I thought Beutler clearly won the debate. A few nuggets of interest:
• Beutler said “arguably the most important issue” in Lincoln right now is street needs. This surprised me, since during his four years he has not really offered a solution. He did kick in some city dollars to complement federal stimulus dollars for roads. But he has not acted since getting authority from the Legislature to implement urban growth districts on the city edge — where projected sales tax revenue would be used to obtain bonds to fund infrastructure, similar to tax increment financing districts. He did say he’s working on a financing plan that will likely include a series of small bond issues. That’s news.
• Beutler seemed to get rattled when Buffington criticized his $2 million creation of a Development Services Center in city hall and $6 million purchase of the Experian building. Beutler said all the money spent on leases for city offices will be enough to make payments on the Experian building — although he didn’t mention the estimated $10 million cost of moving, for which the city doesn’t have a plan. “It was a steal,” he said of the Experian building. “The only problem is filling it.”
• Beutler said of the arena project: “It’s happening with the utmost transparency.” That was an overstatement, given the recent approval of a pre-construction contract that won’t allow the actual bids to be made public, only scorecards of each company that bids.
• I was surprised Beutler got so irritated when Buffington suggested the city might not want to take state or federal funds — with all their strings attached — to build the south or east beltways and instead should look for efficiencies in city government to do the projects. “My opponent is not in the realm of the real,” he said. He’s right, the city could never pay for those projects itself, but no need to attack her for making a rookie mistake. She shot back that perhaps the city could have built the south beltway instead of the arena project.
• Beutler seemed to try to take credit for building momentum to reform the Commission of Industrial Relations (which settles wage disputes between cities and unions and enforces the law requiring public employees’ to keep up with their peers’ in other cities) when he said, “we have built up an armada of opposition.” I don’t think he can take credit for that — while he has complained about the CIR since taking office, Republicans on the City Council and up in Omaha have made a lot more noise than he. Nevertheless, he also predicted, “You will see change this year.”
• Most unexpected question asked by a panel of local journalists: How big a problem is illegal immigration in Lincoln? Beutler said it’s not a problem here.
• Beutler claimed crime has dropped 21 percent since he took office — which I’ve never heard before.
Click here to see some video from the debate.
Looks like there will be a Republican running against Mayor Chris Beutler after all.
“We have somebody running,” the executive director of the county GOP, Joe Murray, told me today. “An incredible candidate.”
He said the candidate is a business person not commonly associated with politics. The Journal Star is reporting today that it may be Tammy Buffington, a Tea Partier, and that some are talking about former Councilwoman Robin Eschliman as a possibility. (I’m surprised the LJS reported Buffington without attributing that to anyone; they seem to be getting more lax about using unnamed sources. Which is fine by me, I just wish they would have let me do that when I worked there!)
Whoever it is, they’ve got their work cut out for them since they’re getting a late start.
Expect an announcement soon.
On the City Council front,
Doug Emery is leaning toward running for re-election to his seat representing northeast Lincoln, and I’m told he will be challenged by newcomer Melissa Hilty, a Gering native and UNL grad who has worked as a legislative aide and committee clerk.
Councilman John Spatz (northwest Lincoln) and Councilman Jonathan Cook (southwest Lincoln) have not yet announced their re-election plans — although I expect both will run again.
The first time I met Scott Wendt, I went down to his bookstore when it was in its old location south of the Creamery in the Haymarket. He was up to his eyeballs in books, as they were just about to move to their current location a few blocks away on Ninth Street.
Up-and-coming developers at WRK had bought the building, and Bluestem Books had to find a new home. I’d go on to do a lot of talking to WRK owners Robert and Will Scott and Scott Wendt over the next few years, as they were crucial players in the debate over whether to build a $340 million arena project right next to Bluestem’s old home.
Good people, all around. I would have nominated the Scott twin brothers for Person of the Year, too, but I couldn’t just pick one and I know how twins hate to be considered one person, so I left them off the list.
Wendt was a quiet, studious bookstore owner who became increasingly involved in the arena debate. First, he showed up as commenter “scottw” on journalstar.com arena stories, sometimes mentioning that he was a Haymarket business owner, which always caught people’s interest. They, like me, had wrongly assumed most Haymarket owners would be ecstatic at the prospect of the city investing $340 million right next door to them.
Then Wendt began attending meetings of an opposition group that eventually called itself No2Arena. He became one of their spokespersons.
When I interviewed him in this new role — in his new bookstore — I was amazed at the amount of research he was doing. I thought I had immersed myself in all the reports and committee meetings and minutes I could find, but this guy sometimes found things I hadn’t seen. I guess we should expect that from a book learnin’ fellow.
He wasn’t always right — he’d clearly never been interviewed by TV, radio and newspaper reporters weekly and sometimes he stumbled over the facts. But overall, he was an impressive, grassroots spokesman for the “other side” — even if he was largely drowned out by a quarter-million-dollar pro-arena advertising campaign.
Of course, the No2Arena group was more than just Wendt, but he emerged as a thoughtful, reasonable, quiet but determined voice of opposition. He put himself out there in the public eye, and took his punches for it. He risked losing customers in the process.
Perhaps this is why Wendt trounced all other nominations for Person of the Year in Lincoln, with two and a half times as many votes from Winterized readers as Mayor Chris Beutler garnered, six times as many as UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, and nearly 20 times as many as the honorable Bo Pelini.
In the words of Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.