(sound of me stretching after 6 months of confinement)
Helllllllllo Leavenworth St. readers!
It’s good to be BACK!
Where was I?
Well, as many of you know, I was a staffer on Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert’s campaign for the last 6 months. As part of the deal, I did not have a byline on Leavenworth St. — though I did use the Twitter and Facebook accounts in my normal course.
The successful campaign ended Tuesday night, some decompression and cleanup on Wednesday, a very sad funeral on Thursday, and now I’m back to the keyboard.
So, what did we learn?
Jean Stothert won because of Jean Stothert
There has been a strange wrap-up by the national media looking at this race and determining that Heath Mello’s F-up regarding abortion and the Bernie Sanders rally was the deciding factor in Heath Mello losing.
Dear National Media: Wrong.
I get it. They want to be able to point at the Omaha race, and place it among the national political concepts that they understand.
They figure, “the Sanders rally, and the ensuing controversy, got the national attention, so that MUST have been the deciding factor, right?”
Sure there were elements that contributed to issues in the race. But the implication that Heath Mello wasn’t progressive enough, and thus local Democrats abandoned him, is simply a convenient narrative for the national press. It doesn’t look at ANY of the actual implications on this VERY local race.
Donald Trump was a non-factor
Much to the chagrin of the local, state and national Democrats, Donald Trump was not a factor in this race. The majority of voters did not look at Mayor Jean Stothert and say, “Trump supporter! I will/won’t vote for her because Donald Trump!”
Sure there were likely a handful of hard-core Dem voters who wanted to somehow send a message that electing Democrat Heath Mello meant that they didn’t want Donald Trump. But as a whole, THAT didn’t happen.
The Sanders Rally
Before we jump into the actual reasons for Stothert’s victory, let’s review that rally. Democrat politico Paul Landow called it a “colossal mistake”. (At least we know now who Jim Rose and/or Joe Jordan had been talking to.)
There had been others who said that Heath Mello did NOT want Sanders to come in. Then he didn’t want to appear at the rally. But THEN (we hear) Mello was told that if he DIDN’T join in, his future in Democrat politics was finished.
While it’s unlikely the controversy hurt Mello’s “progressive Omaha” base, it certainly didn’t help Mello with conservative Dems who were hoping that he wasn’t a Coastal Liberal.
Here’s the deal, Jane Kleeb. (A little free advice.)
You know who Nebraskans like? Conservatives.
Jim Exon was a conservative.
Ben Nelson was a conservative.
Mike Fahey was a conservative.
Now each of them had their Dem variations, to be sure. But that wasn’t what they were known for. Nelson was known for being more conservative than a Massachusetts Republican — well, until the ObamaCare vote anyway.
And Mike Fahey was more seen as…well…not-Hal Daub to many people. But he was simply seen as “practical” to most.
The Sanders rally instead made a hard, vocal declaration: “I Heath Mello am Democrat! See me with Democrat leaders! And see me with Socialist leader!…”
(Sound of record scratching.)
Yeah, that last part didn’t help.
Maybe people didn’t think Mello was a honeymooning in the Soviet Union with Bernie Sanders. But he was making a local race suddenly about…climate change? ObamaCare? Breaking up big banks?
These simply weren’t campaign issues in the local race.
And then there was the abortion imbroglio at the national level. The strange thing was that the national Dems were searching Heath Mello’s record for whether or not he voted for some ultrasound issue, etc. etc.
All they needed to see was his Nebraska Right to Life questionnaire response that, Yes, he was in favor of repealing Roe vs. Wade.
That should do the trick on Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice.
But what does lifetime Pro-Life Heath Mello do?
He flips! On being Pro-Life!
In a day!
Right as Bernie Sanders is showing up!
He takes his long-held beliefs and shoves them down the sewer drain for Party.
Did that make a difference to Pro-Life Democrats?
But Heath Mello DID lose his home precinct.
One could imagine that it didn’t help.
But that’s a different narrative than, “he wasn’t Pro-Choice enough” — and it’s arguably independent from the Sanders visit itself.
