Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Municipal election’ Category


Today will be the Day of Democrats and incumbents

It’s not that you shouldn’t vote. You should definitely vote.

It’s just that it’s pretty clear today will be the day of Democrats winning all over the city. My predictions:

• Incumbent Democrat Doug Emery will win handily in District 1 over newcomer Melissa Hilty, whose lack of yard signs in northeast Lincoln indicates a lack of either a) money or b) enthusiasm.
• Incumbent Republican Jon Camp will win — although not as easily as he would have, given fellow Republican and arena watchdog Jane Kinsey’s late write-in entry into the race, which will chip away at his lead over Democrat Bobbi Kosmicki. It could be a tense night for Camp.
• Incumbent Democrat Jonathan Cook will win District 3 by a wide margin over Republican Travis Nelson, who has been tarred and feathered by the state Democratic Party for having financial problems.
• No incumbents in District 4 — but Democrat Carl Eskridge should win quite easily over Chad Wright, whose late surge (and infusion of money) won’t be enough. Although Eskridge didn’t exactly bring new ideas to the table, he seems like a sensible man whose gentle temperment and conciliatory background will be welcome.
Mayor Chris Beutler will win in a landslide over newcomer Tammy Buffington — and this might be a good time for the Republicans to start recruiting a more viable candidate for the next mayoral election. Tammy is a nice person, but she’s in over her head.

Airport Authority
• Here’s how easy it is for an incumbent to get re-elected: Republican Richard Nuernberger, who served as county treasurer for 32 years, doesn’t even have a yard sign in front of his own house. I don’t know if he’s done a single thing to campaign. And yet, his name is so familiar to voters that they’ll elect him today.
• The Democrats have put so much time, effort and money behind 26-year-old newcomer and Democrat Anna Wishart that I expect she’ll defeat incumbent Republican Chris Hove. Wishart knows what Buffington doesn’t: You gotta start small and work your way up.

So there you have it! The new City Council most likely will have five Democrats and two Republicans. Jon Camp and Adam Hornung will be like gnats on Beutler’s backside… as he positions himself to run for governor in three years. Unless, of course, you voters had something else in mind…


Street laborers’ union refuses to endorse mayoral candidate

The union that represents laborers in the city’s street maintenance division has refused to endorse either of the two candidates running for mayor on Tuesday.

The union is called the Public Association of Government Employees, or PAGE, and represents about 500 blue-collar, clerical and technical workers. It also represents laborers who were the subject of our special report last week, detailing the bullying and infighting that have plagued the streets division for years.

PAGE union President Jeff Stump

PAGE President Jeff Stump said the union doesn’t think either of the mayoral candidates is qualified.

“We feel Tammy Buffington doesn’t have the experience and her views on the commission (CIR) and unions are not something that we agree with and as far as Mayor Beutler we can’t endorse him because of issues in the street department that he has failed to address after a year and a half.”

Those issues, he said, are bullying, harassment and inadequate training — all the things detailed in our special report.

The union also declined to endorse a candidate in District 1, northeast Lincoln. Stump said they didn’t endorse Democrat Doug Emery because “he’ not a qualified candidate” and after promising not to “come after our pension” Stump said the first thing Emery did after getting elected was start working on reducing city employees’ retirement benefits.

“The first thing he came after was our pensions,” Stump said.

The union endorsed the Democrats in two districts: Jonathan Cook in southwest Lincoln and Carl Eskridge in northwest Lincoln. The union did not endorse anyone in the southeast Lincoln district, where incumbent Jon Camp is running against newcomer Bobbi Kosmicki.

“We just don’t feel that we know enough about them,” he said.


Council candidate accused in domestic incident 11 years ago

Travis Nelson is running for the City Council.

When City Council candidate Travis Nelson was targeted by Democrats for having money problems, he fought back with a press statement defending his reputation.

He also subtly launched a pre-emptive strike, in case the Dems intended to go after another blemish on his record: A “domestic” between he and his girlfriend in 2000, when they lived on 27th Street.

