Omaha, NE.—She’s billed as one of the most “authentic” Democrats around but Vanessa Ward’s own words and public records examined by News Channel Nebraska paint a different picture.
The 64-year-old north Omahan, who has a neighborhood street named after her, is set to launch her bid for governor with a three hour get-together this Monday (Jan. 15).
If she lands the Democratic Party’s nomination in the May primary, she’ll have grabbed it despite her harsh criticism of the party, key missed votes—she never cast a ballot for President Obama—and her backing of one of the state’s best known Republicans.
Last spring not only did Ward endorse Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert over Democrat Heath Mello, she starred (see video below) in one of Stothert’s TV ads:
As an independent voter I support Mayor Jean. She cares about improving Omaha, making neighborhoods safer and creating good job opportunities. She’s worked hard for us. I’m voting for Mayor Jean. —Vanessa Ward
Ward defends her decision to back the mayor telling News Channel Nebraska that Stothert, who gave her the key to the city, was there with “money and support” when her neighborhood needed it. “I’m not going to sell-out my friend, Mayor Stothert, just because she’s running against someone from my party that I don’t even know.”
Not only—as the campaign ad says— was she an “independent voter” last spring, she was a registered independent (nonpartisan) going back to at least 2006 before joining the Democrats last month, according to Douglas County Election Commission records.
But that doesn’t mean she’s always voted. Those same records found her passing on several elections; not showing up to vote in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. Those no-shows mean she didn’t vote for governor—the office she’s seeking— in 2010 or 2014 and didn’t vote for president in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was elected and then reelected.
News Channel Nebraska: Why didn’t you vote for Barack Obama and do you regret not voting all those years?
Ward: Yes, I do have some regret not voting for President Obama. He represented so much to African-Americans….For the past twenty years or more, my family has been up against it. Like a lot of families in North Omaha we didn’t have much, and when my husband lost both his legs, it became purely desperate….Voting was something that just didn’t work its way onto my list of priorities.
At the same time Ward says people don’t care if she voted, they care about integrity and decency and policies that don’t cater to the rich and powerful.
Ward is best recognized for her annual North Omaha block party held in a violence prone neighborhood once known as Death Valley. In 2016 her community activism earned her KPTM-TV’s Jefferson Award.
Ward’s campaign chair, Colleen Brennan of Millard, says, “Vanessa is the most authentic Democrat I’ve ever known. She’s battled poverty and violence her entire life. She’s worked with Republicans. She’s worked with businesses, churches and her neighbors to reclaim her neighborhood streets. She’s gotten results, and I think she can win.”
But the community organizer is little known outside of Omaha’s near north side, the kind of candidate that concerns Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb.
News Channel Nebraska: How viable a candidate do you think Vanessa Ward is?
Kleeb: When we talk viability obviously the first thing is money and the second thing is name I-D. I’m not so sure she or anybody else that has considered running for governor on the Democratic side has that yet.
As News Channel Nebraska first reported Kleeb’s concern finds her looking at the possibility of putting her own name on the ballot.
In the meantime, Ward tells News Channel Nebraska her newfound party has more than its share of problems.
Ward: I have not been that pleased with the Democratic Party. Every election cycle they promise the moon, but end-up delivering little to help my community. They make a few people rich and sell us policies that destroy our families and businesses. When I was a kid, most families on the block had homes with a dad and a mom. Today, the overwhelming majority do not, and that is directly related to the policies they’ve been selling us since the 60’s….I don’t want to leave the impression I favor what the Republicans are doing any more than my own party because the truth is both parties are selling the people down the river.