Monday, May 14, 2007

Congratulations to Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler

by Kyle Michaelis
Today, the New Nebraska Network celebrates the inauguration of long-time State Sen. Chris Beutler as mayor of our state's capital city. While Beutler's victory in the May 1st election was by no means a landslide, anyone who has followed Lincoln politics the last 2 - 3 years should be able to testify to just how significant an accomplishment it truly was.

The animosity towards out-going incumbent and fellow Democrat Coleen Seng has made little rational sense, but it has been undeniable. I have every expectation that the people of Lincoln will eventually recognize the good that Seng did as mayor and perhaps even come to regret the low regard in which she's been held and the frequent jokes made at her expense.

Unfortunately, Seng allowed political rivals to define her and to keep her on the defensive for most of her term as mayor. After serving Lincoln with distinction for 16 years on its city council, her grandmotherly persona and emphasis on consensus-building left her prey to accusations of weak leadership and incompetent management. In some circumstances, these claims might have had merit, but they've remained exaggerated and rather ridiculously one-sided right up to this day.

It's my sincerest hope that Mayor Beutler will be more proactive in laying out a clear agenda for the city and - perhaps most importantly - not being afraid to take on those who will challenge and seek to usurp his authority. With a one-vote Republican majority on the officially non-partisan city council, there are likely to be instances of needless, politically-motivated division. Without falling into the trap of partisanship for partisanship's sake, Beutler must steel himself for certain battles in which he can and must rely on the bully pulpit and the power of public opinion to force the city forward.

Beutler won against all odds, running with grit while maintaining his integrity. To be honest, it was Republican city councilman Ken Svoboda's race to lose, and that's precisely what he did. Beutler outworked Svoboda on the campaign trail, presented a superior vision for Lincoln's future, and had a better, more professional operation in place from the very start.

Beutler also had an amazing support structure, in which I would go so far as declaring U.S. Senator Ben Nelson as the secret weapon who made it all possible. Not only did Nelson's 2006 campaign mobilize local Democrats, but it was also so extensive and tightly-managed an operation that significant planning and resources could still be targeted towards Beutler's election in the wake of the most expensive campaign in Nebraska history.

Success also breeds success - just as failure breeds failure - meaning there was no doubt a carry-over effect from Nelson's winning Lancaster County with almost 70% of the vote in November.

Looking at numbers alone, the impressiveness of Beutler's victory would likely be lost on many observers. The 2007 percentages and margins are virtually indistinguishable from Seng's numbers in 2003. But, as established, that's quite the amazing feat in and of itself. It's also a good sign of what Nebraska Democrats can accomplish when they back up preparation with some much-needed focus.

There will be more time to talk campaigns and strategies. But, today belongs to Mayor Beutler and the wise voters of Lincoln who saw fit to entrust this proven progressive visionary with the future of their city at a time of incredible transition.

This is a man who will serve his city well and whose bold ideas and clear vision should inspire a new generation of leaders across the state. A bright future lies ahead. I am even more excited to see it than I was to play my tiny role in helping to make it a reality.

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