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Underdogs and Frontrunners in the Omaha Mayoral Race

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Christopher Geary photos by Bill Sitzmann, all others contributed

Running for the office of Omaha mayor seems surprisingly accessible for any registered voter age 25 or older who is an Omaha resident of six months or more: Pay a $100 filing fee, complete a notarized candidate filing form and a statement of financial interests form, and submit a petition signed by 1,000 registered Omaha voters.

As the March/April issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, 10 individuals had taken out paperwork from the Douglas County Election Commission (the first step to getting on the ballot in hopes of being elected to the nonpartisan office that pays $102,312 annually for a four-year term starting in June). But in the months before the election, only about half of the potential candidates had developed and promoted detailed campaign platforms through polished websites, social media channels, and savvy media relations efforts. Several of those receiving less pronounced media attention have articulated core issues that range from legalizing marijuana, to improving the lives of local lower- and middle-income families, to touting free speech.

Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian W. Kruse says it’s unlikely all 10 will make it to the ballot for the April 4 primary based on precedent: Although seven candidates qualified for the 2013 primary, there were just five in 2009, only two in both 2005 and 2001, and three in 1997. (The two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to the general election, May 9 this cycle.) Self-promotion isn’t the only challenge for potential candidates, Kruse says.

“Especially with the mayoral candidates, we do hear quite a bit how hard it is to get 1,000 signatures that are accepted. It takes work, you know?” he says. Some well-meaning signers are discovered during the painstaking verification process to not be registered to vote or not registered in the correct jurisdiction, he explains. Candidates are encouraged to obtain extra signatures and complete paperwork well before the March 3 filing deadline. If time allows, they can correct paperwork errors or omissions or even gather more signatures if they come up short or cut it close.

“We would feel terrible if someone turned theirs in on March 3 and they had 995 signatures, because there’s nothing they can do at that point,” he says. “In our office, we will certify to 110 percent. We try to turn them around pretty quickly; the mayor (incumbent Jean Stothert) turned her signatures in on a Wednesday, and we were done by Friday afternoon. Often candidates will call and check with us on how it’s going, and we’ll give them updates. We try to be as customer service-friendly as possible … We’re here to serve the voters and the citizens of Douglas County.”

Christopher Geary, a martial arts teacher/studio owner and former Marine, is a newcomer to the mayoral race. He and the current mayor were the first to meet the credentials needed to appear on the ballot, receiving confirmation from the commission Jan. 6.

 

“I feel that service to others is not only something people should do, but it’s an obligation we all should embrace. I have run for office before and I feel that now is the perfect time to serve the City of Omaha, which has been my home for three decades … Omaha is an awesome city with a fantastic history and people. The diversity of communities and how we come together in hard times is really inspiring,” Geary says. “I have a vision for Omaha that brings government, business, and citizens together to improve living conditions for everyone by increasing job opportunities, helping businesses grow and prosper, and provide training for those seeking employment.”

Geary has made the unusual decision to not accept campaign contributions. “I think a candidate for any office should be free and clear of anyone or any group that would try to manipulate them once they are in office,” he says.

He also will not participate in debates, he adds. “Political debates end up being personal attacks on one another and rarely stay on point. Candidates will only say what people want to hear with memorized speeches and can easily stump the other candidates with facts they don’t have access to. Voters that watch or listen to these debates will not receive the necessary information to make informed decisions regarding his or her candidate.”

Mayoral candidate Taylor Royal

Another mayoral hopeful, certified public accountant Taylor Royal, is entirely new to politics.

“I have always had the heart to serve the public and make my hometown better for everyone, but the urgency to run for mayor originated when I moved back to Omaha two years ago,” he says, explaining that he was impressed with the business climate and other opportunities in Dallas, where he lived for four years as he earned his master’s degree and launched his career.

“Moving back to Omaha in 2015 was a different story. The same old problems that plagued our city when I was growing up were still prevalent, and new problems were surfacing,” Royal says. “I want to be mayor of Omaha to create a more business-friendly and community-friendly Omaha. I believe my new vision for Omaha will join our community together to solve our challenges and make Omaha the place to be for families and businesses.”

