Updated: Apr 4, 2021
We sat down to chat with Kimara Snipes, who is currently running to become Omaha’s next mayor! Kimara has a strong background in civic and community organizations, and even formed Omaha’s first COVID task forces in 2020. Watch our interview to hear all about Kimara's ideas for Omaha!
Thank you to Emily Shanahan for their generous contribution of their time and skills, and providing a transcript below!
Gab: Alright, can you start us off by telling us a little bit about why you decided to run for office and about your background.
Kimara: About my background?
K: Ok, well my name is Kimara Snipes.
I currently serve as the President of the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance and I also serve on the Omaha Public Schools Board. I have a long history of (inaudible) to Omaha, Nebraska.
I would say that me running is nothing personal against Jean Stothert, who is our current Mayor. As an alliance leader and as a school board member, the Mayor and I have been friends with each other, but friends are also honest with each other and she has not earned a third term.
Last year, the Mayor was really slow to respond to COVID, and I was out front early addressing high risk Black and Brown communities and doing that by creating COVID-19 task forces. I had actually reached out to, who is current Senator Terrell McKinney, at that time he was just still Terrell, and so I had called him and told him that we’re not gonna get the communication that we need in North and South Omaha and we need to do something and so that’s the reason that I created those
COVID-19 tasks forces. And it was just unfortunate how long it took her to respond as someone who lives in zip code 68107, which had the highest numbers. I was just disappointed by that.
I would also say that, you know, there have been a lot of Fortune 500 jobs that have left Omaha, left our communities. And there has been little done to bring those jobs back. And so that’s something that needs to be addressed. I was a Business Services Consultant with the American Jobs Center. And American Jobs Centers are something that was created by the Obama administration actually, and that’s what
Heartland for Solutions up on 57th and Ames is. And so that was also disappointing too.
And then she, in my opinion, proved to be really out of touch when it came to the social justice protests that occurred last summer as well. Our city needs to heal and our city needs to find a way to restore the public trust, and she has shown that she is not capable of doing that.
And so those are the reasons that I decided that I was going to run, I figured why not. As an Alliance Leader I was introduced to my elected officials a long time ago and found that to be an amazing experience because I realized that they’re not smarter than us, and they put their pants on the same way we do, which is one leg at a time. And so yeah, I figured it’s time Omaha needs a new type of leadership: someone who cares for all people and not just select groups of people, and that’s why I’m running.
G: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. Something else that I notice on your website is that you kind of talk about how we’ve never really had a Mayor who is from North Omaha or South Omaha. So, what does it mean to you to run as someone from these like underserved communities? What would it mean to Omaha to have a Mayor from these neighborhoods?
K: Well I will say that we actually have had Mayors from South Omaha, and actually Fred Conley was City Council President many moons ago, and he was actually appointed as our Mayor for a short time. So I did just want to clarify that.
But for me as a Black woman, because that filters the eye that I have, wow. I
live in a concentrated area of poverty, and so and I also love working with young people so for me A) it would show that, um, it would set an example, right. Our young people, and even people who are my age or older. I think that they can look at that and see that anything is possible. We are all capable of doing the same thing. It also, I think that it would mean a lot for even as we talk about the brain drain. I think it’s a great way to attract more young people, more people of color to Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha, Nebraska has so much to offer and we have so many stories but none of it really gets told. I think that, I think about it for my own family. Being the first Black mayor and just what it means to them. I come from a family that actively practices democracy. We’ve held elections in my own family since 1981 when I was just a kid myself.
And so I think for them it's showing that if you really introduce this to people at a young age, just the culture of voting, the culture of being involved, that it really can pay off. But more so, for me, is just the example it sets, especially for our young people and especially for our young girls right. Regardless of what color you are, that we’re all capable of doing something like this.
But I think the fact that I live in a concentrated area of poverty kind of elevates that for me. There’s nothing more, um, I love it when I walk to the neighborhood store in my neighborhood and I see people and they tell me “I’ve never voted before, Mrs. K,. but I’m gonna vote for you.” That feels great so I think it’s encouraging and so I guess it means that too. When people see that someone is running who they can relate to I think that causes even more voter turnout as well.
G: Yeah, absolutely.
What would you say are the biggest issues affecting Omaha right now?
K: Wow. We definitely have to tackle, move beyond, COVD-19. We have to do that. The new and better jobs for sure. And addressing the social unrest, restoring public trust. That would be top for me. But we can’t forget about things like connectivity. We can’t forget about things like transportation. We can’t forget about things like affordable housing. Those, really all those social determinants of health, right? All of that is really important. But definitely moving beyond COVID, the jobs, and really addressing
that public trust.
