The University of Nebraska-Lincoln held a Lincoln City Council candidate panel co-sponsored by the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, UNL Young Democrats and College Republicans on March 23.
The public had the opportunity to ask questions to the candidates about their positions on issues and their plans for the city during the panel, which was from 7:30-8:30 p.m. at the Nebraska Union Ballroom for in-person attendance and virtually via Zoom. The panel was moderated by ASUN’s Government Liaison Committee Chair Cameron Collier.
Early voting for the six seats has begun for the April 6 primary election. There are 12 candidates this year, which is the largest number of people running for office in the past 16 years, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
The candidates this year are Roy Christensen, Peter Kolozsy, Elina Newman, Joseph Swanson, Mary Hilton, Maggie Mae Squires, Sändra Washington, Tom Beckius, Eric Burling, Aurang Zeb, Bennie Shobe and Trevor Reilly.
The candidates that appeared on the panel tonight were Christensen, Swanson, Hilton, Zeb, Reilly, Beckius and Newman.
One of the most pressing issues that was discussed was whether Lincoln should redistribute funds for the police department. Given the protests this past summer over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, this was a controversial issue.
Many of the panelists agreed to not redistribute funds. Christensen, Newman, Hilton, Zeb and Reilly agreed the Lincoln Police Department handled the protests appropriately. Hilton said she witnessed chaos with people throwing gasoline, firecrackers and rocks.
“Protesting is a right; however, what happened was not peaceful. It brought back a lot of trauma from when I was living in Azerbaijan,” Newman said. “I didn’t sleep for 72 hours and that was disturbing for me as a citizen.”
Reilly, Newman and Zeb said they would like to see more support for the police, but also more services to provide a safer community. Newman said having more social and mental health care services can diminish the burdens the LPD faces. In addition to services, Zeb and Reilly argued for more re-examination of the police training to ensure legal practices are being carried out.
Swanson said he does not glorify the clashes that ensued between protesters and the police officers that caused violence, and he added that the first step to solving police brutality in its entirety is to abolish capitalism.
Affordable and equitable housing and tenant rights were another topic of discussion among the candidates. Most of the candidates agreed that housing is a serious crisis in Lincoln that needs to be solved.
Christensen and Newman said upzoning — or increasing single residential lots to allow for more multifamily units such as duplexes and triplexes — is one solution to solving the problem.
Reilly and Beckius proposed exploring housing alternatives such as cottage-style housing developments. Reilly also said that quality housing should be something that the government helps citizens with.
Ultimately, most candidates agreed that boosting the economy in Lincoln is a way to increase the housing market.
Most candidates also agreed that tenant rights and fair policies are being carried out in Lincoln. Hilton said the responsibility to follow the contract lies both on the landlord and the tenant, so both parties need to ensure that the law is being followed.
Another matter that was brought to attention was taxes. Most panelists agreed taxes are still a pressing issue, but it’s something that needs to happen at a state-level. Newman, Zeb and Beckius agreed that tax policies need to be re-examined to ensure the money is placed at where it needs to be the most.
Reilly said there needs to be more transparency about where taxpayer money is going. He said allowing residents to choose where the money is distributed is one method to achieve this transparency.
Swanson said all forms of taxation on the working class should be eradicated. He said on average, cities place 60 different types of taxes on citizens and Swanson said that affects the working class harshly.
The last question that the panelists were presented with was how they plan on keeping young people in Lincoln. The main answer that everyone concurred upon was opening more job opportunities and solving the housing crisis.
“Young people are the future of this city, we need to create more jobs if we want people to stay here,” Zeb said.
In addition, Beckius said having a richer quality of life was essential to attract the youth.
“It’s also a city’s responsibility to take a holistic approach to bring in young talent,” Beckius said. “It means making sure there are more concerts in Pinnacle Bank Arena or making sure there’s an active environment and a vibrant downtown scene.”
The primary election is on April 6 and Collier encouraged UNL students who are Lincoln residents to vote if they can. He also encouraged students to vote for the current ASUN elections that are taking place March 23-24.