Mayor Chris Beutler made history Tuesday by beating challenger Andy Stebbing to become the first mayor in Lincoln’s history to be elected to three terms.
Beutler said the win was "very exciting because Mr. Stebbing made a race of it."
"Nothing was for certain. We were constantly fighting off attacks and trying to get our message out and trying to stay positive. It was a very difficult campaign," Beutler said.
He said his usual mode of operating is "building partnerships and being positive and working with people, not feuding and arguing. So the campaign was uncomfortable."
But the mayor said he is "looking forward to getting back to full-time policy making and doing the job."
Stebbing said he was "humbled to have so many supporters and honored to have run and made so many friends."
"To come within single digits of the sitting mayor is big. We thought we brought the issues to light," said Stebbing, who is the Lancaster County treasurer.
His challenge to an incumbent mayor was a long shot. Just one-third of voters recognized his name at the beginning of the race.
However, Stebbing did much better in the primary than opponents predicted, trailing Beutler by just nine percentage points. But he couldn’t close that gap enough in the month between the primary and general election.
Even though he lost, Stebbing said the campaign was a positive experience where he met many people and learned a lot about a major campaign.
"The last thing I remember is Thanksgiving," Stebbing joked.
Beutler begins his third term with an already enviable record.
The Pinnacle Bank Arena, built with voter approval during a major recession, is the crowning jewel in the West Haymarket, where an entertainment district of restaurants, hotels and apartments grew out of an old rail yard.
The city, with its low unemployment rate, low housing costs, low cost of living and high education attainment, has fared well with online newspapers and magazines that use statistics to do rankings.
But the thousands of potholes that appeared over one winter weekend are testimony to the need to strengthen the street rehabilitation program.
Beutler’s re-election to a third term gives him an opportunity to create a legacy beyond the Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Running for a third term was so unusual that Beutler’s staff researched to make sure nothing in the city charter or state law banned him from seeking re-election. Since no one had even run for a third term, many assumed there was a term limit.
Beutler’s election also will keep Democrats at the helm in the state’s second largest city for another four years, for a total 20 years, since the election of Don Wesely in 1999. But Tuesday's election switched the majority on the City Council from Democrat control to Republican.
This was a traditional race, with the incumbent Beutler pointing to his history of success and the challenger Stebbing looking for political warts.
Beutler, who was a state senator from Lincoln for two decades before running for mayor, had instant name recognition and much more money for his campaign.
Beutler outspent Stebbing more than 2-to-1, collecting more than $31,000 in the week before the general election for a total of almost $350,000. Stebbing had raised around $158,000 by Election Day, based on campaign finance reports to the state.
Stebbing, a retired county sheriff’s deputy, made public safety a major issue during the primary, promising to hire more police officers. In recent weeks he criticized Beutler for failing to discipline top fire department leaders for not responding quickly to allegations of discrimination and bullying in the training program.
But Stebbing’s promise of bold, new leadership and his attack on Beutler as a tax-raising liberal who didn’t keep up on street repairs, wasn’t enough to overcome Beutler’s solid reputation as a hardworking mayor who built consensus and got things accomplished.