G: You serve on the board at Mode Shift, which you know, is great to hear from a mayoral candidate. How will you help make public transit more accessible?
K: Well, here’s the thing. We have to find ways to invest in public transit. When you look at the investment amounts that happen here, they are far below, far below the national average. But even beyond investment, right?
The mayor is responsible for appointing even a board for Metro, even being intentional with that. I am someone who rode the bus for a while, I just got off the bus last year. So, having that real institutional knowledge was very important to me. I mean I was really hoping to be a support by serving on that board. We really have to be intentional with the people we are picking to be those advisors outside of that financial investment. We have to find also though, even outside of Metro, and the public bus, we also have to find safe options for our pedestrians. We have to find safe options for our bicyclists.
They’ve put the bike lanes in North and South Omaha so I even think we have to find
ways to also communicate about the different modes of transportation and the importance and the benefit that communities can have because of these different modes of transportation. But definitely, definitely, definitely we have to find a way to invest in that public transportation, it’s something that we’re not doing at the levels that are really beneficial, especially for marginalized communities.
G: Yeah, and public transit is definitely a piece of this, but sustainability I noticed is also a part of your platform. So how will you help make Omaha a more environmentally friendly city?
K: So here’s the thing, recycling should not be a debate between the City Council and the Mayor. It just should not be a debate. We (inaudible) a really good program with the OmaGrow that we had, right? We have to address basic services like the recycling, like the yard waste. These are basic, it should not be a debate, period. So as mayor it’s not gonna be a debate. This is something that easily, we can easily figure this out. But we also have to, this is something I’ve been talking about with the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Councilmen Don Preister who’s in Bellevue, he’s also with the Green Coalition, and so we have these conversations.
We also have to educate people, right? We have to take care of what we have to take care of at the city level but we also have to find a way, especially in marginalized communities, to educate people about the process, about the benefit, about the importance, because that’s something that also I see a lack of. It’s easy to tell someone recycle, but not everyone really truly understands what that means. So definitely it should not be a debate, definitely there should be investment there, but we also have to remember to educate people about it too.
G: Yeah, absolutely.
So the bulk of our work at Strongly Worded Omaha is focused on accessibility. How will you help make local government more accessible to the people?
K: Well, I’m glad you asked that. So, the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, which I’m President of, I mentioned that that’s how I started getting connected with my elected officials. First of all, I plan on forums. Real forums, right? Where I’m able to relate with the people. But not just me by myself.
I want to utilize the neighborhood alliances. Omaha, Nebraska has six neighborhood alliances. South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance is one of them, we have a North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, and other ones as well. We can utilize this a way to really communicate with city council. We can utilize this as a way to communicate with county government. We can utilize this as a way to communicate with the mayor, too. Right now on my leadership team, I have representation from my county commissioner, from two state senators from south Omaha, from our city councilman.
These are ways to get people directly connected. We have to lead by example. That has not always happened. But people will fall into line especially when whoever is leading is doing it in the right way. And so, I would really like to see our community liaison that our mayor currently has in the office be that person to really be able to connect all those alliance leaders, but that’s a great way to get people connected to their elected officials. That’s a great place to start.
But the biggest thing is being someone who makes themselves accessible, who has a sort of open-door policy, and someone who’s willing to come out and get connected with the community. And we have a lot of different platforms within Omaha, Nebraska who provide space for that, we just have to be involved in that.
G: Yeah, absolutely. So, housing is definitely something that’s important to me and you’ve mentioned that on your platform as well. Can you talk a bit about affordable housing and what you want to do about that in Omaha?
K: Yeah, and so I always preface this by saying when I talk about affordable housing, I mean affordable, but also quality. As someone who recently got out of poverty, I’ve lived in what’s supposed to be affordable housing. And it hasn’t always been quality. And so I would always just always want to add that.
I think this comes down to practicing really intellectual curiosity right, researching and seeing what’s working.
First of all, we have experts here who should be listened to. When I hear Erin
Feichtinger, when I hear Cammy Watkins, when I hear Naomi Hattoway, I mean these people are experts.. But even through my own research I see things like really addressing like, the exclusionary zoning practices, and we also have to invest in affordable housing. We take away a lot of the stock that we have, but then we don’t reinvest and build that back up. We have to find a way to really really support public investment in affordable housing.