Jane Kleeb’s argument to the OWH about it being hard to beat an incumbent is true.
She caveats that with “…who doesn’t have a scandal”, sort of misses the point about an incumbent who is doing well.
She goes on to complain that Mello was out-fundraised. But come on, does anyone think he was’t competitive because of cash?
And then she says “it’s difficult when your base doesn’t feel motivated.”
Jeezy Pete, did Jane miss her own rally? That was as progressive base as the progressive base gets. But the fact is that the Democrat base in Omaha is NOT the “progressive base” that lives in New York and L.A. and Chicago. (And I apologize to Republicans for passing that little nugget on to her.)
She’s right that anti-Trump sentiment ain’t leading Nebraska Democrats to victory.
But she is mistaken about where the local grass-roots really are.
So what DID happen?
Jean Stothert ran the city well for 4 years.
And when voting for or against an incumbent, the question is: Should they be kept on to continue, or should they be fired? And is the alternative better?
They re-hired Jean Stothert.
Why was Jean Stothert re-hired?
1) Public Safety
Here’s some news: People believe she keeps the city safer.
There’s a reason you now know how many additional police were hired. (Everyone! 56!)
There’s a reason the Police Chief continually showed his support, and corrected the accusations against the police throughout the campaign.
There’s a REASON the Police Union did NOT endorse her opponent, instead staying neutral.
It’s because she has worked with the police throughout her four years, because she knows how important public safety is to people. In fact, it’s the #1 issue.
Here’s the other thing: Who was hammering her on police issues? The fire fighters’ union leadership.
You notice the cute line from fire fighters’ union President Steve LeClair to the Mayor after the election?
“It is our hope that the Mayor can put our differences aside…”
Ha! “Our” differences?
That would be the fire fighters’ union leadership’s differences with the Mayor, which if the campaign is any indication, was that they simply didn’t want her re-elected.
They didn’t run any ads saying fire services were deficient.
They didn’t run any ads saying she jammed an unfair contract down their throats.
Instead they ran lots and lots and lots and lots of ads saying the POLICE were deficient.
And then the Police Chief — and notably the Police Union — stepped up and swatted them down.
Interesting in that little letter that LeClair told the Mayor to put “her” differences aside. Seeing as he clearly has no plans to put his aside…
Here’s the thing about roads in Omaha:
They are really crappy in certain areas in the spring.
And then roads repairs begin, and everyone complains about cones everywhere.
And it’s been happening for years and years.
(I remember my Latin teacher in high school, talking about how well the Romans built their roads, comparing it to how terrible the construction on Dodge Street was. That was 1982.)
If the election was in February, it may have been about plowing snow.
If the election was in July, it may have been about shootings (that often go up in the summertime).
If the election was in September, it may have been about some other local thing.
Point is, these are cyclical. While the public would like the issue solved, they also understand that one mayor can’t necessarily solve it. But they do expect work to be done.
So when the mayor comes out with the doubled budget for roads, and a very specific plan of exactly where roads are getting fixed, the public can say, OK.
Now lets say Heath Mello had come out with a different plan. He’s going to fix X roads, here’s what he’s going to spend, and here’s the new polymer that he’ll use so that they’re good forever!
But he didn’t.
He was much like one of the TED lectures where they go on and on about the problem…and then don’t propose any solutions.
Taylor J. Royal
Now a funny thing happened on the way to the Primary.
(Well, Taylor himself isn’t funny, but…)
Now Taylor dug himself a goofy hole early with that NFL team thing. There’s an argument that it gave him some free media early, but it really shot down his chances as a more credible candidate in the race.
But his TV and billboard ads were a home-run for his campaign — and for Heath Mello.
They hammered the Mayor on the roads issue, and gave a voice for the anti-streetcar people. And they let Heath Mello kick back and not have to spend money hammering the Mayor.
Roads never stopped being “an issue”, but it wasn’t one that Mello could claim victory on, since he never really proposed an alternative that people could point to.
And then the streetcar issue arguably became another miscue for him.
