Successful Women Never Stand Still

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert is building the city of tomorrow.

By Deborah Ward

Omaha Skyline V2

Fireworks illuminated the warm August night, as thousands of visitors gathered at The RiverFront in Omaha to stroll, skate, play and people-watch. The new tri-park development, the result of a four-year $325-million transformation, reconnects downtown Omaha to the Missouri River, and offers vibrant attractions revitalizing the city’s urban core.

Earlier that day, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert spoke at the ribbon cutting. She noted the vast changes the city had undergone since she first arrived 30 years earlier and thanked the community and philanthropists. She didn’t take credit for herself—a typical move for this service-minded leader who’s enjoyed the longest tenure of any Omaha mayor.

But credit is nonetheless due. About 10 years ago, two business leaders approached Stothert, who had just started her first term as mayor in 2013, with a bold request. Could she back their vision to transform 72 city-owned acres into a gem of a public space in order to revitalize the landscape and attract visitors? Stothert replied with an emphatic yes.

Since becoming the first woman to ever hold the Omaha office, Stothert has employed this forward-looking approach, best expressed in her 2023 State of the City speech.

“Cities never stand still. They are either growing and moving forward, or they are declining and falling behind,” she said.

During her unprecedented three terms as Omaha’s mayor, Stothert has tackled critical issues such as economic development and budget management, leading efforts to make Omaha both a better place to live and an impressive visitor destination.

Under Mayor Stothert’s leadership, Omaha has added new urban entertainment districts, boutique hotels, and visitor-worthy attractions such as a cutting-edge STEM discovery center, a new downtown music venue, and, of course, The RiverFront.

More significant developments are on the horizon. Tranquility Commons is a premier multi-sport youth complex that will attract even more youth sports tournaments. The Omaha airport is undergoing a $950-million modernization and expansion to accommodate increased passenger traffic.  And a modern streetcar connecting downtown to midtown Omaha will add even more ease to existing public transit.

The mayor’s support of convention and tourism business has helped propel the city’s success as a visitor destination. In 2022, 13.5 million visitors traveled to Omaha, spending nearly $1.5 billion. Projections are optimistic for healthy growth to continue, spurred by Stothert’s commitment and vision. 

Stothert’s success hasn’t come without challenges. Even well-meaning people have made assumptions. During a flight, an airline pilot announced he had a special guest onboard, and welcomed the “gentleman,” assuming the mayor of Omaha—sight unseen­—to be “Gene” Stothert.

She can laugh about it. She’s developed tough skin during her professional and political career.

Stothert’s background as a nurse, volunteer, board of education member, and city council member refined the leadership skills she uses as mayor—active listening, respecting diverse opinions, and serving with integrity.
Stothert is a native Midwesterner, born in Illinois. She worked as a critical care nurse and head nurse before becoming department head of cardiovascular surgery at St. Louis University. After her family moved to Omaha in 1993, she volunteered with Millard Public Schools, one of several school districts in the metropolitan area. She later served on the Millard Board of Education for 11 years, including three as president. In 2006, Stothert ran for Nebraska Legislature and won—or so it first seemed.

Nine days later, the race flipped. She had lost by 14 votes. Undaunted, Stothert believed she would have another opportunity to serve. In 2009, she was elected to Omaha City Council and then decided to run for mayor. She knocked on thousands of doors to secure the votes, ever mindful of her previous 14-vote loss. She won her first run for mayor with 57% of the votes. Then she won again and again.

Stothert’s background as a nurse, volunteer, board of education member, and city council member refined the leadership skills she uses as mayor—active listening, respecting diverse opinions, and serving with integrity.

Stothert hasn’t decided whether she’ll seek a fourth term—but she still has passion and energy for the job. Speaking to a local news organization, Stothert said part of her consideration will be, “what I could finish doing…and what I could get done.”

Long after the final fireworks sizzled out on the night of The RiverFront’s grand opening, the parks still sparkle with energy. Visitors and residents gather there through the seasons. Autumn offers trick-or-treat events and spooky movie showings. In winter, the parks glow with holiday lights, fire pits and merry faces flushed from ice skating. Spring and summer promise the return of abundant gardens, flowing waterfalls, picnics, and free outdoor concerts.

It would be easy to think this is more than enough. But if one takes Stothert’s words to heart, that cities are either growing or declining, then it’s clear to see which way Omaha is headed.

Looking to the skyline, a stunning 44-story building rises in the distance, it’s the new headquarter building for Mutual of Omaha, one of four Fortune 500 companies that call Omaha home. Nearby, the Joslyn Art Museum will reopen in 2024 featuring a new 42,000-square-foot expansion with light-filled galleries and community spaces. And in 2027, a modern streetcar will whisk visitors from midtown to downtown to enjoy it all.

It’s a tempting list of to-dos for a mayor who, like her beloved city, never stands still.


This article is powered by Excelerate Partner: Visit Omaha

About the Author

Deborah is Executive Director of Visit Omaha.

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