Lincoln Mayor Gaylor Baird announces she will run for re-election
Points to economic growth, COVID response as accomplishments
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird outside the County-City Building in Lincoln. (Courtesy of Leirion for Lincoln Mayor)
LINCOLN — Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced her re-election bid Monday by embracing her record, including the city’s responses to COVID-19 that she knows her opponents will criticize.
Nebraska’s highest-profile Democrat said in an interview that she is proud of how Lincoln and Lancaster County kept mortality rates among the lowest in Nebraska and nationally, which health statistics show.
She credited temporary measures such as masking and the COVID-19 transmission risk dial with helping people navigate an uncertain time. She thanked the city’s partners in education and public health.
“We kept people alive, working together,” she told the Nebraska Examiner. “We continue to monitor the data and get out information. But look where we are now. Life is so much better.”
She also pointed to nearly $10 million in rent and utility stabilization grants that the city awarded to local small businesses from federal coronavirus relief funds and $12 million in federal funds for worker training programs.
Top GOP target
Gaylor Baird, the clear favorite to be the Democratic nominee, said she knows she will be the top target next spring of a well-funded Republican political machine known for big advertising buys and political attacks.
That machine helped Republicans running this fall for Lancaster County attorney and Douglas County sheriff win tightly contested races in urban counties where Democrats typically perform well.
Top GOP donors are lining up behind Republican State Sen. Suzanne Geist, who announced her bid for mayor in mid-September. Christian broadcaster Stan Parker, another Republican, threw his hat into the ring in October.
Neither campaign had immediate comment on the mayor’s decision to run again.
Gaylor Baird’s fundraising challenge became clearer in early September, when Tom Peed’s Sandhills Publishing group gave Geist the largest single donation in Lincoln city politics, $250,000.
That, plus Geist’s political ties to Gov. Pete Ricketts, put the Lincoln mayor’s race on a path toward becoming the most expensive Lincoln mayor’s race. The current spending record was in 2019, when Gaylor Baird and Cyndi Lamm spent a combined $660,000 to fill an open seat.
Gaylor Baird, a former management consultant, said she is confident she will raise the money she needs to compete. Lancaster County Democrat and retired political staffer W. Don Nelson said the big GOP political donations could help the mayor.
She leads the bluest-voting major city in Nebraska. Nelson said Republicans want single-party rule and are learning from the Ricketts model about how far big money can take them.
“I don’t think anybody gives obscene amounts of money to a campaign solely through civic ardor,” Nelson said. “I think 99 percent of people … they’re expecting to purchase somebody’s Rolodex.”
Home turf for Dems
Nelson said Gaylor Baird should ask her opponents one question: “What is it I have done over the past four years that you would not have done, and what would you have liked to have done?”
Republican challengers have hinted they will criticize Gaylor Baird for mandatory masking enforcement, supporting the city’s proposed fairness ordinance, her administration’s public safety record and potholes.
The mayor said she does not want negative campaign ads to erode the sense of confidence people have about “the safety and success of our city.”
Gaylor Baird said she is focused on economic opportunity, helping Lincoln rebound from the pandemic and launching “catalyst projects” that improve quality of life, including affordable housing, parks and trails.
The mayor shared rankings that show major gains in job growth, wage growth and broadband infrastructure. She mentioned a record number of building permits in 2021.
She has appointed a committee tasked with helping Lincoln find and develop a second source of water, beyond the city’s Ashland-area well fields on the Platte River.
Lincoln currently has enough water to grow through the next 25 years or so, she said. Connecting the city to an additional water source could take a decade or more.
“We need to get moving,” she said. “I won’t be around to cut the ribbon on that, right. But I know how important that is for the future. It feels like an incredible legacy project.”
Both candidates have said they are likely to question Gaylor Baird’s record on crime and street maintenance. She said she hopes voters will give her a chance to confront feelings with facts.
Lincoln’s violent crime rate is approaching a three-decade low, she said, even as the city has grown by 100,000 people. She credited the community work of the Lincoln Police Department and neighbors.
Lincoln pays its police officers more than any law enforcement agency in the state. That, more than anything, she said, shows the priority her administration puts on public safety.
She said she is also working to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities on Lincoln streets, after a spate of higher-profile wrecks. The city has set a goal of reducing injuries and fatalities with engineering and education.
The city has spent a record $167 million on street improvements since she took office. The funds are coming from a quarter-cent sales tax passed by voters in 2019.
The mayor said the city is also working to improve snow removal from residential areas, by buying new snow plows and hiring more private contractors to clear side streets.
Public transit is another focus of hers. She said young people want to live in cities with mass transit. She points to a $23.6 million grant Lincoln secured for a new central bus station downtown.
She also stresses her leadership in adopting a climate action plan. The city is working with businesses, universities and government agencies to reduce greenhouse gases and strengthen the city’s infrastructure.
She said part of recruiting young talent is being a welcoming place for all Nebraskans, including LGBTQ youths.
“I know what people in Lincoln care about,” Gaylor Baird said. “I know the people of Lincoln. The people of Lincoln know me. We’ve done incredible things together.”
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