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April 9, 2008
To me, the most significant news wasn’t that the Nebraska Legislature voted 34-15 to override Governor Dave Heineman’s veto of a bill that would increase the state gasoline tax approximately 1.2¢ per gallon.
The significant news was the fact that an increase of perhaps 4/10 of 1% in the cost of a gallon of gasoline could stir such a controversy.
Nebraska, like other states, faces a critical need for more funds for highways, and Gov. Heineman and 15 legislators say a miniscule increase in the cost of gasoline is asking too much of the state’s drivers. Get real. It will hardly be noticeable as part of the $3-plus price at the pump. And it falls far short of providing the needed level of funding for state highways, county roads and city streets.
My compliments to the 34 legislators who voted to override the governor’s veto. But I don’t think their action quite qualifies them for inclusion in the next edition of “Profiles in Courage.”
* * *
Among the names being mentioned as possible candidates for Mayor of Omaha in the 2009 elections, one name seems to me to stand out above the others.
That name: Mike Fahey.
Yes, I believe that Fahey, nearing the end of his seventh year as mayor, is performing like a strong leader who is willing to put his political neck on the line for a goal in which he strongly believes.
I’m talking, of course, about Fahey’s outspoken, out-front leadership in the effort to preserve and strengthen one of Omaha’s most important civic assets, its role as the traditional home of the College World Series.
The easy way out would have been to persuade the “owner” of the CWS, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to give Omaha a five-year extension of its contract as host of the CWS in return for some relatively modest improvements to Rosenblatt Stadium.
Instead, Fahey reacted with vigorous enthusiasm to a suggestion from Jack Diesing, chairman of the Omaha host committee for the CWS, that the NCAA might look favorably on a much longer contract extension—perhaps 20 or 25 years—if Omaha would provide a new downtown ballpark.
There is no need to repeat here the details of discussions and debates and arguments which have finally led to agreement on plans for a new downtown park, plans which will be presented to the City Council. The plans have received favorable (but not yet binding) reaction from NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.
Fahey’s gutsy, persistent battle for approval of the plans for a downtown park seems to me to be the highlight of his years in office. It may cost him at the polls, because of opposition, largely from South Omaha, where the current longtime home of the CWS, Rosenblatt Stadium, is located.
Petitions are now being circulated to try to force a recall election to oust Fahey. If a petition effort is successful, the election would occur during this year’s CWS, a possible national public relations downer, although a strong vote in Fahey’s favor could demonstrate what I believe to be a strong community support for continuing the half-century-old “road to Omaha” tradition as the route which every college baseball team in the United States wants to travel.
In any case, as we talk about potential possible contenders for election to the mayor’s office next year, from where I sit Mike Fahey looks like clearly the best bet.
* * *
Speaking of South Omaha opposition to moving the College World Series to a downtown stadium, as I was in the item just preceding, I think it’s appropriate to address what the rest of Omaha has done for South Omaha in addition to providing millions of dollars worth of improvements at the city-owned CWS Rosenblatt site.
Omaha City Councilman Gary Gernandt, who represents South Omaha, might pay particular attention. Gernandt said he is disappointed in the decision to go forward with plans for a new downtown ballpark “but I’m not going to surrender” in his fight to keep the CWS in Rosenblatt Stadium.
Over the years, other Omahans donated millions upon millions of dollars for construction of facilities in South Omaha. A prime example is the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in the Henry Doorly Zoo. Another example is what non-South Omahans have invested in the Lauritzen Gardens.
A front-page story in The World-Herald as recently as March 19 carried this headline: “Plans unveiled for South High’s new home field.” The story started with this paragraph:
“From ‘The Hole’ to a glowing stadium in a bowl—Omaha South High School’s hard scrabble Collin Field is about to become a first-rate soccer and football field.” The $8.7 million project is funded largely by philanthropic Omaha sources outside South Omaha.
Another current South Omaha project financed by sources from outside of South Omaha is the Salvation Army’s new community service complex. A majority of the funding will come from a foundation established by Joan Kroc, widow of the founder of the McDonald’s chain. But the Kroc financing was contingent upon local—again the Omaha philanthropic community outside of South Omaha—raising $15 million to help fund the South Omaha project. This at a time when there is a definite need also for a new Salvation Army service center in North Omaha.
Against this a background of the rest of Omaha’s continuing contributions to South Omaha-located institutions, it comes as a disappointment—but not necessarily a surprise—that some South Omahans are willing to stand in the way of a development which would better serve the entire city.
* * *
In, of all places, The New York Times, a front-page headline touched on Senator Barack Obam’s qualifications with this headline:
“Obama in Senate: Star Power, Minor Roll.”
“Outside Washington,” The Times story said, “Mr. Obama was a multi-media sensation—people offered free tickets to his book readings for $125 on e-Bay and contributed thousands of dollars each to his political action committee to watch him on stage questioning policy experts.
“But inside the Senate, the junior senator from Illinois was 99th in seniority and in the minority party his first two years. In committee hearings, he had to wait his turn until every other senator had asked questions. He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments.”
So much for the political experience (I believe his time in the Illinois legislature can properly be deeply discounted) which Obama would bring with him to the presidency of the United States.
* * *
The death of Omaha business and philanthropic leader Charles (Chuck) Durham brought to mind what Durham and his wife, Margre, said in response to compliments paid to them at a 1999 luncheon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a principal beneficiary of the Durhams’ philanthropy.
Margre Durham, who died later in 1999, concluded her remarks with these words:
“Chuck and I have just given money. You people are giving life.”
And Chuck Durham told the luncheon audience that the Durhams considered themselves “lucky to have spent most of our lives in this wonderful city…and lucky to have an institution like this to give money to.”
Never have I heard honorees give more gracious and meaningful responses.
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