Royal received early media attention for his proposal to build a football stadium and bring an NFL team to Omaha, but his platform also includes unlocking new sources of revenue, looking for strategic opportunities to outsource, improving street maintenance, and revitalizing North Omaha. Citizens have been receptive, he says.

“My campaign experience to date has been a confirmation of what I already knew about the people in Omaha,” he says. “Omaha is a city filled with people who display unmatched hospitality and incredible diversity, and my candidacy has received a warm welcome from the residents.”

Candidate Heath Mello, who comes into the mayoral race fresh from two terms in the Nebraska Legislature, says engagement is key to winning an election.

“Looking back, I was probably most surprised by how important it was to spend more time knocking on doors and meeting with voters than doing anything else. Spending quality time with people in their homes, churches, and senior centers proved to be so much more meaningful to me throughout the campaign than any speech, fundraiser, meeting, or parade,” he says, estimating that he knocked on more than 12,000 doors in his first race alone.

Engagement then transfers to successfully serving the public, he adds.

“I worked hard for eight years as a state senator to keep that kind of personal engagement through town halls, neighborhood roundtables, knocking on doors, and proactively connecting with neighbors,” he says. And he’s taking that approach through his bid for Omaha mayor with a platform that includes plans to reduce crime, improve city services, create jobs, and foster collaboration.

“From Belvedere to Deer Park, Blackstone to Elkhorn, and everywhere in between, I am continuing to knock on doors and visit with small businesses to learn more about how Omahans want to help shape our great city for the next 20 years and how we can collectively create a smarter, more innovative city.”

Incumbent Stothert emphasizes safety of Omaha’s citizens as her top priority in her bid for re-election. “There is no issue we work harder on than reducing crime and apprehending and prosecuting those who commit crimes. I am proud of our police department and our work with community partners to make Omaha a safer community.”

Her motivation for running again is simple: “I love my job, and it is a privilege to serve as mayor.” Stothert notes, however, that running for re-election has both advantages and challenges.

“During the past 3 1/2 years, we have provided leadership, accomplished priorities, and worked with partners on community projects. This experience provides me the opportunity to highlight what we have accomplished, something you can’t provide as a first-time candidate,” she says. On the other hand, “Four years ago, I could spend most my time campaigning by meeting voters throughout the city and visiting people in their homes. While I am doing that again during this election, I also know my work and commitments as mayor must come first. Even though I have less time to campaign, I believe the best politics is doing a good job so we work hard to make sure Omaha is on the right track.”

Information on the election process or candidates is readily available, Kruse says, and he’s hoping for a good turnout for both the primary and general elections with 182 polling places open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Visit votedouglascounty.com or call 402-444-VOTE to reach the Douglas County Election Commission for more information.

TEN MAYORAL HOPEFULS

As of press time, 10 prospective candidates had begun the paperwork process to enter the mayoral race. To appear on the ballot, they must obtain and file 1,000 signatures from registered voters who reside in Omaha by March 3. Contact information is based on Douglas County Election Commission public records and online information (listed alphabetically by surname).

Bernard Choping

  • Phone: 402-917-5149

Mark Elworth

  • Phone: 402-812-1600
  • E-mail: markelworthjr@aol.com
  • Twitter: @markjr4gov

Christopher Geary

  • Phone: 402-905-6865
  • Website: geary2017.com
  • E-mail: christophergeary@gmail.com

J.B. Medlock

  • Phone: 402-302-0000 and 402-213-2095

Heath Mello

  • Website: heathmello.com
  • E-mail: info@heathmello.com
  • Twitter: @heathmello

Ean Mikale

  • Website: mikaleformayor.com
  • Twitter: @mikaleformayor

Taylor Royal

  • Website: taylorjroyal.com
  • E-mail: royalformayor@gmail.com

Jean Stothert

  • Phone: 402-506-6623
    Website: jeanstothert.com
  • E-mail: info@jeanstothert.com
  • Twitter: @jean_stothert

