Incumbents, challengers face off in city council race

By: Liz Kellar The News Messenger
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With less than three weeks to go until Election Day, the five candidates for the three open city council seats are busy going door to door, shaking hands, attending events – such as Wednesday’s forum at Sun City Lincoln Hills and a forum next Thursday at Lincoln High School – and refining their message. For incumbents Spencer Short and Tom Cosgrove, that message is simple – the current council has been doing a good job and their record proves they should be re-elected. “Everyone seems very content with the direction in which the city is headed,” Short said Tuesday. “We need to continue to work regionally, but I think people are confident with the leadership we’ve provided.” Cosgrove, who has been in the forefront of the push to build the Highway 65 bypass, could be considered to have a strong base for re-election. “People seem to think the job I’m doing is a pretty good job,” he said. “Hubris will get you in trouble, though; I can’t take it for granted. But I think I have a fair chance of being re-elected … I do think the records of each candidate should be looked at very closely. It’s legitimate to look at what I’ve done and how I’ve done it – that’s all fair game.” Cosgrove pointed to a number of positive actions the current council has taken. “Primo (Santini, the outgoing mayor) led the effort on the General Plan update, which won statewide recognition; we’ve been proclaimed an All-America City; we have a $300 million transportation plan under construction, the city’s per capita sales tax is up … I think we’ve done a lot of good things in the community. I would venture to say we’ve done such a good job, a lot of people wanted to move here.” Cosgrove recognizes there are some segments of the town’s population who express dissatisfaction, however. “It’s a general frustration with the state of the economy,” he said. “The state and national economics, that all comes into play. People are just frustrated – but we have a $2½ million reserve in our budget. I think we’ve managed the city finances very well, considering that when I was first elected, the city was virtually broke. This is a worse downtown than 14 years ago, but the city is in a better position now.” For the challengers – Stan Nader, Paul Joiner and Allen Cuenca — the message they must get out is that they can do better. Nader, who previously served on the city council and was part of a recall in 1993, thinks the council members are not accessible enough. “I’m seeing a lot of unhappiness because people feel city hall is not responsive,” he said. “If you want an example, I’ve had several people talk to me about the train whistle issue. They e-mailed one councilman, whose name I won’t mention, four times with no response. They then sent a fifth e-mail, but still got no response. As far as I’m concerned, that’s inexcusable. I realize council members are busy, but there are ways to deal with that. It’s that kind of thing people are not happy about – and I’ve run into numerous situations similar to that one. Sitting members are saying everything is fine, but obviously they’re not talking to the people.” Cuenca, meanwhile, is positioning himself as a candidate who is not “one of the good old boys.” On his Web site, he highlights the fact that roughly 80 percent of Lincoln residents have lived in Lincoln 10 years or less. “I am the only candidate who is representative of this group,” he wrote. “I am also the only candidate with children still in the public school system.” For Cuenca, it comes down to assuring that segment of Lincoln has a voice on the council. “When I first moved to Lincoln seven years ago, the good old boys network was very much alive and well,” he said. “It was typical of a small town; as Lincoln has grown, that club had diminished significantly – and I hope it will continue to diminish as we get more representation on the council that’s more typical of the population.” Cuenca said many of the new residents moved to Lincoln with expectations – fostered by real estate agents and developers – that were unfounded. “Lincoln doesn’t have the big-city amenities I think some people were expecting,” he said. “The city’s role is to communicate to new citizens what they are providing and why they’re not providing more at this time.” Cuenca did say the city has taken some steps in the right direction. “I do want to say it’s the successes of the council over the past 10 years, is what has brought people to town,” Cuenca said. “I’m not running on the position that the council is broken or doing things wrong. I don’t have an agenda – I’m not out to get the council. I do think there’s an opportunity for a lot of improvement.” Cuenca said he is not looking to encourage any oldtimers-versus-newcomers divisiveness. “It irks me that some neighborhoods might think we’re not part of Lincoln,” he said. “When we moved here, we welcomed all parts of Lincoln with open arms. We weren’t trying to take it over. It saddens me that people might have an elitist view. We need to promote all of Lincoln – we’re all still Lincolnites.” Joiner said that he understands Cuenca is trying to separate himself from the other candidates, but added that statements about the good old boy network “clearly bring about the politics of division.” “I don’t think the good old boy network exists,” he said. “I think there are a lot of citizens who are willing to step up and they are mostly from the old part of town. I hope some of the newer citizens step up in the not-too-distant future and become more active in our city government.” Joiner added he does not consider himself a good old boy or even a politician, noting that Cuenca could be considered part of a “network” after six years on the planning commission. “I am a citizen who sees a need for someone who has knowledge and experience,” he said. “Public service is a very important part of life.” Short said any characterization of a good old boys network in Lincoln is unfounded. “I find that funny,” he said. “There aren’t any vestiges of that left in Lincoln. You have people who are very community-conscious here, you have people who are committed, who have vision and who have defined that vision through action. Hopefully, it’s a government representative of what people want.” Short also disputed accusations that the current council is unresponsive to the community. “We’re open and accessible,” he said. “The biggest issue we’re seeing is the inaction of the school board – and that’s frustrating. If the citizens are saying they want us to take on the responsibility of the school board, they would have to put forward a referendum to unify the city and the school district as a single political organization.”