First his flip, calling for a “pause”, on the streetcar was somewhat of a joke, since he had been the main proponent of it in the primary. Heck, the Mayor arguably was trying to out-streetcar Mello on the issue. Which lead to Taylor Royal grabbing it and running.
And then Mello’s claim that the Mayor had already spent $30 million, or committed $30 million was just never credible. The OWH called him out on it repeatedly. And the Mayor called him a “Liar” about it on her TV ads.
And he never responded.
Couple that with the Police Chief’s hammering of Dunning and the fire fighter union ads, and Mello’s flipflop on abortion.
That’s a campaign built on sand, just saying “truly” and “vision” over and over.
In the mean time, the Mayor points to safety, taxes and a thriving city.
I’d give you inside scoops if there really were any.
But most of it was public.
I’ll tell you that there was some significant angst after the final results on Primary Night. Probably like any campaign, there was a solid dose of fear injected that put a fire under everyone’s butts.
There was a feeling that any screw-up could mean losing the race.
And that probably helped.
No one was taking it easy, especially the Mayor. She walked and walked and walked door to door, every weekend. There’s not a Mayor in a major city who walked as much as she did. (And oh by the way, that was AFTER she literally broke her back.)
But the campaign kept calling and calling, and walking and walking. It sent out mail, hit with online ads, and of course had a solid TV and radio campaign.
They say the election was all about turn-out, and look who turned out. Stothert voters, particularly in West O.
But take a look at South O. The Mayor has always been all over the city, but particularly gave attention to South Omaha in the campaign. Unlike much of North Omaha that simply votes Democrat because they always vote Democrat, South Omaha took more notice of the Mayor’s work in the area, and her campaigning too.
And the results showed it.
How ’bout me?
Well, I was the Digital Director, “social media” guy. And if anything, I found that social media is becoming more and more as important as paid media and earned media. It is a powerful segment where people go every day, and if you ignore it, you’re ignoring an area where voters actually spend time.
One thing that I found interesting was the difference between two of the competing areas of Twitter and Facebook. Our voters were on The Facebook, not so much on the Twitter.
I’ve always enjoyed Twitter, as a bit of a battleground place. You go there to spar with your opponents, stake out your side, battle a bit.
And it’s dominated by Democrats.
There were/are waaay more Mello peeps than Stothert peeps on the Twitter. I sort of expected that, and was ready to engage, like I always had via @LeavenworthSt.
I created a new Twitter account using my name, but wanted something different from the one that I use to send out photos of my kids, etc.
So I created, “@JerKrat”. Didn’t think much of it. My friends, wife, call me “Jer”.
Then I will give it to former Lincoln resident Kyle Michaelis, whom I’ve sparred with for many years, asking, “Did you really just name yourself ‘@JerkRat’?”
Honest to Gaia, I did not see that at all.
My kids got a pretty good laugh out of it.
And I considered just embracing it, for about a day.
Then my wife noted that I probably didn’t want to live with every connotation associated with the two terms, and should just abandon it.
I discovered that it wasn’t difficult to switch to “@JerryKrat”.
Not that the Dems have let up. But JerkRat doesn’t go to me anymore…
Then there was the 3 day period where my Twitter identity was stolen, and someone created “@JerryKrat_”. (See what they did there?)
Copied all my headers, photos etc. Started harassing people as me. They believed him. It took me 3 days to get Twitter to take it down.
And to be honest, I didn’t see all of that coming. My experience on Twitter has always been that people are tough, but fair. You slam each other’s positions. Defend your own. You take your lumps. Give out a few. But in general, it had always been a place of…mutual political respect.
When I screwed up with the Twitter account name, I had to tip my cap to the hard-core Dem who ID’d it. And then I came back, as one does.
But then something else happened. I’d make a political argument, and suddenly it would be, “What an awful person you are! How dare you not listen to voters! Look who Jean Stothert hires! Is THAT who you want running the city!”
(All in 144 characters or less, mind you.)
And I get it. Anything for an advantage, and all that.
But it’s not the Twitter I knew. Nor one that I’m interested in being a part of.
So, my personal Tweets became much more banal.
