LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) In the race to become Lincoln's next mayor, Cyndi Lamm, a current city councilwoman and Republican, is seeking support from a city of left-leaning voters.
She came in second in the Lincoln Primary Election with 36 percent of the vote. Leirion Gaylor Baird was the top vote-getter with 42 percent.
For Lamm, it's her background story of a life of struggle and success she hopes will resonate with the people who will decide her fate.
Growing up with divorced parents, Lamm said she dropped out of school and became homeless, living on the streets of Lincoln for a few years. She eventually married her husband and had two children before heading back to school, where she earned her law degree from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2004.
Lamm, who has served on the council since 2015, has worked as a legislative aide for the unicameral legislature as well as served as a judicial clerk for Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Kenneth C. Stephan.
"I love this city. I think that's clear. It really is a city of dreams and there is no expiration date on dreams. I want to lead a safe, prosperous and vibrant city where every individual and business has opportunities to success. I think that requires change. Change in leadership and direction, not in the way the city is growing, but in the way we're allowing it to grow, and common sense principles of priorities. Prioritizing needs over wants, especially so that people who have worked here most, if not all of their adult lives, can afford to stay and enjoy the beautiful surroundings."
What was your reaction to snow removal efforts in Lincoln this winter and would you do anything differently?
"I did introduce legislation to form a snow removal task force, which passed. The idea bringing together citizens from every quadrant of the city, along with those first responders that rely on our roads and folks that have boots on the ground clearing our roads, in order to explore our policies. One of the things that was very noticeable was after the first snow we had, where we had official measurements of over five inches, the city determined that the average throughout the city was less than four inches, and so didn't clean residential roads. We knew another storm was coming, so we should have made some adaptation and I think there just wasn't enough discretion or flexibility to do that. It's time to re-explore what the citizens of Lincoln, who are actually paying for snow removal bills; what are their needs and what are their expectations from their city. Is there room for flexibility, and what does that look like? We should have also cleared the ice, scraped the ice, in between the two storms on the main arterials like the county engineer did for county roads in order to not be so impacted by that second storm that came through."
We received many complaints from 10/11 viewers about potholes and poor road conditions around Lincoln. What is your reaction to the condition of city roads and would you do anything differently?
"With road conditions, certainly they're to some degree, a result of the freeze and thaw process, but we didn't get there overnight. These roads were allowed to deteriorate over the last decade. Not enough maintenance and repair was done. We need to refocus and we need to prioritize roads. Spending less than 3 million dollars a year on residential maintenance isn't enough. It wasn't the right priority. And having a property tax budget that actually puts millions more into parks and recreation than it does into roads is simply also exhibits the priority problem."
So making road improvements would be a priority?
"We need to look at fixing roads, reducing the property tax burden so people can afford to live here and operating with true transparency to restore trust in government. As far as the roads, I have said I will go through every department, top to bottom, to make sure that we're properly staffed and we're working as efficiently as possible. Transparency will help that happen, because we can encourage employees that are inside city hall and inside the departments to come forward with innovative ideas; things that they have noticed are inefficiencies, and we can improve those and prioritize what needs to be done to maintain what we already have, and reduce future costs of replacement.
Where do you stand on the quarter-cent sales tax increase question that will appear on the April 9th ballot? Lincoln city leaders said the tax would generate about $13 million a year for a total $78 million for streets over six years.
"Higher taxes should always be the last resort. I personally do not support the quarter-cent sales tax and I voted not to put it on the ballot because I don't feel like we've exhausted all of our options at this point. I think the people of Lincoln deserve better."
Lamm has also announced a measure to limit taxpayer dollars for use on bond and ballot initiatives at $20,000 if she becomes mayor after Lincoln city leaders spent about $190,000 promoting the quarter-cent sales tax initiative.
A concern among Lincoln homeowners is the rise in property taxes. What do you say to residents who have concerns?
"The first thing I have promised is I will not use the windfall. The revaluations, as you know, came in with double-digit growth. We've already got a budget for the 19-20 year that was passed in 18. There's no reason that the people of Lincoln can't keep their own money. So, I would reduce the levy rate in order to make sure that we weren't taking advantage of what people really feel is some outrageous revaluations. The other thing I would do is, not only prioritize, but I will involve the city council earlier in the process. By that, I don't mean I will prepare my budget and give them my budget, early in the process. What I mean is, I'll involve them in the creation of the budget, so that we all come to agreeable goals and worthwhile goals for our city, and we work through those goals and those priorities properly. So, that when we get to the end of the budgeting process, maybe everybody doesn't get what they want, but everybody knows we've worked toward the goals and we served Lincoln the best we can."
Affordable housing remains a concern for some Lincoln residents. Would you do anything to address that?
"Housing affordability is definitely an issue in Lincoln. You can't invite a growing workforce if you don't have places for them to live that they can afford to live and are attracted to live in. So we at the city, there are some things we can do. We should do it at the front end. The city, under my administration, we will explore those policies that have a stranglehold on affordable growth. Those policies that make building projects and development projects take longer to get out of the ground and cost more up front. We will start from a position of, 'How do we help you do this?' instead of 'No, you can't do this.' We have a number of developers right here in Lincoln that build affordable housing all over the state, and actually some of them avoid Lincoln even though they live here, because the process and the bureaucracy is too great."
Lincoln continues to expand in all directions. How would you manage and stay ahead of city growth if you became mayor?
"I'm not going to micromanage the growth. I think there's a natural way that the city can grow and the developers and builders would like to see it grow and they're going to do what's best for them and the city. They all have investments in our city also. I do see revisiting policies that help provide additional tools to developers so that they're not halted by our plan in the city, but they can in fact bring infrastructure to us and use creative ideas and tools in order to make that growth pay for itself. That's what I'll be working on when I do the top to bottom and when we look at the policies that in fact have a stranglehold on some of our growth right now."