• Video: Replay the mayoral debate.
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Omaha mayoral candidates Jean Stothert and Jim Suttle agreed on little in Tuesday's debate, even sparring over whether it is easier to say “yes” or “no.”
Suttle accused Stothert of taking the “easy” way out during her four years on the City Council by repeatedly voting “no” on three key tax increase packages that, the Democratic mayor argued, were needed to save the city from bankruptcy.
“She did not provide one bit of help, through the process, of how to solve the (city's financial) problem,” Suttle argued.
Stothert, a Republican, countered that Suttle took the easy route by raising taxes without doing enough to slash spending.
“Saying 'yes' is easy. Saying 'no' is difficult,” she said.
Suttle and Stothert sparred repeatedly over taxes, crime rates and department heads' salaries during their first televised debate, sponsored by The World-Herald and UNO Television.
In three weeks, voters will go to the polls and decide whether to give Suttle a second term or whether to turn city hall over to Stothert. The race is officially nonpartisan.
It was a spirited debate, with much of it focused on their continuing arguments over the city's budget woes and whether Suttle's successful effort to balance the budget by raising property taxes and the wheel tax and creating a new restaurant tax were needed.
Suttle repeatedly asked Stothert how she would have balanced the budget without raising taxes, and how she planned to roll back those tax hikes — as she has promised to attempt.
“What she is proposing now is to cut those very same revenue streams by $60 million, cut spending and balance the budget. How are you going to do that, Jean Stothert?” asked Suttle.
Stothert responded that it was her “goal” to roll back all of the tax hikes enacted under Suttle, but she never promised that it would be accomplished.
She also couldn't name a specific cut she would make to reduce spending. Instead, she promised to cut spending by finding efficiencies in city hall and performing performance audits of all city departments.
“That's my goal. That's my goal, to roll back those taxes, but it will take a while,” said Stothert.
Suttle had his own moment when he failed to answer a key question about what — if anything — he had done differently since he survived a 2011 recall attempt and vowed to listen more to Omahans.
The mayor couldn't name one thing he has done differently since the recall. In fact, he sounded almost defiant about the recall, indicating he never thought he had a listening problem: “I was listening before. I was listening afterward.”
For her part, Stothert jabbed Suttle over his controversial decision to give “secret” raises to four of his top staff members.
Suttle gave those raises even after he had promised to impose a salary freeze on his staff. Stothert called them “inexcusable” and said many Omahans agreed.
“Omahans have lost confidence in Mayor Suttle,” Stothert said.
Suttle stood by the pay raises, although he never responded to a question about whether he broke his promise to maintain a salary freeze.
Instead, Suttle defended the salary increases, saying some staff members — including his chief of staff — were “grossly underpaid.”
“I made that decision on my own on Saturday morning and I put it into place on Monday morning,” he said. “As mayor, I have that discretion.”
The two also engaged in a heated exchange over whether crime is on the rise in Omaha.
Stothert has argued this week that Suttle wasn't doing enough to fight crime, saying it has gone up during his four years in office.
Suttle said Stothert was “misusing” crime statistics by comparing recent crimes rates to 2010, when the city experienced one of its lowest crime years ever.
Stothert responded that she was using Omaha Police Department numbers. “We're not taking a snippet. We're not cherry-picking,” she said.
The debate was moderated by Mike Reilly, executive editor of The World-Herald, who questioned the candidates.
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