Mayor Jean Stothert took her campaign's message of streamlined spending and efficient government to north Omaha on Monday afternoon.
In her first appearance in the area since taking office, Stothert repeated her goals of lowering taxes and improving city services. She again identified crime, education and job creation as her three primary concerns for the economically stressed district.
The mayor also got a taste of blunt talk that's customary at north Omaha community gatherings with elected officials.
“Talk about what you're going to do to change the reality that we are one of the poorest black communities in the United States,” resident Vickey Parks told Stothert.
Just because businesses locate in Omaha doesn't mean they'll build in north Omaha or employ its residents, Parks said.
Perhaps, Parks said, “you're going to have race riots because you didn't pay attention to us about the conditions we are living in, not the conditions you live in, in Millard.”
Stothert replied: “It's not just about where I live in Millard. Like I told you, I grew up in inner-city St. Louis. So don't think for a minute that I don't understand what poverty and living in an inner city is like.”
Earlier in the meeting, Stothert had talked about her youth in Wood River, Ill., a “little blue-collar refinery town” well on St. Louis' northeastern fringe.
“It had one bathroom, one living room, two bedrooms. That's how I grew up,” Stothert said.
To create jobs in the city and in north Omaha, Stothert said, she would be directly involved in efforts to recruit and retain businesses.
“When companies need to hear from me, they will hear from me,” she said, adding there was a “99 percent chance” that a widely known company will soon announce plans to locate its corporate headquarters downtown.
Stothert also cited the city's ongoing efforts to seize a vacant stretch of north Omaha property to eventually develop into parcels for industrial companies.
Stothert, who opposed obtaining the site through eminent domain when she was a City Council member, said no developers were currently interested in the land, near 16th and Locust Streets.
“But once we get this project going, I believe that you will see those industries being more and more interested in Omaha,” she said.
Stothert said her administration also will begin to assemble a citizen-based police review board this summer rather than reviving a dormant auditor position that she opposed during her campaign.
She said she hoped to “free up police officers of doing busy, desk-type work that they don't need to do” to get more cops on city streets, and she repeated plans to hire enough police officers next year to bring the department to its current budgeted level.
She also plans to lease new police cruisers and find a way to purchase updated radio equipment.
Stothert, a former suburban school board member, said she planned to partner with local school districts to work on job training or anti-truancy efforts.
“Trust is something you earn, and I'm telling you I will work very hard to earn your trust in the next four years,” Stothert said.