Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Bad Sign for Bellevue (and Nebraska)

by Kyle Michaelis
The Bellevue mayor's race may seem relatively trivial compared to all the action at Monday's enormous immigration rallies and on the floor of the state legislature. Still, an Omaha World-Herald report about the race draws attention (as little more than an aside) to a disturbing fact that should not be over-shadowed because it speaks to a very real problem facing the entire state of Nebraska - the lack of youth and diversity in its leadership.

The four candidates for Bellevue's mayor heading into its May 9th primary are:
Age: 68
Occupation: certified public accountant
Previous offices held, sought: Bellevue City Council (1974-1982 and 1990-present)

Age: 72
Occupation: president, Fredrick Financial Services
Previous offices held, sought: Bellevue City Council (1998-2002); ran for Bellevue mayor (2002)

Age: 77
Occupation: retired from the State of Nebraska
Previous offices held, sought: Bellevue Board of Education (1966-1985); Nebraska state senator (1985-2004)

Age: 70
Occupation: Bellevue mayor
Previous offices held, sought: Bellevue mayor (1998-present)

In many ways, Bellevue is probably lucky to have four candidates with such a wealth of experience. As the World-Herald notes, these men have a combined 74 years of public service in both state and local offices.

But, is that really such a good thing?

As commendable as these men's dedication to their community may be, there's something very wrong with the fact that the only people stepping forward to lead Bellevue are old men. Between 1990 and 2000, the population of Bellevue grew by more than 45%, leaping into its current postion as Nebraska's third largest city.

As Bellevue continues to adapt to its newfound size and prominence, it will require dynamic and forward-looking leadership. The same goes for the entire state if Nebraska is going to be prepared for the many challenges facing us in the 21st century.

Now, youth alone is not the solution - nor is having leaders who are female or perhaps even have a different skintone. But, there's no doubt such diversity of background and perspective is sorely lacking, to the detriment of both Bellevue's and Nebraska's attempts to pave the way for a brighter future.

Experience is important, and I certainly mean no offense to old white men - who can serve as honorably as anybody else and, needless to say, whose ranks I hope one day to join. Still, there comes a time when the torch must be passed - as a matter of survival and to maintain balance between the forces of tradition and progress.

Nebraska's population is aging, but we cannot let that fact sap our state of every ounce of its vitality. If we do not make a concerted effort to bring new voices to the table, we may lose our chance - hastening years of heartache and decline that may yet be reversed.

But, we must act now. Diversify or perish. If the problem has reached this point even in a growing urban area such as Bellevue, Western and rural Nebraska may need to take even more drastic measures.

Of course, all this is dependent on new leaders rising to the challenge when they are called. We must trust that they will do so, as this state's entire fate - if it is to prosper - can not be left forever in the hands of those citizens eldest, whitest, wealthiest, and most-inclined to need a prescription for Viagra.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that the current mayor's race in Bellevue consists solely of old, white males, Inez Boyd was Bellevue's mayor from '86-'98. It's not that the old, white guys won't "pass the torch" but rather no one else is stepping up. Why aren't younger people from more diverse backgrounds getting more involved in local politics? That's the question that needs to be asked.


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