunity to learn much about how a candidate will truly govern if elected. Websites don’t get into the level of detail we would prefer, and non-partisan voter guides are often filled with shallow responses.

Omaha Public School Board

District 1:  Yolanda R. Williams

  • Wants to change the current management style of the district to bottom up by allowing individual schools to implement effective processes and then share throughout the district.
  • Wants to build transparency by allowing board members to openly engage with schools to check on processes and progress.

District 2:  Niokia T. Stewart

  • Will ensure that OPS has the proper systems and resources so that teachers can be effective as educators. She believes that teachers need some ability to be creative because not all students learn in the same way.
  • Wants to ensure that all students receive the same quality education regardless of what school they attend.
  • Believes that OPS should have a strategic plan that involves input from all stakeholders.

District 3:  Marian Fey

  • Believes in the full potential of public education and wants OPS to work strategically within its diverse populations to identify the gaps in service which may affect student achievement.
  • Focused on communication challenges between OPS and the community and has worked on new processes that bring a higher level of transparency.
  • Will work with the new superintendent, staff, students, and the community to draft and implement a strong strategic plan that articulates academic and operational goals.
  • Will encourage collaborative initiatives with measurable objectives between the district and all stakeholders.

District 4:  Jill Brown

  • Will use data and research-based practices to improve retention and graduation rates while also addressing institutionalized discrimination that contributes to the achievement gap.
  • Increase opportunities for teachers to develop innovative creative responses to the demands of their job.
  • Advocates for adopting more progressive, substantial early childhood initiatives.

District 5:  Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum

  • Wants more engagement with diverse communities to better serve that OPS’s diverse student population.
  • Will work with teachers to gain a better understanding of their classroom and professional development needs.

District 6:  Matt Scanlan

  • Would expand and promote early childhood development programs.
  • Work to create a culture of cooperation and teamwork between administration and teachers.
  • Believes that diversity within the OPS system is an opportunity for the school system to flourish.
  • Would like more teacher input on proposed programs and would like to have their ideas about what would increase student success.

District 7:  Katie Underwood

  • Wants to have a united board that is focused on high expectations and measurable goals for the district.
  • Would like to provide more support for teachers in high poverty areas and focus on cultural proficiency for all teachers.
  • Would like to have policies that allow for more flexibility in certain situations because some circumstances call for alternative teaching methods.

District 8:  Lacey Merica

  • Wants to increase the openness and transparency of OPS and the school board and how they communicate with stakeholders.
  • Would build stronger community partnerships with nonprofits, the business community, and other educational institutions.
  • Will ensure adequate and equitable distribution of funding and resources across the district. Believes that a formulaic approach may not be the best method because it does not address the diverse populations in each school.

District 9:  Sarah Brumfield

  • Believes that transparency in communicating with stakeholders is important to OPS’s effectiveness.
  • Would like to develop programs that encourage greater parent involvement in the school system.
  • Believes that OPS needs a vocational high school to better serve the needs of students.