A civil war has erupted within the group pushing for Mayor Jim Suttle's recall.
A member of the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee — Omaha attorney John Chatelain — accused possible mayoral candidate David Nabity on Wednesday of trying to “take control” of the committee to “enhance his mayoral ambitions.”
He said Nabity tried to exert control over the committee by raising the bulk of the money for the group from his friends and possible supporters.
Nabity acknowledged he plans to start a second pro-recall committee but vehemently denied Chatelain's charges. He said the new committee will include businessmen who want to be involved in government and campaign affairs in Omaha long after the recall has ended.
“I'm afraid Mr. Chatelain has a warped sense of the facts, and his comments are so far off-base that it's not worth responding to,” said Nabity, who added that Chatelain was angry because of run-ins they had during the campaign.
A Republican, Nabity is not a newcomer to politics or controversy. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in 2006.
Last year, he helped to form a group of businessmen and women called the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector. The group has been highly critical of Suttle and the city's contracts with firefighters and police unions.
Most recently, Steve LeClair, president of the firefighters union, filed a defamation lawsuit against Nabity over remarks he made concerning an audit of the Omaha Fire Department. Nabity says the lawsuit is frivolous.
The Mayor Suttle Recall Committee has been at the forefront of the effort to oust Suttle, collecting 28,720 valid signatures. The group includes several business and restaurant leaders upset with tax hikes passed under Suttle's administration to balance the budget.
It became clear Wednesday that Nabity has provided crucial support to the group.
Nabity has said he was not a part of the group, but he acknowledged Wednesday he has been a key fundraiser for the group, persuading his friends and supporters to donate to the campaign. He also acknowledged he was instrumental in bringing a national recall expert to Omaha — Paul Jacob — to help manage and organize the paid circulators.
Nabity said the group came to him for help.
But Chatelain said Nabity came to the group, saying he had friends who wanted to donate and who wanted the committee to hire paid circulators.
Nabity raised about $200,000 of the $287,000 the committee eventually collected, Chatelain said.
It was after Nabity raised the money and hired Jacob that he began to try to “take control” of the group, said Chatelain.
At one point, Nabity asked Chatelain to step down. Nabity then said if he wasn't allowed to put his people in charge of the recall effort, he would take “his donors” and start a new committee, Chatelain said.
“At this point, we began to suspect that Mr. Nabity was putting his own mayoral campaign team in place and wanted to control the recall campaign through it,” Chatelain said in a written statement.
Nabity denied that his political aspirations had anything to do with his support for the committee. He said he has long been critical of Suttle and has long believed the mayor needs to be recalled.
Nabity also stood by his statement from last month that he was not a part of the recall committee. He said he was never an official member of the group's board nor did he attend board meetings.
Nabity said he helped only when the committee asked.
“When they got started, and they needed to raise money, I sent a lot of my friends over there and, whenever, they asked for help, I gave it,” said Nabity. “I've done everything I could to help the recall committee be successful.”
Nabity said the new committee is being formed by a group of businessmen who want to take an active stance on city issues, including the recall, for the foreseeable future. The idea is to continue to be active long after the recall election has taken place.
Nabity also said the new group will be a political action committee that can get involved in campaigns. His other business group, the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector, is a nonprofit group that is not allowed to get involved in campaigns.
“At this point in time, the Suttle recall will be a part of what we do. But it will not be the only thing,” said Nabity.
The name of the new committee has yet to be decided, but Nabity said it will likely be formed soon.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Paul Jacob's name was spelled incorrectly.
Contact the writer: