Mayor Jean Stothert reflects on progress, challenges along her path in politics

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- It’s been quite the road for Omaha’s Mayor Jean Stothert.

Mayor Jean Stothert sat down with 6 News anchor Lauren Taylor to discuss a range of topics from her family life, career, challenges, and accomplishments.

While serving her third term on the Millard School Board, Stothert decided to run for the State Legislature. On Election Night, she was declared the winner.

"Nine days after that election, when they counted the provisional ballots," Stothert said, "mine was the only one that flipped, and I was behind by 14 votes. So, I lost it."

But she did not give up.

Instead, she set her sights on City Council.

“I had made up my mind that I was never going to lose a race by 14 votes again,” she said. “So I walked, I knocked on doors, and I talked to people, and I did very well in that election."

While serving as a council member, she realized she did not like how the city was being managed, so she aimed higher. It paid off in a big way; Stothert beat the incumbent to become the first female mayor of Omaha.

Now, halfway through her second term, she says her biggest challenge for the last six years has been public safety.

"My No. 1 priority is keeping the citizens of Omaha safe,” Stothert said. “That is on my shoulders, and that's a pretty big responsibility."

As mayor, she has helped beef up the police department.

Currently, more than 875 sworn-in officers are on the force — an 11% increase from the time Stothert took office in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of homicides in the metro have also dropped. In 2015, there were 48 homicides; in 2018, there was less than half that — 22 homicides. So far this year, there have been three homicides.

"These things are my biggest challenges, but also my biggest rewards,” Stothert said. “Because if I can say that 'while I was mayor, I made the citizens of Omaha safer,' then I've achieved my goal."

Her other goal: fix the roads.

After a rough winter, thousands of potholes popped up around the city causing frustrations and, in some cases, big repair bills for drivers.

"I will take responsibility for the roads now. I'm the mayor; I’ll take responsibility for them, and I’ll fix them,” she said. “I can't take responsibility for what happened in the past. If you could rewrite history, I would; but we can't. "

She said the roads have been neglected for the last 50 years and that to get the roads up to today’s standards, it would cost the city $800-$900 million and would take five to 10 years. And right now, the city cannot afford to resurface every road, but the city is pouring more money into the roads than ever before.

Last year, Stothert said, the city spent just over $18 million on resurfacing. And in 2019, the city could spend as much as $66 million on road projects.

"We will be doing a lot of resurfacing this summer,” Stothert said. “And then we get a lot of complaints because there's too much resurfacing, and there's too much road construction. So you do feel like you're chasing your tail sometimes. But we will, and we do, and we are putting a greater emphasis on roads than we ever have."

The mayor is also proud to revamp the downtown area.

In February, construction started on the River Revitalization Project, a $300 million project the mayor believes will have a ripple effect.

"I think it's really going to spark development," she said. "It's going to spark business. It's just going to be transformational for downtown."

The River Revitalization Project is set to be complete in 2023 — but will Stothert still be mayor then? She said she is not focusing on campaigning just yet but did hint at a possible third term.

"What I really want to do is concentrate on what I’m doing now,” she said. “I don't really want to think about campaigning at this time. But I will tell you this: I do love my job, and I would like to see a lot of the things going on now… there's a lot of things going on that I want to see until the end."