I mean the private market can’t do it by itself either. I’m sorry my computer’s going off. The private market can’t supply you know the rents for America’s lowest income households by themselves. So we have to find like maybe public subsidies are necessary.
We also have to remember that we’re talking about housing. Housing is something that’s really important when it comes to protecting, you know, the health and well being of all communities, and so we just have to find a way to invest in that specifically right now in east Omaha and quit taking away the affordable housing stock that we have as well. And this evolving, right? I’m still researching it too so
even as we push forward when you have ideas let me know because again this is something that’s continuous.
G: Yeah, definitely. Something that you mentioned on your website and you mentioned just now in this interview is addressing sort of racial and social unrest in Omaha. Can you talk more about that?
K: Absolutely. So, we have such a divided city. Our dissimilarity index is extremely high. And one thing I recognize is that people don’t know each other, right?
When I talked about,I don’t know if I did, but I created a program at the Omaha Public Library specifically the Charles B. Washington Branch, which is in north Omaha, on Ames Avenue, and it’s called Teens Talk About and with that program I would bring in Captain Matuza from the North East police precinct. And when I first started, I tell this story all the time, my kids were like “Mrs. K, why are the police here? I’m not going in there. You know I don’t fool with the police, right?”
But because they trust me they allowed they allowed me to put them in this space and I saw Captain Matuza a few weeks ago when I was at the coffee shop and he told me, he said, "Kimara, by the time COVID came and my program shut down, when the kids saw Captain Matuza, it was no longer 'Why is he here? I’m not talking to him'." It was taps and hugs and just love right?
And this happened because they were able to sit down at a table and have conversation. So for me that’s what it’s about. I’m a trained facilitator, anti-bias facilitator, I do that for the Anti-Defamation League, and one thing I realize is that you have to get people to sit down and talk to each other. And these are tough
conversations that have to be had though. You have to have these really tough conversations around racism, around restorative justice, around just everything that’s been happening. People have to sit down and talk, and all too many times that really doesn’t happen.
And so I think that if we find ways to provide this space, it take time, but it’s something that can definitely happen, but it’s only gonna happen if we’re courageous enough to really really tough conversations. It’s not going to be easy. And that’s the reason why I think we don’t end up doing it, because it’s not easy. But I’ve someone who’s died two times, right, so I’m gonna do anything because I recognize that time is short and we don’t have that much of it while we’re here.
So while we’re here we have to make the best of what we have. So I’m gonna, that’s my plan to work with non-profits, to work with the community, to really provide space for us to really talk through a lot of these things that need to be talked through. And it has to happen, it’s gonna happen, gonna be tough.
And I’ve told Chief Schmaderer this in the past, I’ve told other people as well, but we have to have these tough conversations. And that’s what leaders do, you know, they do it even though it’s uncomfortable, even though it may make them feel some type of way, because we recognize this is bigger than us as individuals. This is about this entire city and moving this entire city forward.
G: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. And a bit related to that, definitely political conversations across the nation and in Omaha have been centered around policing. Can you share some of the policies you support related to the police or your thoughts on that?
K: Say that last part again?
G: Can you share some of your thoughts on policing in Omaha?
K: Yeah, so I’m president of the Highland South Indian Hill Neighborhood Association. We are in South Omaha, it’s where what’s known as “the projects” are, I don’t really like the word “project.”
So, community policing, relationships with the police department, has been something that’s been on my mind since the 90’s when Jimmy Wilson was killed, because Jimmy Wilson was killed by a South Omaha gang, all of whom I knew, grew up around in school and everything.
And so, when I got involved in Neighborhood Associations, I found about National Night Out which is a nationwide event celebrated in cities all over this nation that’s really used to highlight and support police-community relationships but what we recognize is that when crime is committed, it’s typically because of something else, right. Not just because someone’s bad or not because they don’t care but usually because, I don’t know, homelessness or joblessness or lack of access to resources or mental health issues, lack of education, there’s a lot that goes into crime statistics.
And so what we wanted to do was not just “oh let’s bring the police here and let’s bring the people here and just throw footballs with each other,” no. We want to bring people who are hiring, we want to bring people who are providing resources, we want to bring people who can help, who can help the people right. That’s what we recognized and we started (inaudible) for that. My thoughts are to continue that type of work. I can’t sit up here and say that every police, everyone, every person who is an officer is a bad person. I know that’s not true.
Captain Kathy Belcastro-Gonzalez, who was the captain of the southeast precinct, is a very good friend of mine and she takes the time to come to my events. She takes the time to talk to the, what I call, former gang members. She takes the time to really have these conversations. And so, my thing is we’re just gonna continue to do that. But, when elected I will definitely, definitely, definitely lead an oversight and review commission.
And that’s gonna be for my first year in office and that’s gonna be really focused on how do we restore public trust, and also goes back to practicing that intellectual curiosity: what are other places doing? I’ve talked often about this program they’re doing in Salt Lake, and Denver, where they’re really focusing on mental health with the police department and it’s not even taking it anywhere near a significant amount out of the budget either. So I’m gonna continue what we’ve been doing and in my mind that’s helping that’s creating our own definition of what community policing is, but also continue to ask the tough questions too.
I’ve asked Chief Schmaderer on a few occasions, “How are your deputy chiefs,” because the deputy chiefs of the Omaha Police Department are the ones who come up with the strategic plan, how are they tying in diversity training into that?” That also means following what’s going on down at the state legislature. I was happy to hear Chief Schmaderer say this morning that as they pay attention to what’s going on in the legislature, they’re gonna start paying more attention to root cause legislation because we have to start addressing root causes.
We can’t keep doing all these simple little Band-Aid fixes and it’s my hope that after COVID and the social unrest last year that he’s seeing that all of this plays a part. All of this plays a part. But it also goes back to finding space for people to get to know each other. How does the Omaha Police Department define community policing?
When you look it up there is no standard definition because each community is different so I would really like to see us work together to find really what that is. They have the Police Athletic Community Engagement Program, ran by Tony Espejo, called PACE, it’s amazing, it’s amazing. I think last summer, well the summer before, they had nearly 5,000 kids that they were working with and doing it all for free
because our young people need positive alternatives.
We also have to invest in our youth, right? Yeah, so there’s a lot behind the whole policing thing. We can do this, we can get past it and it’s gonna be tough, but it’s gonna happen. I hope that answers your question.
G: Yeah, yeah for sure. You have answered all of my questions. Is there anything you’d like to share about yourself or about your campaign?
K: You know only that I think that one thing, and keep in mind all the candidates I know and I like all the candidates as well, and this is nothing even personal against Jean Stothert, but I think that one thing that sets me apart is you know is I’m not talking about what I’m going to do, I’m talking about what I’ve already been doing.
And so, Omaha needs new leadership. Like I said, someone who cares about all
people not just select groups of people. No more of this north Omaha, south Omaha, west Omaha. This is one city. We have to apply equity but we also have to apply love. I don’t want to do this in a dangerous, non-loving way. We’ve had enough hurt and pain especially this last year. I want to unite the city, I want to help heal the city and push this city forward into a 21st century city.
G: Yeah, thank you for that. Just because I don’t want this to be a one-way street I thought I’d offer ,if you have any questions for me, you can go ahead and ask those.
K: I saw that I said, “what do I ask her?” I don’t know what to ask, I’m sorry.
G: I just thought I’d offer.
K: I hope I used the right pronouns, I apologize if I did that.
G: It's ok!
K: But yeah, so okay, so are you interviewing all candidates, all races? City council races and everything?
G: We are interviewing (trying) every mayoral and council candidate that we have identified as “progressive."
K: Okay, okay, and so tell me a little bit more about the organization you represent!
G: Yeah, so we are just a small grassroots team, that basically realized that it’s really hard to find information about local politics in Omaha and so we do the research and present it in a way that’s easy to understand, and really quick, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time learning about local issues, you can read a quick paragraph or two and be caught up.
K : Ok ok good so so that’s good that’s good that’s good I would love to learn more about the organization and definitely be able to share information too about it because I think that’s awesome. Bringing information to people that’s important.
Good, good, good, good! I’d be happy to share anything that you have. I forgot to mention I should, because I’m not a real politician by the way, I’m just like Kimara Snipes.
You can go to my website which is kimarasnipes.com, please click join the team. I’m
definitely looking for people to help me out with research as well. I research everything: housing, transportation, I mean I research everything. I am also on social media and so you can find me @kimarasnipes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and if you ever want to reach out my telephone number is 402.212.6627, it’s also on my website.
I try to make myself as accessible as possible, given I have the time. And so I really just appreciate the opportunity to even speak with you today. The questions were really, really great, and that shows me the intent, and so if you ever want to further any of these conversations, please let me know, because I’d definitely like to talk more about housing!
G: Yeah, absolutely, we’ll definitely keep in touch!