Mort Sullivan

  • Website: mortsullivan.com
  • E-mail: mdsullivan@cisusa.info

Jerome Wallace

  • Phone: 314-495-0545

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

 

The Brand Brief

October 1, 2014 by

Depending upon which study, source, anecdote, or observation you wish to rely, the average American’s attention span averages six to nine seconds. (So the fact that you’re even reading this sentence means you are—rejoice—above average). Whenever this statistic pops up on Twitter or in a TED talk or at Cannes (the advertising festival, not the Gathering of All Things French and/or Clooney), marketing and ad types of a certain stripe work themselves up into seven different kinds of lather. Then, nearly instantaneously, the industry produces an allegedly paradigm-shifting remedy to the public’s increasing need for the new and shiny. After many blogs are written, books promoted, and conferences spoken at, the cycle begins anew.

While I have nothing scientific to refute the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span hypothesis, nor the power to single-handedly stop the bloviating of the self-appointed marketing gurus (or is it ninjas?), I do posit that we—specifically, owners and caretakers of brands—are looking at the wrong side of the coin. The real problem is not that consumers have short attention spans. It’s that we give them so little of interest to look at.

In other words, we’re boring.

Okay, maybe we as people aren’t boring. Maybe our companies or products aren’t boring. Maybe our newest offering even has lasers. Lasers have never been boring. But our marketing too often is. Instead of telling compelling mini-stories that prod a chuckle, jerk a tear, or elicit a smile, we reformat PowerPoint slides to make the most bullet-point-intensive print ad ever. We run Twitter feeds that do nothing but push deals and make occasional-yet-still-self-serving references to winning sports teams. We pore over spreadsheets trying to figure out how many impressions a banner ad will get without giving a second thought to the type of impression it will make.

Boring is never a good adjective nor, unless you’re drilling for shale, a good verb. The only action you can bore someone into is ignoring you; therefore, boredom never equals sales. And if you really want to spend 10 percent of your revenue (the rule-of-thumb for establishing growth-oriented marketing budgets) simply to go unnoticed, I’d recommend saving up for a stealth fighter or passel of ninjas instead of blowing it on an ad campaign. The ninjas, at least, can keep Bob in accounting from absconding with all the donuts.

Too many marketers—and that doesn’t just mean CMOs or ad agency types; if you own a small business, guess what, you’re a marketer—mistakenly believe that an ineffective marketing message does them no harm. But, aside from being an absurd justification for anything, that isn’t always true. Just because a message wasn’t acted upon doesn’t mean it wasn’t seen. Whether stuck in rush hour looking at your billboard, staring at a TV in a sports bar as your commercial interrupts the game, or clicking “skip this ad” (as in yours) on their way to read an online op-ed, people often do witness boring messages. And here’s the rub: While no one remembers boring ads, they never forget how boring your brand is. So a boring campaign not only wastes time and money, it can squander whatever brand equity you already had.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Even a boring product is no excuse for a boring ad. After all, everything serves some relevant purpose to someone. And that’s the key. What is your relevant message? Not the message you want to say, but the message your target might actually care about and respond to. It doesn’t matter if that message is the same one it’s been for the past quarter century—if it’s still relevant, just do it.

So relevance is the foundation of your message. Without it the most interesting piece of information in the world will evaporate seconds after it’s viewed, yet relevance alone does not equal interesting. That is where the artistry comes in. The combination of personality, tone of voice, skillful storytelling, and respect for the audience that keeps people from hitting the triple-speed fast-forward button on their DVRs. Or has them smiling in traffic. Or retweeting 140 characters of something with actual value to them, their followers, and you. Or even reading the copy on your product packaging because it, too, holds their interest.

The good news is that you don’t have to be Apple or Target or Harley-Davidson or Chipotle to pull this off. You do have to put in the effort to define your brand’s core characteristics, hone a personality and voice, and deliver both interesting messages and a great experience. Do this consistently (that’s consistently, not perfectly) and one day you’ll discover your brand—instead of dying the slow death of 10,000 yawns—is championed by the very people who once wouldn’t give it the time of day. Let alone their cash.

