Mayor Jim Suttle is welcome to defend his Planning Department, which has come under fire — some of it justified — for fixating on why projects cannot be approved instead of working harder to help businesses locate here and grow.
But Omahans deserve straight talk about the issue.
During a mayoral debate this week, the mayor did not talk straight. Suttle said Omaha Steel Castings' move to Wahoo “is falling apart.” He said the Chamber of Commerce and city were working to get the company back.
That came as quite a surprise to the company's president. First, Phil Teggart says he has no intention of reversing course, that his company will be ready to pour its first casting in Wahoo this June. Truckloads of equipment are en route.
Second, the mayor said his administration was “actively pursuing bringing them back to Omaha,” but the company's president said he hadn't heard from the city or the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce in the 15 months since he decided to relocate the plant.
That sounds like two strikes for a mayor already smarting from criticism that he is not properly attuned to the needs of business.
But it's more than campaign rhetoric. Think of the number of people Suttle's statements confused — employees preparing to relocate, their families, bankers, insurers, real estate agents, Wahoo officials. Teggart said he had to prepare a statement for employees that reiterated the company's commitment to the Wahoo site, and he told the Wahoo City Council on Thursday that the move is on track.
If the mayor's assertion was a poor attempt to deflect blame from the loss of an important industrial development, shame on him.
The mayor called out his election opponent, Jean Stothert, for citing statistics from the lowest year for Omaha crime since the early 1970s as she criticized Suttle's record. Her attack, he said, was “not honest, not fair and not ethical.”
Indeed, picking one statistic out of many can warp the broader picture of crime in our town. But claiming that a company's deal to move “is falling apart” when it's not isn't honest, fair or ethical, either.
Campaigning is a tough business, yes, but it doesn't require such distortions.
Omaha has a reputation as an honest and forthright community. With the May 14 election bearing down on us, the campaign between these two candidates needs to get back on the high road. We don't need to elect a mayor who plays loose with the facts.
The candidates' debate in these closing days should focus on what really matters — determining the best way forward for our city. It should be done with straight talk and facts.