According to the Lincoln Police Department’s incident report, police were called to 1905 S. 27th St. after the incident at about 2:30 in the morning in mid-December.
The police report describes the incident as a “domestic argument” between Nelson and his then-girlfriend, Mary Jo Spicka, who is a Lincoln firefighter. The report says there was “pushing, scratches” and that Spicka had an abrasion on the “left forear.” Spicka is identified as the victim in the report.

Lancaster County Court records indicate he was convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to one year of probation. In a press statement earlier this week, Nelson said the conviction stemmed “an argument with his former wife prior to their marriage.”

Nelson served probation and completed an alcohol rehabilitation program. He has since remarried, to Ronda Smith Nelson, and has a 6-year-old son (Spicka’s son).

“I fully accept responsibility for my role in the situation,” Nelson said in his press statement. “That event made me take serious stock of my life and changed it forever, for the good.”

Nelson is running against incumbent Democrat Jonathan Cook in District 3, southwest Lincoln.


Nelson says Dems are wrong: he paid his child support, attorney’s bill

City Council candidate Travis Nelson released state records today that he says prove the state Democratic Party sent out a mailing that wrongly accuses him of failing to pay his child support since 2009.

Travis Nelson is running for the City Council.

Nelson released this document (nelson child support pg 1), which he said shows he has made his payments on time. He said he is considering suing the Democratic Party for “lying about my personal record of paying child support.”

“This is a false accusation against me personally,” he said in a press release. “It is untrue that I have not paid my child support for my son who is so important to me.”

Vic Covalt, chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, has not returned a phone call seeking comment on Nelson’s assertion. The state Democratic Party paid for the mailing that went out late last week accusing Nelson of failing to pay child support, owing his divorce lawyer thousands and having a small claims judgment against him for money he owed Pella. Nelson works in construction. Nelson said he has also paid the attorney’s fees and Pella — which he described as a “complicated mess” because the company supplied the wrong size windows. He called the allegations “red herrings.”

A few days prior, the county Republican Party sent out a mailing pointing out that his opponent, incumbent Democrat Jonathan Cook, had failed to attend 80 percent of City-County “Common” meetings.

“My opponent was attacked on his public record of not showing up for his city council job,” Nelson said in the release. “I was wrongly attacked for things that occurred in my personal life and that is inexcusable and a below-the-belt kind of hit. My opponent has proven to voters that he doesn’t even show up for the job they elected him to do. I show up to work every day,”

Nelson said it’s not easy being a small home remodeler and contractor during a tough economy.

“Like thousands of workers in Lincoln, these are tough times and we have struggled. But I show up every day and I pay my bills. This game-playing with false accusations made against me personally are an insult to me and the voters of the 3rd City Council District.”

On another issue, Nelson today also acknowledged he was charged with disturbing the peace 11 years ago, “stemming from an argument with his former wife prior to their marriage.” Nelson served probation and completed an alcohol rehabilitation program.

“I fully accept responsibility for my role in the situation,” Nelson said in his press release. “That event made me take serious stock of my life and changed it forever, for the good.”

“My campaign has been about the issues important to voters. I’m proud of my family business, I’m proud of my family, and I’m proud of how I’ve dealt with the personal challenges I’ve had to face and conquer,” Nelson said.


Dems’ smear campaign begins

Well, here it is. The ugliest piece of campaign literature I’ve seen so far in this spring’s municipal election campaign: The Nebraska Democratic Party send out a mailing late last week bashing the Republican candidate for the City Council, in District 3. The headline: “Travis Nelson can’t manage his own money.”

Their evidence? He hasn’t paid his child support since July 2009. He owes his divorce attorney nearly $5,400. And he owes Pella $2,700, according to a small claims judgment in county court. Ouch.

This is the deal, folks. If you want to run for elective office around here, you’d better not have any skeletons in your closet, because they will find them. The Democrats are particularly good at digging up this kind of dirt. You may recall in the last City Council race, the Dems dogged Republican Adam Hornung for not paying the wheel tax on a pickup that he said was his father’s (who lives in another county).

I remember well the Dems’ press conference, during which they showed reporters pictures they’d taken of Hornung’s SUV in the parking lot of the law firm he works at. I wondered a) how they identified this potential chink in Hornung’s armor and b) was the head of the Democratic Party out skulking around in the parking lot, trying to get the photo?

This is what it’s come to. Somebody runs for office, and the other party sets about digging up dirt on them. To be fair, the Republicans actually launched the first salvo in the District 3 race, sending out a mailing noting that incumbent Councilman Jonathan Cook has missed 80 percent of City-County “Common” meetings.

Is that relevant? I think it is.

Is the fact that Nelson might have money problems relevant? The Dems’ mailer thinks so, asking people, “What kind of City Council member do you want? Responsible? Trustworthy? Budget Conscious? Travis Nelson IS NONE OF THESE THINGS.”

Does this mean the Democratic candidate in District 2, Bobbi Kosmicki, is not fit for office, too — given the news that she filed for bankruptcy last year?

I find it ironic that Democratic State Chairman Vic Covalt thinks it’s OK to do this kind of dirt-digging and spreading — considering he represents people in bankruptcy for a living. When I was a reporter, Covalt and I had several conversations about how The System treats poor people. I specifically remember him telling me I should go down to the courthouse every Friday and watch the parade of people who basically can’t afford to pay for things like car insurance and registration.

He fights for those people. And yet, in his other life as head of the Democratic Party — the party that ostensibly fights for the little guy — he slams a guy who can’t pay his bills for having the audacity to run for elective office.

I see hypocrisy in that. Do Vic and the Dems believe anybody who’s ever struggled financially — or at least to the point of it becoming a public record in a court of law — should not run for office? Is that the standard? Should it be? You tell me.


Beutler amassing, spending lots of campaign cash

According to state campaign finance reports, Mayor Chris Beutler is amassing a tidy sum of money for the mayoral race — but he’s also spending quite a bit of it, even though he’s seen as a shoo-in for re-election.

Heading into 2011, Beutler had more than $100,000 in cash on hand, according to his report with the state Accountability & Disclosure Commission. By March 1, he’d spent more than $71,000 — including nearly $30,000 on polling to a Washington, D.C.,-based company in January and February. I keep hearing reports of people being polled about city races; I wonder if they’re polling every month?

Beutler also donated $11,000 to the Nebraska Democratic Party for a coordinated campaign (you know, like for those mailings that go out to registered Democrats reminding them to “vote for our Democratic team”). And he paid the Thought District $9,000 for this website. (I made my campaign website myself for $17. Maybe it shows, but I’ve never made a website before.)

By comparison, Republican mayoral challenger Tammy Buffington reported she had raised just $1,600 as of March 1. I’ve heard her say at campaign events that she probably won’t raise more than $15,000 — and that she hasn’t received any money from the Republican Party. It’s very clear to me that the Democrats are much more organized and aggressive on the local level than the Republicans.

So the question is, why is Beutler raising and spending money like a madman? Some speculate that he intends to run for governor in three years. Others say he wants to prevent the Democrats from losing control of the City Council, which would make it harder for him to accomplish his agenda.

Out on the campaign trail, people are telling me they’re getting hit up to volunteer and donate money like crazy by the Democrats. I was amused by the direct-mail flier that recently went out in Lincoln urging Democrats to “vote for your Democratic team” — with a photo of Beutler and all the local Democrats running for offices from airport authority to school board to city council.

Why was I amused? Because one of the last irritations I had as a reporter involved Beutler calling my boss and complaining that I had referred to council members as “Republican” or “Democrat.” I only ever did that when it appeared politics or political philosophy was at play in a debate or vote or bickering, but Beutler felt I was contributing to partisanship by even pointing out people’s party affiliation.

Now, just a few months later, he is sending out fliers urging Lincolnites to vote for an Airport Authority member based on whether they’re a Republican or Democrat. I find that amusing.