Jason Fox is the Executive Creative Director at Webster, a design and advertising agency in Omaha, and the voice behind the popular Twitter feed @leeclowsbeard.

Jean Stothert

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Keith Binder

The corridor leading to the Omaha mayor’s office serves as a gallery for a long line of portraits of the city’s past mayors. It is a wall-to-wall boy’s club.

This day, the portrait of the city’s newest mayor is off at a photography studio waiting to be framed. But once it arrives, it will be an image long overdue on this wall.

It’s the first picture of a woman in the hallway on the third floor of the Civic Center.

“It was not an issue in the campaign, and it was not something I thought about,” says Mayor Jean Stothert as she sits at the conference table in her new office. “But yes, there’s no question I’m proud to be the first female mayor of Omaha.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘*-word.’” – Jean Stothert on women in politics

“Some of my biggest influences are those strong, pioneering women who broke new ground. I love Margaret Thatcher. I would love if someone called me The Iron Lady.”

So be it. Jean Stothert—The Iron Lady. It’s a name both friend and foe are likely to find fitting.

Conservative, like Thatcher. Driven. A homemaker from humble beginnings turned successful political figure. A tough, sometimes polarizing figure. A woman who can shrug off, and move on from, the sometimes vile comments only female political figures have to face.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘c-word,’” she says. It isn’t unusual for women in politics to be pushed to prove their “toughness.” So where is the “Iron” in the “Lady?” In Stothert’s case, not only did politics help galvanize her; so, too, did her years as an ICU nurse.

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Humble Roots

Stothert grew up in Wood River, Ill., outside St. Louis, “a refinery town where my dad worked at the refinery.”

He was not in a union, if you were wondering. Like Thatcher, Stothert—as she has proven already with the firefighter’s union—stands in vocal and firm opposition to some union interests.

The specs of her childhood home roll quickly off her tongue. “Tiny house—living room, kitchen, four kids, one bathroom,” Stothert shares. She’s clearly said this many times before. It is a counterpoint raised often in political spheres when people note that she lives with her surgeon husband in often-assumed-to-be-more-affluent-than-it-is Millard.

She walked to school, had a job, did volunteer work. She wanted to be a nurse “because it seemed like a good way to give back to the community.” While many of her friends chose to work in hospitals in more affluent parts of St. Louis, she chose to “be where I was most needed”—with the Trauma Center at St. Louis University Hospital in the heart of the city.

You have to become an Iron Lady to be a nurse in an inner-city trauma center.

“You see it all,” she says. “I’ve done CPR on hundreds of patients. I’ve opened people’s chests and done internal heart massage. I’ve wrapped up bodies and taken them to the morgue over and over again. That’s just how it is.

“I like the challenge of making a critically ill patient well. But sometimes, I’m not going to make that patient well. They’re going to die. The thing is, I never want to get that hard edge. You can do tough work without losing your humanity and compassion doing it.”

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From Homemaker to Politician

It was in this environment that she met trauma surgeon Joe Stothert.

After five years of dating, they married. In time, the couple moved to Seattle with his job. Then to Galveston, Texas, where the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Andrew, were born.

Then to Omaha, Neb., “in good part for the better schools,” Joe notes. With two young children and a husband with a job that took him away at all hours, Jean decided she would stay home with her children.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done.” – Joe Stothert

In little time, being an at-home mom entailed diving into work with her local parent-teacher organization. Joe says it was a natural fit for her.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done,” he says. “Then, as an ICU nurse, she was working with an immense amount of sophisticated mechanisms. She enjoyed that. I think she was quickly interested in the mechanisms of government.”

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Getting Out the Vote

Three years after the family arrived in Millard, three positions opened on the Millard School Board.

“There were 13 people running. A full field,” Stothert says. “I didn’t have much money, so I figured we’d have to hit the streets and knock on as many doors as we could. We won by a good bit. We learned right then how important it is to get out and talk to everyone you can.”