Such is a campaign.
But the other thing I found, particularly on Twitter, but on The Facebook as well, is just how crass and vulgar the Mayor’s opponents can be.
Just some real vile, hating stuff. I started a screenshot file for all the times someone said, “F*** the Mayor” — but they didn’t use asterisks. And that file is chock-full.
I’ll be honest, I don’t get people that do that.
I can even understand people who may think that…but then they write it down and post it? Who are you?
Of course I’ve also never seen so many new accounts created with nom de plumes either. Now you can laugh that the guy who was only known as “Street Sweeper” is complaining about this. But my blog was up for over 3 years before I got a Twitter account. For instance, I don’t mind the anonymous angry, hard-left leaning “Aksarbent” blog’s posts or tweets If you want to find out what else they have to say, there’s a trove of posts over years. (For instance, I’m sure they see themselves as middle-of-the-road.)
But for every one of those, there’s 10-20 accounts called @Angry-Hang-Glider or somesuch who’s only goal is to make scatological references.
Why you think that helps get your guy elected, I will never know.
The Mello camp
And I’ll say this: one of the reasons why the Stothert campaign was working all-out day after day, was because the Heath Mello campaign…was a good campaign.
Sure maybe the strategy, and campaign issues mentioned above were lacking.
But the TV ads were really, really well produced. The campaign’s overall ground game (particularly yard signs) was good.
I liked the Mello campaign’s idea of having a separate Twitter handle just to discuss issues — though I’d argue that it was under-used. I thought their graphics were very, very good. Their website was clean and easy to navigate. They pushed out their message on a regular basis, sent out lots of photos, etc.
And their candidate was politically top notch. I can’t imagine that they ever went into a debate worrying that he would come up short, or not have a response ready. Heath speaks with ease, is very comfortable in a crowd and I’ve seen him work a room as well as anyone.
But the campaign’s problem was that they had little to run on.
They’d throw out issues, with little to no solutions.
Mayor’s plan on roads no good? We’d have a more comprehensive plan! With truly more money!
Mayor’s plan on police no good? We’d truly look to address the shortcomings and bring in all the players to truly have a discussion to solve all the issues.
Mayor’s economic plan no good? We’d truly address the issues of Omaha, and make it a city of the future, with vision and opportunity for all!
Those, kids, are what are known as platitudes.
They sound just awesome.
And get you no where.
The Stothert campaigners
I’m not going to go line by line on every person on the campaign staff and the great vols, because as soon as I start, I’d never be able to end.
Suffice it to say, that the strategy laid out and accomplished was a masterful job.
Everyone had a part. Everyone did their part.
Fantastic volunteers. Great hires.
Which brings us to the final point…
Mayor Jean Stothert is a rock-star on the issues. I never once went into a debate, forum or anywhere else, worried that she didn’t know an issue up and down, backwards and sideways.
I first really saw her do this at a West O town hall forum, before the campaign began. She fielded every question and issue thrown at her — until there were no more questions. She is never stumped for a response, and has a logical, well informed answer for nearly every issue.
That doesn’t make her perfect. But it does instill confidence in a campaign when you know your candidate is pretty much always going to do fine on her feet. And when the campaign knows that, the citizens and voters know it as well.
Voters know she is always working, is very knowledgable, wants the best for the city, and usually has a pretty good idea what will make it better. And if she doesn’t personally, she’s getting the people to give her the best advice.
And all the “Mean Jean” crap? I had friends ask me if she’s just an awful person to work with. And I will tell you, I’ve worked with awful people. Mean people. And Jean Stothert ain’t one a them. Yes, she’s no-nonsense when business is serious — and much of the campaign was professionally and politically dead serious. And so is running the city. So when people encounter her on a less stressful day, they figure they’ll encounter the same person in a tough negotiation.
Uh no. She’s a regular person. (Just like those men you work with.) And so that means you’ll get a tough negotiator in tough situations.
I suppose if you get the short end of the stick, calling her Mean Jean may make you feel better.
You got a great Mayor, Omaha.
I’m glad to have helped.