The three mainstream candidates for Lincoln mayor agreed on many issues during a public discussion Wednesday at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
Lincoln is not a sanctuary city, but is a welcoming city to legal immigrants; it is a wonderful city to live in and raise a family; but the roads right now are really awful.
However, Cyndi Lamm, a Republican, differed from Jeff Kirkpatrick and Leirion Gaylor Baird, both Democrats, on some of the details involved in continuing Lincoln’s progress.
Two of the five mayoral candidates will move from the April 9 primary to the May general election. Krystal Gabel and Rene Solc are registered as nonpartisan and have very limited campaign funds.
Lamm and Gaylor Baird are both City Council members and Kirkpatrick is the city attorney, on leave now to run for office.
Here are their answers to some of the questions at the forum.
* Why are Lincoln streets so awful?
Lamm: The city does have the resources to fund streets adequately, including the highest wheel tax in the state. But she believes the city hasn’t prioritized road maintenance. Less than $3 million of the $19 million in wheel tax revenue goes to residential street maintenance.
Gaylor Baird: The city’s spending on streets is below many of its peer cities, creating a $33 million annual gap in street funding.
Reprioritizing would simply mean having to cut areas such as parks and recreation, “and that is not an option.”
Road funding is a structural problem, where the inflation for road construction costs is 5 to 6 percent a year while city revenues grow just 1 to 2 percent.
Kirkpatrick: Roads have been underfunded for a long period of time and the inflationary trend is not favorable. Approving the quarter-cent sales tax increase earmarked for streets that is on the April 9 ballot will help.
Both Gaylor Baird and Kirkpatrick pointed out the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised for 20 years. When the federal politicians promised they weren’t going to raise the gas tax, they didn’t also say highways and streets are going to go to pieces, Kirkpatrick said.
* Is Lincoln a sanctuary city?
Kirkpatrick: Lincoln is not a sanctuary city but is a practical community. Police notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an undocumented person is in jail but don’t detain them unless ICE gets a warrant. “We are not going to fill up the jail with people who may or may not be of interest to ICE.”
Police do not pick up people simply because they don’t have proper documentation, as a part of good community policing. You cannot have a significant segment of the population in fear of police and have a safe and crime-free city, he said.
Gaylor Baird: Lincoln is not a sanctuary city and police do comply with ICE upon request but do not independently enforce immigration law. They treat people with respect regardless of citizenship so they can earn the trust of those in the community, which leads to a safer city.
Lamm: Lincoln is not a sanctuary city. People here illegally are held for ICE. Lincoln is very welcoming toward refugees and immigrants who are here legally, helping them assimilate. Lamm pointed to the work of the New American Task Force and said she is proud of the refugee and immigration work Lincoln has done.
* What should the city’s role be in supporting development?
Gaylor Baird: Lincoln's extraordinary progress is the result of thoughtful policy and public-private partnerships. Lincoln needs to streamline city processes, keep pace with new technologies, cultivate a can-do attitude and remain good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Kirkpatrick: Developers have told him that getting projects through the city process can be very time-consuming. Kirkpatrick said he believes that this is not a matter of changing the rules but adjusting the culture a little bit.
Lamm: The city needs to adjust policies and practices that are hampering development and needs to make development more affordable. The city should re-examine and rework policies that have a stranglehold on development.
For example, when a developer who wants to build 140 units is told he can only build 88, that hampers growth.
The first word from city staff is often "no," and should be changed to “how can we help you do this?" she said.
* Do you favor a law that prohibits city employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity?
Kirkpatrick: As a matter of basic human decency, the city or the state should pass an anti-discrimination law protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination. “If we can’t do it on the state level, we need to do it on the local level. It’s long past time we passed it here in Lincoln."
Lamm: She believes discrimination is wrong and does not discriminate in her own law practice. But the citizens of Lincoln stopped an anti-discrimination ordinance (called the fairness ordinance) and it remains a controversial issue. Lamm said she is hesitant to pass new laws that regulate what small businesses can do. The city does protect its own employees through an anti-discrimination policy, she noted.
Gaylor Baird: "Today in Lincoln you can get married on Saturday and get fired on Monday for being gay. That is wrong." Lincoln’s image should be one of tolerance and inclusion, not intolerance. Gaylor Baird suggested continuing the fight in the state Legislature next year. She predicted anything on the local ballot would meet a well-funded and well-organized opposition.