Everybody in Omaha is pissed about potholes. Half-assed responses produce a half-assed city. People are tired of getting flat tires caused by the same old holes. We all get that. What else shall we discuss?
I attended a recent online forum featuring candidates for the office of mayor of the city of Omaha. I was grateful for the opportunity to hear from four of the five candidates at the forum. Incumbent Mayor Jean Stothert, who is standing for a third term, declined to participate. Along with many other people, I pray for healing and strength for Mayor Stothert and her family at the recent death of her husband, Joe.
I also understand the strategic decision not to participate in the forum. It would make little sense for the current mayor to put a bullseye on her back and allow the four challengers to make her the focus of the forum. I would have liked to see that, but I didn’t expect it to happen.
To repeat – everybody in Omaha is pissed about potholes. It’s good that the challengers have plans for addressing this perennial pain in the lower back. What else shall we discuss?
The four challengers are Mark Gudgel, Jasmine Harris, R. J. Neary, and Kimara Snipes. I would be glad for any of these folks to replace the current mayor. I am grateful that each of them has put themselves forward to run. Campaigning for public office is thankless, expensive, exhausting, and infuriating in the best of times. I know there are many rewarding moments as well, but embracing public service is sacrificial ministry. Each of these candidates deserves our respect and gratitude.
I support Kimara Snipes. I believe that of the five mayoral candidates she possesses the most relevant experience and the most appropriate skill set for the job of mayor of Omaha at this time. I believe that her visions for bottom-up organizing and for one Omaha together are critical for a flourishing city and neighborhoods within the city. So, I hope my biases in my comments are clear now.
I expect that any of the four challengers would be an improvement over the current administration. What I hope the future holds for Omaha, however, is change.
Mr. Gudgel was most noticeable for his opposition to increased spending. He began the forum as sort of a grumpy, but loveable, dad who was shaking his head at the foolish choices being made by his children. For a while, the grumpiness accelerated into mild outrage, but toward the end he softened and smiled. I don’t think he performs the outraged curmudgeon all that well and would do better as the helpful and competent teacher that I’m sure he is.
Mr. Neary has garnered the greatest number of Democratic endorsements among the current candidates. He was a very pleasant grandfather who is wired into the real estate establishment of the city and county. He comes with some long experience and deep connections to the status quo. In fact, however, I don’t want to exchange a wealthy, older, privileged, and propertied West Omaha white man for the wealthy, older, privileged, and propertied West Omaha white woman who is the current mayor. Mr. Neary would bring improvement to the office but would not bring change to the city.
I began my involvement in the mayoral campaigns with a clear commitment. I would support a Black, Brown, Native or AAPI candidate. I would support a woman candidate and would prefer someone who lives at the real intersection of race, gender, class, and geography in Omaha. I imagine that some folks will be horrified by such a commitment. Some will even – quite mistakenly – call this some sort of affirmative action, tokenism, or even “reverse racism.”
Friends, that’s just stupid. People have been picking white, wealthy, older, privileged, and propertied men for office since the founding of this nation. For a long period that was the only legal option. For as long a period, that was the only available option. For a long period, no one even had to think about such choices since they were regarded as merely “normal” and “common sense.”
So, please don’t tell me that making a different choice is somehow suspect or inappropriate. If you think that, your white male supremacy is on full display.
I could make this commitment, in addition, because I had every confidence that the candidates who would fit my parameters would likely be the most qualified candidates in the field. I could expect that because that’s what it takes for Black, Brown, Native or AAPI candidates (especially women) to even get noticed.
This is certainly the case in the Omaha mayoral race. Both Harris and Snipes bring experiences in the private sector, in the community, in the health care sector, and in the education sector, which give them resumes and skill sets that are superior to those possessed by the other candidates.
I could also be confident that such candidates would do a better job of representing all of Omaha in city government. We white people in Omaha can go our whole lives and never notice the other communities with which we share this city. Black, Brown, Native or AAPI folks cannot go through life that way in Omaha, or anywhere else in this country. Such candidates have lifetimes of experience navigating the multiple languages, worldviews, systems of power, and networks of relationships that make up a city like Omaha.
In addition, that multi-cultural and cross-cultural competency is a native capacity for Black, Brown, Native or AAPI candidates. For most white candidates, and especially those from West Omaha, such competencies are a “second language” at best and more likely to be a situational performance than part of their heart music. Translation, whether of a language or of human experience, always loses something in the process.
White people west of 90th street in Omaha will never have to struggle to find representation in city government. Everywhere we look, we see people who look, sound, and act just like we do. So, let’s not worry that someone in the mayor’s office might represent another segment of our city’s population.
Frankly, it’s time to listen to the black women in Omaha and across the country. I happen to think that Kimara Snipes brings the best combination of experience, expertise, gifts, skills, and vision for the job. But there is far more at stake for us here. We have another chance to become more fully human as citizens and as a city.
I cannot be a whole person at the expense of another human being. Fully flourishing human life is not a zero-sum game where you must lose if I am to gain. Racism makes white people stupid, irrational, and less than human. It is not enough to simply think I am “better than those people.” Being “better than” is no longer good enough – not in Omaha or anywhere else.
In fact, this zero-sum way of thinking serves only a few white, wealthy, privileged, and propertied people in our city. This system keeps the rest of us in competition for a shrinking pool of resources and convinces us that we need to keep others below us in order to rise up. “The zero sum is a story sold by wealthy interests for their own profit,” Heather McGhee writes in The Sum of Us, “and its persistence requires people desperate enough to buy it.”
As long as our gaze is focused on potholes and protests, we will not question the deeper system of healthcare, education, transportation, infrastructure, law enforcement, and employment inequities and injustices which continue to structure life in Omaha for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. If we have observed anything during Covid-time, it should be that poor and low-income people of all colors and conditions are suffering the similar outcomes and have many of the same interests.
For once, perhaps, non-wealthy white people in Omaha might vote in accordance with those interests rather than against them.
Zero-sum politics doesn’t merely leave us with potholed streets. Filling holes is good, but once the hole is filled all you have is a flat spot. The bigger question is what can we build together. “Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower,” Heather McGhee writes, “and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper.”
I support Kimara Snipes because I believe she had the best chance to make Omaha “more than the sum of its disparate parts.” I don’t want to live in West Omaha, or any other point on the compass. I want to live in One Omaha.
Vote Snipes – now and in May.