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Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle gathered several businesspeople around him Thursday to make a point: business is growing and thriving in Omaha.
However, one key political problem emerged for the mayor during the press conference: not everyone there endorsed his quest for re-election, even though a press release touting the conference called it “Business Leaders to Support Suttle.”
Suttle is running for mayor against Republican Jean Stothert. The election is May 14.
Suttle said he called the press conference to counter what he believes is Stothert's “gloom and doom” vision of the city's economic vitality. He said the city has been growing and thriving since it recovered from the national recession.
“We hung together as a city,” he said.
Several businesspeople also attended the press conference at his campaign's request to talk about their dealings with the city.
In addition to the businesspeople, civic and political leaders were on hand, including former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, City Councilman Ben Gray, and Roger Dixon, president of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which runs the CenturyLink Center.
About five businesspeople showed up, including Willy Theisen, founder of Godfather's Pizza and Pitch Pizzeria.
Theisen talked about how his business had grown over the past four years, during Suttle's tenure in Omaha. “Pizza is my business, and business is very good,” Theisen said.
Other businesspeople at the press conference talked about how the city had helped their businesses expand and grow over the past few years, especially with the help of tax-increment financing or public financing used to help promote economic development.
“We find the city of Omaha very easy to work with, and we appreciate their assistance,” said Pat Kenealy, chief financial officer with Airlite Plastics, a business that makes plastic containers for food.
Thomas McLeay, with America First Real Estate Group, echoed Kenealy's comments. “We've done several TIF projects with the city the last couple of years, and generally, we found them to be competent to work with,” McLeay said.
However, when asked whether they supported or endorsed Suttle, several indicated that their appearances at the press conference should not be taken as a political endorsement.
Kenealy and McLeay said their businesses were staying out of the race. Dixon said he was not taking a position.
Theisen was the only one who enthusiastically noted his support for Suttle before the mayor interjected and said that no one who came to the press conference was asked for his or her endorsement. They were there, he said, to talk about the state of their businesses.
“They were asked to come, talk about themselves and what's going on with their business,” Suttle said.
Several businesspeople whom the Suttle campaign earlier had said were expected to come never arrived.
“These are all very busy people, and what's important to us is that many people in the civic and business community showed up today to provide a different picture of the economy than what's been portrayed by the Stothert campaign,” said Gary DiSilvestro, Suttle's chief campaign consultant.
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