The three mainstream mayoral candidates, all with experience in city government, participated in a thoughtful, sophisticated discussion of city issues during the first panel discussion for all the candidates Sunday afternoon.
The three — Cyndi Lamm, Jeff Kirkpatrick and Leirion Gaylor Baird — listed public safety as their first priority and differed only by degrees on most issues.
But Lamm, the only Republican running for the mayor’s office, showed her more conservative leanings on several issues, including property taxes and offering protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation during the panel discussion, which was sponsored by the University Place Community Organization, a neighborhood group representing the Wesleyan University area.
Lamm said she would not use the revenue windfall that will be created by rising home property values while Kirkpatrick and Gaylor Baird, both Democrats, made no promises.
“I’m not here to promise to lower your property tax rates. I think that is premature,” said Kirkpatrick. "The fiscally prudent thing to do is to wait until we have a better picture of the city’s financial situation this spring and summer."
And Kirkpatrick pointed out that public schools get the largest share — about 60 percent — of the property tax revenue. He believes the state has failed to adequately finance education.
"But I'm not running for governor," he said.
Gaylor Baird was less specific in her answer, noting that she found an extra cash reserve that was used for public safety needs in last year’s budget. She said she would continue to “look for efficiencies” and “continue to work hard to protect each and every one of you as we deliver services that you expect and deserve.”
Lamm has pledged she will not use the windfall that will be created by higher valuations and will instead reduce the tax rate. City revenue has been rising at about 4 percent and spending at 6 percent for a number of years, she said.
“That is not sustainable. We have to live within our means,” she said.
Lamm also took a conservative personal stand on the issue of sexual orientation, saying she holds a biblical view of marriage, meaning marriage should involve a man and a woman. But she believes every person is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity and to equal treatment under the law.
Currently, a city measure prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations is in limbo. It was passed by the previous City Council and halted by a petition drive in 2012. Since then, the council has avoided either repealing the measure or putting it on the ballot for voter consideration.
Lamm said the council can put that measure on the ballot and her obligation as mayor would be to allow that to happen.
Gaylor Baird and Kirkpatrick were more overtly supportive of the anti-discrimination measure.
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Gaylor Baird said a Lincoln resident can marry on Saturday and be fired on Monday for being gay. That is “wrong, morally wrong” and bad for the city and state, she said. The city and state need to be known for its inclusivity, she added.
If elected mayor, Gaylor Baird said she would work with community stakeholders to put an end to that kind of discrimination.
Kirkpatrick said he believes it is time to revisit the issue and to make sure that sexual orientation is one of the protected classes. He said there needs to be a full community discussion and he would “participate vigorously” in changing city code and making sure all citizens feel full protection.
The three candidates all said affordable housing is a growing problem for the city. But they differed on the solution, including whether they support a community land trust, where the government or a nonprofit own the land, keeping the land price out of the cost of the housing built there and reducing the housing cost.
Lamm suggested the city should re-examine the city policies that make housing more expensive and “get out of the way” of developers.
Lamm does not support community land trusts, which put government in the position of competing with the private sector, she said.
Both Kirkpatrick and Gaylor Baird said they believe a community land trust is one of many ways to provide additional affordable housing.
Both said they believe in better code enforcement to assure there is quality affordable housing (Gaylor Baird) and to make sure that the older rental stock does not deteriorate and have to be torn down (Kirkpatrick).
Providing affordable housing most of the time will involve a subsidy, Gaylor Baird said.
The three also had differing thoughts on building a new downtown library.
Kirkpatrick, who has been a member of the library board of trustees, says he supports building a new downtown library on half the Pershing Center property, which has been the board’s historic favorite option for a downtown library. A bond issue approved by voters would build the new library and provide funding to improve branch libraries, he said.
Lamm said a new library at the Pershing Center location would be too expensive. She suggested renovating the library at the current location and perhaps expanding into the neighboring vacant building, the former YWCA.
“We must prioritize needs over wants,” she said.
Gaylor Baird said she would work closely with the library board to identify the best site and the right plan to take to the voters.
The mayor's election is nonpartisan and voters will select two mayor candidates in the April 9 primary to move on to the May general election.