That shoe-leather, door-to-door campaigning with her and her supportive family at its core has been the key to her continued success. She served two more terms on the Millard School Board before her election to the Omaha City Council, which, she says, was a logical step.

“School boards are very much like city councils,” Stothert says. “You manage multi-million-dollar budgets, you have labor negotiations. It wasn’t much of a leap at all.”

During her time on the school board, she suffered her only loss so far in politics: a 2006 bid for the state legislature against Democrat Steve Lathrop.

It was one of the closest races in state history. Initially, it appeared Stothert had won by only a few votes. She celebrated with a small vacation with her husband. When she returned, she found out that after absentee votes were counted, she had lost by 14 votes. Stothert said the final margin—after some votes were contested—was five votes.

“So maybe you should have picked up 10 of your friends and driven [them] to the polls,” she recalls having wondered to herself. “Yes, I thought about it. But I truly believe we did the best we could. I think I learned more in losing than I did in winning. I also truly believe that things happen for a reason.”

She then turned her eye toward the Omaha City Council. She asked Joe if she should run. “I said ‘no,’” he says. “She ran anyway.”

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Taking on the Big Boys

She had no plans to run for mayor when she won her seat on the council, but, in time, she says, she “decided that we needed a change.”

In her race for mayor, her calls for smaller, more streamlined government resonated with voters. Her ground game grew considerably. At its core was a relentless door-to-door campaign by the entire Stothert family.

Joe took 10 vacation days prior to both the primary and the general election. Her son, who is pursuing an advanced degree at the University of South Florida, and her daughter, who works at Union Pacific, also joined in.

Stothert proudly showed off a framed photo of her and her husband in the middle of a residential street during one of the weekend campaign blitzes. The city was socked in by a blizzard that weekend. The Stotherts are wrapped in wet winterwear. Part of Jean’s hair is frozen and cocked sideways. Joe’s right thumb is protruding from a hole in his glove.

It’s a picture of resolve. They knocked on 15,000 doors. She says Joe helped push her on when she grew tired on the campaign trail. Joe insists, “She never would have gone on if she didn’t want to.” It’s also a picture, she jokes, of the Stotherts on a date. “We really have enjoyed those times together,” the mayor says.

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The Ugly Side of Politics

At times, the war of words during the campaign got brutal. Stothert, often characterized as a hardline conservative, can throw fire as well as she receives it. But particularly in the modern world of blogs, tweets, and every sort of website, the personal stabs at those in the public arena are often relentless and outrageous.

Stothert admits that, during the campaign, she failed to heed advice that she avoid reading all the attacks on her on the internet. Also, some of the nastiest—and most sexist—of the insults blew up into campaign issues she then had to address.

She boldly repeats two comments about her—one, a joke essentially about her being gang raped, and another about her being a stripper—that one would not expect to hear verbatim in an interview with the mayor.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her.” – State Senator Brad Ashford on Stothert

But there is often a flipside to such outlandish attacks. People get angry. In this election, Stothert admits, polls showed that a substantial number of women responded to the sexist attacks by moving into her camp.

Stothert says she’s not afraid of criticism. She invites it, as long as it’s civilized. But she knows now to avoid the constant barrage in cyberspace.

“It’s just not good for your mental health,” she says. “It wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health.” Her husband, as you might imagine, hasn’t handled some of the nastier or more personal criticisms with such a thick skin. “I don’t forgive and forget as easily,” Joe says. “She’s the one who can do that. Early on, she had it pegged. She told me the jabs were going to hurt me more than they would hurt her.”

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Tackling Tough Issues

The criticism is not going to ebb. She will continue to grapple with the powerful and vocal firefighter’s union. While sitting at her office’s conference table, she points to her desk. The gritty specifics of her proposed budget to streamline government “are sitting right over there,” she says.

She promises to cut government and cut taxes while improving government services. There are few political figures who have not claimed they could accomplish this feat. There are few who have.“We are going to succeed,” she says. “I have no doubt about that.”

