The crowd showed up late for a victory party that never happened.
Mayor Jim Suttle saw City Councilwoman Jean Stothert’s commanding lead and phoned her an hour after the polls closed to concede. He took the stage at the firefighters union hall barely 90 minutes after the festivities were scheduled to begin.
He told his supporters of the two legacies that he would leave the city: fiscal stability built on tough decisions to increase taxes, and protection from a historic flood.
It’s the same message he had tried, but failed, to sell to voters since the election cycle began.
“I’m very surprised,” Suttle said later of Tuesday’s results. “But that’s my problem, isn’t it?”
In the end, Suttle couldn’t shake the remnants of four tumultuous years.
He failed to convince voters that he shared the credit for the city’s relative good fortune. He failed to convince voters that the city’s fortunes would take a wrong turn without him.
He couldn’t overcome an opposing narrative that cast him as a voice for higher taxes, expensive car leases, controversial Cabinet wages and powerful labor unions.
Tuesday night, the black-and-white problem-solver greeted well-wishers with a grin on his face and a cold beer in his hand.
Suttle just never appeared to benefit from the “powers of incumbency,” said Randy Adkins, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
A key part of Suttle’s problem was that he wasn’t a very good politician, Adkins said.
“It goes back to that we had someone who really is, at heart, an engineer,” he said. “And the mayor is a political position.”
In an email to supporters on the morning of election day, Suttle conceded some political faults, saying, “I know I’m not a smooth politician, and my decisions haven’t always been the most popular.”
Suttle needed a strong get-out-the-vote effort, but his campaign couldn’t rally its base of supporters.
He only won in Districts 2 and 3, in north Omaha and midtown.
“Who stayed home? Who voted the way they did? Right now, we don’t know,” Suttle said.
In the end, Suttle didn’t address what he could have done differently.
“If you try to ‘what if’ yourself, you’ll never be able to move forward and make decisions,” he said. “Life is full of decisions. You make the best one you can and you move on.”
“We stand proud,” he said. “We put in place those two legacies, and no one can take those away from me. Our team performed,” he said.
Suttle planned to sleep in this morning. He’ll assist with the upcoming transition to a new administration.
He’ll try to beat back a persistent sinus infection, work in his garden, work on his golf swing. Maybe, he said, he’ll consider mounting a future campaign for public office.
For now, the mayor is convinced that his course was best.
Suttle’s last words from the fire union hall stage: “History will show we did the right thing.”
World-Herald staff writer Robynn Tysver contributed to this report.
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