Other interesting tidbits about who has raised how much money for this campaign season:

• Councilman Jon Camp is also headed for re-election in southeast Lincoln, but he’s still raising and spending money like his seat is on the line. He’s got signs all over town (far outside of his district), oversized signs and I’ve seen one billboard (like he doesn’t have name recognition). According to his most recent campaign report, he had nearly $65,000 in cash on hand.

• By comparison, Councilman Jonathan Cook — who, like Camp, has served on the council for 12 years — reported more than $10,000 in cash on hand as of March 1. Unlike Camp, Cook doesn’t like to raise money. (Which is probably why he still owes his old campaigns $38,500.)

• Councilman Doug Emery (who is seeking his second four-year term) had nearly $15,000 in cash on hand as of March 1. What’s interesting about Emery, a Democrat, is that he said he won’t accept money from the firefighters’ union this year (there goes like $15,000).

• Democrat Carl Eskridge — who is running for the City Council in northwest Lincoln — reported nearly $12,000 in cash on hand as of March, almost all of it from individuals. The biggest contribution was $3,000 from John Hannah of Houston, Texas. Wish I had rich friends in Texas!

• Republican City Council candidates Chad Wright, Travis Nelson and Melissa Hilty, Democrat Bobbi Kosmicki and independent Deena Winter (me) don’t file campaign finance reports until they’ve raised $5,000, which apparently they have not since I can’t find reports for them. (I know I haven’t — I made that crazy promise not to take money from anyone but individuals, so I will raise much less money than most candidates. Most of my donations are $20 to $25, and I love that!)


Buffington bashes Beutler over Brashear hiring

Republican Mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington today put out a bombastic press release regarding Mayor Chris Beutler’s recent hiring of former Speaker Kermit Brashear to lobby for the city.

Tammy Buffington

I’m just going to give you the whole press release. Here it is:

I opened my paper yesterday to discover that our mayor is once again spending MORE of the taxpayer’s money. He has decided to hire a former State Senator, a successful Omaha attorney to help with the city’s labor negotiations. It will cost us $350/hour with a projected total of $50,000 for the four weeks of work. This is more than half of the mayor’s yearly salary. Is this how our mayor stays away from the important work of the city? Pay others to do his work? He told a group last evening that they are welcome to come to city hall because he has many assistants to help them. Are these the 19 aides that he has hired at an average salary of $114,000 plus benefits and an additional 12% yearly retirement with no match?

Our mayor is painting the success of Lincoln in such glowing terms and accepting all the credit for this success. Has he ever thought that the reason we have a low unemployment is that citizens of Lincoln are hard working. Faced with a struggling economy and loss of jobs, many are going out and finding whatever they can to make ends meet. Spouses are going back to work instead of staying home with their children. People are making sacrifices. They are cutting back on luxuries. They are paying their bills as best as they can. Wouldn’t it be better for this mayor to find ways to cut back and put money back into the hands of the taxpayers? Wouldn’t it be better if he was a leader of this community and settled the union issues himself? Would that mean that he might not be able to take money from the unions in this election? Would it mean that he would have to hold the line on raising our taxes if he is elected?

I guess the voters will decide in 5 weeks if they like his leadership or if they want to try someone new that will look for ways to cut the budget and return the money to the taxpayers.


Council candidate apologizes for false endorsement claim

A direct-mail piece that recently landed in Lincoln mailboxes claimed that City Council candidat Travis Nelson was endorsed by the South Salt Creek Neighborhood Association. Only one problem: He wasn’t.

A member of the South Salt Creek association — Teri Pope-Gonzalez — said not only did the association NOT endorse Nelson, its bylaws prevent it from endorsing anyone.

Nelson rectified the situation with a little posting on his Facebook page, apologizing for any confusion. That ought to do it! Thousands of households with inaccurate information versus a Facebook page with a little apology.


How much TIF leftover money is there lying around Lincoln?

On Monday, the Lincoln City Council was asked to approve using $400,000 worth of “leftover TIF” funds from an old redevelopment project to do a streetscape project a few blocks to the south.

