An Omaha North High teacher who co-founded a global human rights institute for educators is the latest candidate to officially enter the fray for Omaha mayor.
Mark Gudgel, who teaches English, humanities and world religions, submitted paperwork Tuesday to get his name on the ballot for Omaha’s spring mayoral primary.
Gudgel, a Democrat running in the city’s officially nonpartisan mayoral race, has plans to strengthen Omaha’s mask mandate, provide scholarship money for local high school students and enact policies to make city government more sustainable.
One motivation to run for office, Gudgel said, involves his two young children and thousands of current and former students “who frankly deserve better than they’ve got, and better than they’re going to get if we don’t do things differently.”
“We don’t, as a city, look past tomorrow very frequently,” Gudgel said. “There’s nothing going on in City Hall (to indicate) we have a long-term vision.”
One of Gudgel’s plans to help students, the “Omaha Promise,” would offer scholarships to young people who graduate from Omaha schools and have been accepted into Omaha’s public colleges, community colleges or trade schools. Private money from citizens and businesses would create a fund to cover the cost of tuition up to $8,000 a year, for a total of $32,000. The funds would be available after all scholarships and grants have been used — to be used within five years of a young person’s high school graduation.
Gudgel, 39, said the tuition plan would incentivize families to live and spend money in Omaha while helping graduates find good careers.
“It’ll improve the lives of everyone in our community if our high school graduates have the ability to go to college,” Gudgel said.
A Valentine, Nebraska, native, Gudgel began his teaching career with a decade-long stint in the Lincoln Public Schools. During that time, he co-founded the nonprofit Educators’ Institute for Human Rights, supporting teachers in Rwanda as the nation recovered from a 1994 genocide.
Gudgel is also emphasizing sustainability. His plan calls for the city to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2045 and create a cabinet-level director of sustainability, who would lead a new department focused on such work.
He plans to advocate for a city-wide ban on plastic bags, a measure passed by the City Council in 2019 that was vetoed by incumbent Republican Mayor Jean Stothert, who is running for a third term.
His sustainability plan also calls for the city to work with Metro to slowly swap out its diesel buses for electric ones, improve Omaha’s sidewalks and crosswalks, add hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes and improve city streets.
To fight the pandemic, Gudgel would use the powers of the City Charter to strengthen Omaha’s mask mandate by instituting progressively harsher fines for repeat offenders. He said Omaha’s mayor should be fighting at the local and state level to ensure that all Omahans have information about and access to coronavirus vaccines.
Omaha has room to “cut some of the fat” out of the city’s budget while still prioritizing its needs, Gudgel said. The city should stop annexing western neighborhoods and widening roads until it can maintain the streets it already manages, he said.
He also proposes to align city elections with presidential elections to increase voter turnout and save money.
In addition, Gudgel said he would urge the City Council to pass an ordinance discouraging police officers from making arrests for possession of marijuana less than one pound. Further, he would support passage of an ordinance that prohibits officers from using the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search a vehicle or home without a warrant.
The primary is April 6; the two top vote-getters in the mayor’s race will advance to the May 11 general election.
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