Omahans Who Prefer Substance Over Style
Should Vote To Retain Mayor Jim Suttle

I’m not sure it was the reporter’s intent, but a recent World-Herald article, as I see it, put the effort to recall Mayor Jim Suttle in proper context:

Do Omahans want political style or political substance in the mayor’s office?

Suttle admittedly lacks the political charm, the friendly style of his predecessor as mayor, Mike Fahey.  So what?  Should Suttle be voted out of office in the recall election January 25 because he has a tendency to cut directly to the heart of the problems he faces without the political style that some politicians display? 

Being mayor of Omaha—as in the holding of any political office—is easier when the officeholder has an appealing personality.  But Mike Fahey’s good intentions and pleasing personality didn’t prevent him from making mistakes which Jim Suttle had to address with unpopular but necessary tax increases. 

(Some of the tax increases represent corrective action going back to the administration of former Mayor Hal Daub, whose previous popularity wasn’t enough to win him the election against Jim Suttle in May, 2009.)

But political elections should be decided on substance, not style.  (Some of President Obama’s critics have said consistently that Obama’s problems in his first two years in office have resulted from the fact that he was elected largely on the basis of style and color, not experience or substance.)

Suttle Faced ‘Difficult Political Straits’

In the long World-Herald story with its emphasis on Suttle’s lack of style or political charisma, there were these words on an inside page, starting with the 42nd paragraph in a 48-paragraph story: 

“Assuredly, Suttle had little time before he found himself in difficult political straits. 

“The city was in bad financial shape when he took office, with the recession helping the city’s tax revenue plummet.  And he ran into a firestorm amid proposals to close swimming pools and reduce library hours.

“In addition, he inherited a looming deficit in the police and fire pension fund.  Last year, he presided over $30 million in tax hikes and $13.5 million in spending cuts.”

Council Majority Voted For Tax Increases

(“Presided over” is journalese, I guess, for the fact that Suttle himself did not increase taxes or make budget cuts.  His recommendations in those areas were reviewed and revised and made into law by a majority vote of the City Council.)

Those three paragraphs, as I see it, help Omahans focus on the heart of the issue with which Omaha voters are truly faced January 25. 

Why is a mayor facing a recall vote after closing a $34 million budget gap and balancing the budget in a city otherwise doing so well—with the lowest unemployment among the 100-largest U.S. cities and recently ranked the No. 2 city in the nation for business?

If a majority of Omahans who vote January 25 believe that a mayor should be judged by the substance of what he achieves, not by the style in which he attacked the problems he inherited, Jim Suttle will be retained in office as mayor.

* * *

Grief Over Killings Should Be Linked
To Emphasis On How To Stop Them

The dominating national and local story in recent days (so far as Omaha is concerned) has been, of course, the murder of a beloved assistant high school principal at Millard South in Omaha and in the shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona which killed six people and left a Congresswoman with a bullet wound in her brain.

Mentioned in passing but given entirely too little emphasis, in my opinion, was the ease with which two mentally unbalanced teenagers obtained the murder weapons.

In the Arizona case, a teenager who, we are now told in various news stories, was a mental case, simply went to a gun dealer and left with a legally-purchased semi-automatic pistol.

In Omaha, the teenager obtained the murder weapon because of carelessness of his policeman father, who simply left his handgun in a closet instead of in the gun safe which the Police Department had provided him. 

Mike Kelly Points Out Parallel To Von Maur Killings

The Omaha case quickly brought to mind—to some minds, that is—the gun-easily-available parallel to the 2007 Von Maur tragedy, in which eight people died from wounds inflicted by a 19-year-old who had access to a weapon which should have been under lock and key.  This Von Maur/Millard South linkage got its first significant news media attention four days after the shooting in a Michael Kelly column last Sunday. 

It seems to me that along with the understandable expressions of compassion and community support for Millard South should have come a prompt, clear call for steps to prevent such tragedies by whatever legal means are necessary to keep teenagers from unsupervised access to potential murder weapons.

One possibility, raised by State Senator Brad Ashford, is to make the owner of the gun criminally responsible, guilty of a felony, if a non-owner of the gun used it to either kill himself or others.  Ashford’s proposal appeared on an inside page in the final three paragraphs of a story emphasizing Millard South’s effort to “get back to business as usual.”

A week after the Millard South shooting, the emphasis was still on the tragedy, without any comparable emphasis on how to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of potential killers.

* * *

Governor Could Have Wished For Wider Gap
Between Tough Talk And Four Inaugural Celebrations

Governor Dave Heineman, as I see it, might have wished for different timing rather than the back-to-back appearance of two news stories featuring him, color pictures and all, in two quite different roles last week.