If anyone can pull off this trick, it might be Stothert. State Sen. Brad Ashford, who ran against Stothert for mayor while also working with her on several issues on the state government level, says Stothert, while always civilized, is a tough and driven negotiator.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her,” Ashford says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, that’s how you make good policy.” In Ashford’s mind, Stothert’s best chance to save money while improving services will come “if she’s committed to consolidating” many services that both the county and city provide.

Jean and Joe with their family.

Finding Equilibrium

To keep a sense of balance, Stothert says, she knows she has to guard her personal time. She has a life outside the demands of the mayor’s office. “I love my home,” she says. “I’m pretty good at getting there, calming down, and shutting things off for a while.”

Her day is fairly regimented, as you might expect. She’s up at 5 a.m. After a usually healthy breakfast, she walks for 30 minutes on her treadmill, then takes her Australian Shepard, Ozzie (named after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith), for a one-mile walk.

Back at home, she watches little television beyond the news. Instead, she relaxes by reading “a lot of fiction.” Her favorite books: one from her childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird, and comedian Tina Fey’s Bossypants (the cover of which inspired our magazine cover concept and, yes, the mayor enthusiastically “suited up” for the photo shoot).

If she has the time, she loves to get in the kitchen. “My friends and I used to get Bon Appétit magazine and try things all the time,” she says. “I would consider myself a gourmet cook now. I enjoy any time I can cook something myself.”

“I’m pretty good at getting [home], calming down, and shutting things off for a while.” – Jean Stothert

If she can’t, she’s also a fan of numerous Omaha restaurants. One stands out though, she says, perhaps because she fell in love with the fresh fish dinners she ate during the family’s time living in Seattle.

“The Twisted Cork has wonderful halibut and salmon,” she says. “I just love the food of the Pacific Northwest when it is done well.”

Then it’s five hours or so of sleep, the morning exercise, and off to another day as The Iron Lady.

“I’m a very black-and-white person,” she says. “I’m a very determined person.”

Meaning?

“We will achieve better services for less money,” she says. “We are not reducing city service, and we are going to balance the budget. This is what the people of this city have asked me to do, so that is what we’re going to get done.”

David Brown’s Omaha

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

David Brown did his fair share of moving around before settling in Omaha in 2003 to become president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Before assuming that post, the Detroit native worked in his home state of Michigan, then in Indiana, before spending a solid decade in South Carolina.

Brown has always stayed longer than the norm for chamber professionals because he also does economic development work and that field requires long-term commitment.

“Economic development is really my first love. The part I’ve grown to love the most is [determining] what to do to improve the community so that it’s more attractive to companies and individuals to stay here or to come here,” he says. “When you do chamber work, which traditionally does not include economic development, you don’t put down as many roots as you do if you’re doing economic development, where you’re selling dirt and really learning about the community. Clients have to see you’re knowledgeable and committed.”

After 10 years down south, he and wife Maggie looked to get the youngest of their two sons settled in school. Moving to the middle of the country held great appeal.

“We wanted to get into a more positive public-education environment for Elijah, who was getting ready to go into middle school. We wanted to get back to the Midwest where our roots were,” says Brown. “Fortunately, the Omaha position was open, and I threw my hat in the ring and got the job.

“I guess what really trips my trigger is that I can point to things I’ve been involved in that have made [Omaha] a better place and given people jobs. I like making a difference, that’s really what it comes down to.”

“This is my 10th year. We’ve been here about as long as we’ve been anywhere. This is home.”

His devotion to Omaha is such that he’s influenced extended family members to make this their home as well. He enjoys working with people who share his passion for enhancing Omaha.

“There has been a collection of leadership here that seems to have in the back of their mind, ‘How do we improve this place?’ You’ve got this intentional effort to try and improve the place, married with the unbelievable generosity of the philanthropists here and the corporate support for making this a better place. You see remarkable amenities created, not to bring tourists to Omaha but to enhance the quality of life for the people who already live here. The fact that they’ve had a tourist appeal as well is just chocolate on the sundae.”

