‘Thank you for rehiring me’: After defeating Mello in mayor’s race, Stothert lays out vision for future

By Roseann Moring and Jeffrey Robb / World-Herald staff writers
May 10, 2017

Omahans can expect four more years of City Hall focus on public safety and the budget — and maybe a new riverfront — after Mayor Jean Stothert easily won re-election.

Stothert won 53 percent of the votes to challenger Heath Mello’s 46 percent in the final unofficial count, with a particularly strong showing in the western part of the city.

“To the community I love, thank you for rehiring me,” she said. “I’ll work harder than ever to make you proud of our work.”

She said her focus during her second term will be public safety, the budget, workforce development, transportation, neighborhood support and making the city more welcoming.

She also promised to reach out to the community leaders and elected officials who vocally opposed her.

Most vocal of those was Sheriff Tim Dunning, who appeared in an anti-Stothert commercial, and the firefighters union, which spent thousands of dollars supporting Mello. Some prominent business leaders had also backed Mello.

Stothert, a Republican in an officially nonpartisan seat, kept the focus on local governance issues as Mello tried to harness anger over President Donald Trump.

Mello told his supporters that the results weren’t what they anticipated, but he urged young people not to give up and to be proud that their message was heard.

Stothert told a jubilant crowd that Mello was a “tough competitor” and that now it’s time for the city to come together.

She got big applause for promising to work on downtown, “including a new riverfront as our signature.”

“What is the bottom line?” Stothert said. “Omaha is back. We have momentum. We are moving in the right direction.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Omaha sent a message that the national issues aren’t the ones that matter — voters were more interested in her record on taxes and other local issues.

“I think the people of Omaha said the mayor is doing a great job, let’s keep her,” he said.

Stothert racked up big margins in west Omaha, winning 64 percent of the vote in the three western-most council districts (5,6,7). That gave her a 14,000-vote edge that Mello could not overcome.

Mello won the remaining four council districts, but most by narrower margins. In South Omaha, a crucial battleground in mayoral contests, Stothert got within 139 votes, even though Mello had represented the area in the Nebraska Legislature.

Mello won north Omaha’s 2nd District with 72 percent of the vote, but it didn’t help him much because of low turnout. In fact, the four council districts that Mello won had fewer total votes than the three that Stothert won. And while he took 59 percent of the overall vote in the eastern part of the city, that didn’t add up to enough votes to close the gap.

During the campaign, Mello had argued that the mayor needs to be thinking bigger and pursuing more public-private partnerships.

The two clashed over age-old City Hall issues such as annexation, crime and streets. And they sparred over a new municipal issue: the proposal to build a streetcar between downtown and midtown.

The election also got national attention: Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came to Omaha to campaign for Mello. Stothert brought Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to attend a rally with her.