First, in the Friday morning edition of The World-Herald, there was a Midlands Section story on the governor’s tough budget message to the Legislature during a brief inaugural address after taking his oath of office.  The headline read:  “Budget may be cut with cleaver.”  The subhead read:  “Governor says full programs must go.” 

A color picture showed the governor at the rostrum in the legislative chamber delivering that tough-talking message.

The next day, on The World-Herald’s Midlands News section front page, there appeared two color pictures dealing with the governor’s four-stop celebration of his inauguration.  The pictures depicted scenes from two of the four stops, which were in Gering, Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha.

The next day, last Sunday, there was a story carrying this headline:  “State’s first couple have a ball.”

Again, two color pictures, this time one of the pictures showing the governor and first lady Sally Ganem in formal attire on the dance floor at the Qwest Center in Omaha.

Other governors have settled for one inaugural celebration, the traditional Inaugural Ball.  Heineman said he wanted to share the celebration with more people by having several stops.

One news story said the events were “privately-funded.”  Privately-funded or not, one wonders if the governor had considered how such a statewide celebration of his re-election might play with the people of Nebraska two days after he had told the Legislature that entire state programs will be eliminated to help address the state’s budget woes. 

* * *

On And On It Goes, Media
Misrepresent Voter Poll Results

USA Today continues its irresponsible reporting of public opinion poll results. 

If you read to the very last paragraph of the front page story, you would learn that a recent Gallup Poll of 1,025 adults—with a range-of-error possibility totaling 8%–was used as the basis for the story with this headline:  “U.S. split on repeal of health care law.”

The opening paragraph read:  “Americans are closely divided over whether the new Republican-controlled House should vote to repeal the health care law that was enacted just last year, a Gallup Poll finds.”

The Gallup Poll found no such thing.  It reported the opinions of a miniscule percentage of the American population—1,025 adults.  Forty-six percent of those 1,025 adults said they want their representative in Congress to vote for repeal of Obamacare and 40% said they want the law to stand.

When will the news media—local as well as national—learn that you are not honestly reporting the results when the poll involves a very a limited sample of voters but the results are reported as clearly representative of the feelings of all of the voters on the local, state or national issue which is the subject of the poll?

There Is An Accurate Alternative

Why not report something like this:  “A poll of 1,025 Americans showed 46% of the respondents favoring repeal of the Obama Care health care legislation and 40% against repeal.  The Gallup pollsters describe the results as an accurate projection of the feelings of American adults with a plus-or-minus margin of error of eight percentage points.”

And never, never, in the opinion of this journalist, play a poll story as the top news of the day. 

For one thing, polls taken late in a political campaign can influence the results rather than simply attempt to predict them. 

For another thing, poll results often turn out to be widely inaccurate reflections of what actually happens when the voters go to the polls.  A recent example is the fact that Representative Lee Terry, Omaha Republican, defeated Democratic challenger Tom White by a margin substantially larger than had been suggested in a pre-election poll.

* * *

TV Newscasts:  Just Be Patient,
We’ll Tell You The Facts Later

It’s bad enough when, early in a 30-minute so-called newscast, a television station anchor person tells you that later in the telecast you will be told the results of a sporting event.

The object presumably is to hold your attention through all the commercials and self-promoting ads assuring you that the station in question has the most news staff, is the most watched, is the only station with a representative in Lincoln, etc., etc. ad nauseum. 

The practice becomes increasingly irritating—or perhaps irresponsible is not too strong a word—when a one-hour telecast is involved, as was the case on Channel 7 last Sunday evening. 

Early in the telecast we were told that Creighton had played Evansville that afternoon (we already knew that) and the newscasters would tell us the results of the game later in the broadcast. 

Much later, as it turned out.  Fifty-one minutes into the 60-minute broadcast, viewers were informed that Creighton had defeated Evansville, 74-69. 

During those 51 minutes, viewers had been exposed to a few paid commercials but a veritable deluge of self-promoting commercials telling you what a great service Channel 7 provides to its viewers. 

(Channel 7 isn’t the only offender, of course.  CNN regularly promotes interesting news items which appear much later in the telecast.)

‘Different Amounts Of Snow In Different Places.’  Really?

The Channel 7 telecast Sunday evening provided a new version of the “we’ll tell you all about it later” tactics—this one approaching absurdity. 

With weather stories dominating a good share of the telecast (we were told among other things that “different amounts of snow are falling in different places”), there appeared on the screen pictures of widespread damaging flooding, the kind that creates a crisis for affected communities. 

Viewers were told that “we’ll tell you where this is” later in the program.  I speculated on the possibility that it might be in some southern state. 