Add it all up, he says, “and that gives us a competitive advantage over other places where that kind of development and quality discussion doesn’t happen as consistently. We’ve got people who have been able to sit down and say, ‘What is it we need to be a better place?’ and then they’ve gone about the process of getting it done. It’s fascinating to see how quickly some of this stuff has occurred, like the riverfront redevelopment. There was a frenetic pace almost that took place in the ’90s that continued into the 2000s.”

For Brown, there’s nothing better than seeing projects like the CenturyLink Center Omaha or Midtown Crossing take shape.

“I guess what really trips my trigger is that I can point to things I’ve been involved in that have made [Omaha] a better place and given people jobs. I like making a difference, that’s really what it comes down to. It’s very rewarding at the end of the year to sit back and say, ‘What did we do this year?’ and know we made a measurable, demonstrable difference in the community we live in…Not just me, but the team we function with, from our volunteers to our members to our staff.”20130228_bs_7662-2_Web

Brown will be guiding the new Prosper Omaha campaign that seeks to brand the city as never before. Omaha’s aspirational spirit resonates with him and the work of the chamber.

“Omaha’s always been a business town, and the business community here plays a big role in making things happen. We’ve been fortunate as an organization that the business community has looked to the chamber to accomplish some pretty significant things, so over time, we’ve picked up some additional responsibilities. We find ourselves in things a lot of chambers don’t find themselves involved in.”

The Young Professionals Association is an example.

“We have this dynamic young professionals organization that’s involved in virtually every major community activity you can think of,” Brown says. “The management and leadership of that process has been a whole new learning experience for us. There are 5,000 young professionals who, at some point or another, have plugged into this process of making Omaha a better place. We’re mentoring and engaging [them] so they can be leaders in the future. It’s become part of our leadership agenda.”

In terms of projects, he says, the chamber is “getting deeper and deeper into things the community needs. When [then-Omaha Chamber board chair] Dick Bell said in 2004 that the chamber is going to be involved in making sure every Omahan has an opportunity to succeed and every area in Omaha has an opportunity to grow, that [declaration] got us in the community development business. We’re going to help Midtown grow, were going to help NoDo grow, we’re going to help North Omaha grow, we’re going to help South Omaha grow. That changed the way we think about economic development and the activities we’re engaged in doing community development.”

“I like change…It’s something I really embrace. If I don’t see change happening, I’m wondering if I’m doing my job.”

Brown says he likes that the Omaha Chamber not only “provides services to our members to grow their businesses, but we’re also a catalytic organization.” He adds, “That means we’re sometimes change agents. Sometimes we lead. Virtually always we’re conveners. We convene a wide diversity of people that can help solve problems. Advocacy is always a part of the agenda.”

A graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played football and baseball, Brown is a natural people person and team player. “I really like people,” he says.

He says lessons he learned playing team sports “are all things I use every day with our team here at the chamber and with the teams we build within the community,” adding, “The chamber rarely does things ourselves. We always partner with people and collaborate with others to get things accomplished, and that’s a different kind of team but a team nonetheless.”

He also likes getting things done. “I like change…It’s something I really embrace. If I don’t see change happening, I’m wondering if I’m doing my job. I like to come up with new ideas and trust my team to tell me which ones are good and which ones are bad and then see ideas come to fruition. In the end, it doesn’t matter to me who gets the credit, as long as we get stuff done. That’s the way the chamber operates and, in large measure, it’s the way Omaha operates. I think that’s one of the things that makes us unique.”

Away from the office, Brown says he enjoys golf, hunting, landscaping, and reading. Maggie is often by his side. “She’s my best friend, and we do everything together,” Brown says. “She’s been my partner in this whole career process. She’s a great saleswoman. She’s done the trade show and conference thing with me. She knows the spiel. She can pitch just like I can. She’s great with volunteers and board members.”

Keep up-to-date with Brown and the Greater Omaha Chamber at omahachamber.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.