Mayor Jean Stothert describes her first week in office as “enjoyable,” a challenge that's kept her on her toes.
“I'm tired,” she admits. “I haven't been getting a lot of sleep. But that's just part of the job.”
Stothert's first week was a flurry of private meetings and public appearances: a College World Series press conference, a Union Pacific women's leadership forum, a groundbreaking ceremony at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a speech to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, a merit badge ceremony for local Boy Scouts.
She also moved to craft her narrative as City Hall's reformer, after a campaign that promised voters straight talk and straight answers.
Some of last week's unscripted moments, though, sampled what Stothert will face during the next four years. It will be a balancing act governing according to her priorities and controlling her message while also addressing Omahans' wide array of demands.
“All the different groups that want to come in and see me and talk to me this week, it does take up a lot of time,” Stothert told The World-Herald. “I feel like I need to give them that time. ... But I need to spend time governing, too. That's what I'm elected to do.”
For now, some people are trying to understand and even shape her priorities.
“I'm a gay woman,” Catherine King, a Union Pacific employee, told Stothert on Wednesday during the mayor's appearance at U.P.'s conference. “And I truly don't understand your position on the issue of the needs of your gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens."
Stothert parried by saying she would uphold a city ordinance that protects gay and transgender people from discrimination in Omaha. She voted against that measure in 2012 but helped propose a nonbinding council resolution to oppose workplace discrimination.
Another example came hours into Stothert's first day, as the mayor gathered local media outside City Hall to tout changes to the Mayor's Office.
She said she cut the Mayor's Office staff from 13 to 11 positions, reducing costs by more than 10 percent. The City Council already approved her proposal to freeze her salary. Stothert's newly leased car also was on display.
But questions soon pivoted from city finances to Stothert's tense relationship with Fire Chief Mike McDonnell.
Stothert responded with her standard request that McDonnell retire.
At a Thursday ceremony for a new pharmacy center, outgoing UNMC Chancellor Harold Maurer introduced Stothert with a quip that she “promised to move Saddle Creek Road and install a light rail between UNMC and downtown Omaha” as the campus grows. Stothert is on record against streetcars or light rail being discussed for UNMC's neighborhood.
Stothert, who voted against a city tobacco tax that will funnel millions to UNMC's campus cancer center project, responded with a grin and a short address that praised the medical center's work and impact on the city.
The new mayor said listening to the city's different constituencies would help build public confidence in the Mayor's Office.
“I want to do everything I can to let people know that what's important to them is important to me,” Stothert said. “And that I'll listen to them and I'll be honest with them. I can't always say 'yes,' but when I say 'no,' they're going to know why and I'll give them a good explanation why.”
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