After a commercial break which dealt again with all the ways in which Channel 7 serves the community, the focus returned to weather news, including winter storms in some southern states.  Then came the news as to the location of that troubled area in which serious flooding threatened cities—the area which had been depicted before the commercial break. 

It turned out that the flood-threatened communities are in Germany.

Reluctantly, as a man with some 70 years of experience as a writer (that includes student days, of course), I struggle for an appropriate comment on this particular piece of television gimmickry, except perhaps to say it is, even for television newscasts, an innovative way (too charitable a description, I suspect) to try to hold an audience through a long commercial break. 

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One Response to Omahans Who Prefer Substance Over Style
Should Vote To Retain Mayor Jim Suttle

  1. rsandhoefner says:

    Mr. Andersen, sir,

    First, you may not recall, that I was the server for your recent birthday celebration at the Omaha Country Club this year; in fact, you offered me some of the cake so appropriately given to you; I recall you, Mr. Dan Neary, Mr. J.B. Milliken, and another gentleman sitting with you on that day; a day that I feel fortunate to be present for!

    I can totally agree with several of your recent articles; As for Mayor Suttle, I asked the “recall petitioners” one day while waiting for the UNO shuttle bus why they were recalling him; and their only explanation was in regard to the “wheel tax and the restaurant tax”… don’t get me wrong, being a middle-class college student allows me little finance to spare, however I definitely do not find that to be a justifiable recall explanation; I think a recall requires MUCH more than that; People seem to be so quick to say what should not be done, yet I hear no reasonable or feasible recommendation for what SHOULD be done…; however, I also recognize that the media is free to convey whatever message they desire, which may or may not be completely true;

    As far as your article regarding Von Maur, I can relate more than you may imagine! My mother, probabaly one of my closest friends and supporters, has been employed at the Westroads Von Maur store for nearly 15 years; she obtained a manual shoe stocking position after my parents divorce, allowing her to support my high school and part of my college education, at which time I was 12 years old; I will never forget that day, seeing the story on the news and wondering if my mother had been an innocent victim, potentially killed with an assault rifle… luckily, her position only requires her to work until approximately noon, so she had left about two hours before the shooting… however, as you know, many of her co-workers (almost all killed were EMPLOYEES!) were killed that day, including a young woman, about my age at the time, who was her immediate manager… shot in the head, left unrecognizable, even to her family;

    With the recent Millard South shooting, amongst dozens of other nationwide, including the Arizona assasination of a Congresswoman, one is left wondering about the constitutional right to bear arms, as such a right was written at a time when keeping a firearm was appropriate defense; however, today, I do not feel that is the case; I WOULD suggest that firearms be outlawed, but as we both know, that is a battle impossible to implement, much as the failed drug war (both are unfortunate, I know); however that does not mean we should give up the fight! If you look at the majority of homicides in the United States, nearly all are due to firearms; Other countries, such as England, have FAR FAR lower homicide rates…!

    As far as the Obama article, regarding the “loss of life and BILLIONS of dollars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, I support your view completely; Again, not to sound downtrodden, however my high school classmate, Private Adam Herold, was killed several years ago via a roadside bomb.. this is not a battle against Nazis, or whatnot; I honestly have searched for and could not find a justifiable reason for his death…; Personally, I find that war to be a result of political issues that the American public is not even aware of (George Bush, Sr, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, etc…)..especially after George W. Bush apologized for 9/11, then played GOLF..????!!!!; If our country were to invest HALF of the money already spent on war, maybe our country could REALLY be a model for the rest of the world, instead of trying to implement our “values” (I use that term loosely, because I feel our government and society has lost it’s values and morals…) upon other countries… but we both know that is often no the main justification for modern warfare; Iraqi and Muslim people hold far different views than our people, views that may or may not be “correct”, but nonetheless, they are values that we cannot place judgement on without solving our OWN issues, especially when we end up killing civilians anyways…

    With all due respect, you being an older gentleman, I’m sure you remember a time when no one would even think of such things as school shootings and similar acts of violence; Our country has began a downward spiral with respect to moral and community values, and I feel that the time is NOW to address them, before it is too late;

    As I mentioned earlier, I have worked VERY HARD at the Omaha Country Club for the past 10 years, as well as working for $5.15 per hour at McDonald’s for my first job..! I have also been working HARD at UNO: The Peter Kiewit Institute for many years, working towards my bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering (not an EASY major…) so that I may one day be a successful and productive member of society, yet, with all of today’s world’s events, I have somewhat shifted my focus from engineering to politics; justifiable so, I believe; Whatever the future holds, recent events have skewed my views and made me wonder what our country really holds true;

    Sincerely,

    Roger J. Sandhoefner
    rsandhoefner@unomha.edu

    Please e-mail me or respond with any comments or insights.
    Thank you and good day sir.

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