By Michael Wunder, News Editor
The Suttle family dog, Nougat, is an “ornery little cuss,” Mayor Jim Suttle said Monday night during a talk at the initial UNO College Democrats meeting of the fall semester.
The mayor’s informal speech began with an anecdote about Nougat’s incessant need to tamper with the Suttles’ pond—often falling in. The other day, Suttle told the group of approximately 25 attendees, the mayor fell into the pond, prompting a swift berating from his wife.
From his opening remarks Suttle moved to discussing the Missouri River flooding, the issue that’s demanded most of his time since May 26.
“We’re going to beat this thing,” the mayor said.
Suttle said a large number of Omahans are depending on his actions.
“[They’re] depending on yours truly to make sure they stay safe,” he said.
Along with protecting Omaha residents, such as those living in the Carter Lake area, the mayor said his other primary goal is protecting “hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.”
Cooperation is essential when handling disaster situations, Suttle said, stressing the bipartisan nature of handling a flood.
“There’s no such thing as a Republican or Democrat flood,” Suttle said. “You have to approach it in unity.”
Suttle referenced Murphy’s Law several times while discussing flood control, a popular adage that states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of Murphy,” Suttle said. “Wherever he may be right now.”
Looking forward, Suttle said flood cleanup is going to be “horrific,” stressing the inevitability of “strange odors” and environmental degradation.
“We’re going to lose a lot of trees along this river,” Suttle said. “This river’s going to be a dangerous place with trees floating downstream.”
Suttle segued into economic matters by calling the controversial Omaha Fire Department contract “the right thing to do.”
“We need to do this,” Suttle said.
Otherwise, Omaha may face a bond rating downgrade from Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investor’s Service. Recently the city’s rating was downgraded to AAA negative.
“That’s not a good word,” Suttle said.
Omaha is one of 177 U.S. jurisdictions the investor’s services said were connected enough with federal government to be linked to federal problems, Suttle said.
The conflict between firefighter unions and the City Council could lead to a downgrade, the mayor said. If the contracts aren’t agreed upon, Suttle and other city officials are going to come back from Chicago—where they’re meeting with Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s—with their “rear ends sore” and by Oct. 1, the city can expect a downgrade by both services to AA.
During a question and answer session, one college Democrat asked the mayor about the effects of the 2.5 percent restaurant tax passed last year—an essential catalyst in the failed campaign to recall Suttle.
The tax has “proved to be a no-brainer,” the mayor said. “The restaurant industry is up.”
When the tax was passed, fear spread across the metro that restaurant-goers would choose to dine outside Omaha, leading many of the city’s restaurants into bankruptcy.
The fears proved to be unfounded, Suttle said. Diners’ routines proved to be more effective than their monetary concerns.
“You follow your hobbies,” Suttle said. “You have ‘em; I have ‘em.”
The only regret Suttle expressed about the tax was that he wished “we would’ve kept it at 4 percent.”
The mayor also took time Monday to speak with the UNO College Republicans, perhaps hoping to provide substance to a philosophy of “civil discourse.”
“We’re in this together,” Suttle said.
“Eventually you have to come back to the basics. There’s no such thing as a Democrat pothole or Republican trash pickup,” the mayor said, referring to the idea that political parties and philosophies are important, but practicality and cooperation are the bottom line in maintaining a nation.
“We’re losing it in this country,” Suttle said. “Great civilizations throughout the centuries have failed more often from internal strife rather than external strife.”
Suttle has been interacting with the UNO Democrats since fall 2004. Both the students and Suttle enjoy the fruits of their collaboration.
“It’s a two-way street,” Suttle said.