The redevelopment project was at the Lincoln Star back — back when it was called the Lincoln Star and not the Lincoln Journal Star. The redevelopment project dates to 1996, and the value of the property involved has increased from $800,000 then to more than $4 million now.

Anyway, this is an example of a TIF project where the bonds have been paid off, and extra TIF money is sitting in a bank account. So the Urban Development Department comes up with a plan to use the money, by expanding the border of the original TIF district to include a new area, therefore allowing them to spend the money over there. In this case, they’re expanding from the Journal Star area to M Street from Seventh to 17th streets.

Today, I called for a full accounting or report from the city on all of the TIF funds that have this kind of “leftover” money in them. How many are there? How much money is in them? Can it be used for infrastructure needs in the area of the TIF districts? Should it be returned to the original taxing entities instead of used by the city? These are my questions.

This is not the first time the city has used leftover TIF funds for a nearby pet project. The city also plans to use leftover money from a Lincoln Mall project for Centennial Mall.

Here’s how the city sometimes ends up with extra TIF dollars: The city buys the TIF bonds, which are usually 15-year bonds, and if the project generates more property tax revenue than projected (which is often the case, since the city used to be very conservative in their estimates), the bonds can be paid off earlier than that. But the money that would have otherwise been property taxes instead accumulates in the TIF account.

Back when I was a reporter, I asked some council members about these TIF pots of money, but they seemed clueless about them. And uninterested. Well, I’m interested. Perhaps the money could be used for street work — but I wouldn’t blame the school district, county and NRD (to name the big ones) for feeling like they’d like some of this leftover TIF money, too.

In the Lincoln Star case, if the city chose to give the extra money to the taxing entities that would normally receive it, the city would only get $56,000, whereas the school district would get about $240,000. So you can see why the city prefers to keep the excess money all to itself.


Nelson and KLIN: It’s not our Facebook ad

Whoever took out a Facebook ad calling me a liberal Obama-lover (I’m paraphrasing) had better hope local journalists aren’t too good at tracking them down.

Because they are looking.

As I reported here Monday, a Facebook friend of mine reported seeing the ads multiple times over the weekend. I haven’t seen one, but then I don’t spend a lot of time trolling Facebook. The man copied and pasted the text of the ad, which said, “Liberal Deena Winter;; At a recent event, City Council Candidate Deena Winter said, ‘OBAMA has done an OK job so far.’ Do you agree? Yes or no?”

He said the ad also featured my old mug shot from the Lincoln Journal Star — which I’m sure the paper didn’t give permission to use. Some people have said the “yes/no” link didn’t take them anywhere; others said it took them to a KLIN podcast about the LIBA debate.

I emailed both KLIN and Travis Nelson’s campaign manager to see if either of them were behind the ads (since Nelson has made a point of trying to portray himself as Mr. Conservative). A KLIN employee replied yesterday, saying they have no idea where the ad came from. Nelson’s campaign manager finally responded this afternoon (four days after I asked), saying, “Nelson’s campaign is not the source of the Facebook ad.”

KLIN’s Jack Mitchell is spitting mad because of the connection to KLIN — making it appear as though the radio station has a dog in the fight or prefers a certain candidate. Obviously, that would be improper of KLIN. Mitchell has vowed to track down the person behind the ad.

I am trying, too — although Facebook doesn’t make it easy to try to reach an actual human (no surprise there). I’ve filled out their online forms in an attempt to get information about the ad. I doubt they’ll be very responsive though. They have the world to rule, after all.

A local reporter has asked me to send a screen shot of the ad if someone manages to capture one (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the ad has quickly been pulled), because such ads are legally required to disclose who paid for them. In other words, the ad shunned Nebraska campaign law.

You may remember the brouhaha a few years ago when it was discovered that former Councilman Glenn Friendt was behind some angry, anonymous ads against former councilmen Terry Werner and Dan Marvin.

That’s what happens when you get an aggressive attorney involved in tracking down these kinds of law-shunning ads. Any takers?

%d bloggers like this: