Colorful Politician Loved His City, His County and His Family


Michael D. Boyle
By 
Andy Roberts
The Daily Record

Bigger than life, this guy wasn’t easy to label.

Mike Boyle carved out a political niche, lost it, then regained it and soared to the end.

Omaha and Douglas County lost one of its most dynamic public figures on Sept. 13 when Boyle passed. He succumbed to pneumonia while recovering from surgery to address lung cancer. The former Omaha mayor was planning to return to his seat on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners where he had served since 1997. He had represented District 1 on the County Board, or, as he called it, “The Sunshine District.”

His last election was a close one – to put it mildly – edging Roger Garcia by three votes. Boyle, with his typical humor, joked about being “Landslide” Mike.

  A mayor, a county commissioner, an election commissioner, an attorney, a community activist, husband, father, grandfather and friend, and an Irishman. Boyle was many things.

Boyle was born in Los Angeles. His parents, with roots in Leshara, a village in Saunders County, had gone west to look for work, but decided to return to Nebraska.

“They realized what they had here was going to be better for everybody,” said Maureen Boyle, his daughter, who began serving with him on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners in January.

His political career defined colorful. Mike Boyle married Anne Howell, whom he had known since grade school. She was the daughter of political powerhouse Sam Howell, the long-time Douglas County treasurer and a political powerhouse.

Theirs was a romance for the ages. She was elected to the Nebraska Public Service Commission in 1996 and reelected twice. Born into politics, her work included serving a consultant and lobbyist, a campaign manager, an office staff member for Sen. Jim Exon, and as state chair for the Nebraska Democratic Party. Anne Boyle died in February 2019. The two were married for 58 years.

That wasn’t his first loss. At the age of 12, Mike Boyle lost his 23-year-old brother Jim to cancer. Still, the family persevered. His father working in an ice cream factory and caring for the family despite having only an eighth-grade education.

The work ethic he learned as a child served the family well. During Mike Boyle’s time as election commissioner, he attended the Creighton University School of Law while he and Anne began to raise their five children. Boyle earned his J.D. at the age 33 in 1977. Four years later, he was elected Omaha’s mayor.

 Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, then governor of Nebraska, was another rising Democratic star while Boyle was in the Omaha Mayor’s Office. It was a spirited relationship.

“The friendship between Mike and me survived our early competitiveness and our tendency to say things publicly we shouldn’t,” Kerrey said. “Over time, I came to love and admire him, his values, and his undying commitment to public service. Omaha, Douglas County and Nebraska are all better because of him. I miss him already.”

Boyle’s time at Omaha City Hall was colorful, and he survived a heart attack at the age of 40. But his second term was cut short by a 1987 recall vote, fueled by his controversial dismissal of then-Police Chief Robert Wadman.

That might have ended most political careers, but Boyle was back on the ballot in 1989, leading several candidates in the primary but losing the general election to Republican P.J. Morgan. The two later served side-by-side as county commissioners.

There, Mike Boyle continued to make his mark, fighting for the little guy, the marginalized, and others he saw in need of his support. It was no accident the River City Mixed Chorus sang at his memorial service. He and Anne were strong civil rights advocates.

Speaking at Mike Boyle’s memorial, community activist and former North Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray said his friend never tolerated intolerance.

Boyle’s friendships extended to fellow elected officials, regardless of party, a rarity in these highly partisan days.

Republican Mary Ann Borgeson, chair of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, issued the following official statement: “Mike will always be remembered for being fearless in expressing his views. But most importantly, he will always be known for amplifying his voice to help those in need. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert also offered her condolences.

“He and his late wife Anne instilled the importance of service in their family and the Boyle name became synonymous with community service,” the Republican mayor said in a statement.

Brian Kruse, a Republican who now has Boyle’s old job of Douglas County election commissioner, has fond memories of the man who often provided advice.

“I did not meet Mike until he came to my swearing in,” Kruse said. “We kind of became lunch buddies.”

They would hang out at The Drover, where Boyle often pointed out to people they met that they were from different political parties and then say, “but we’re friends and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

Kruse said that Boyle didn’t always agree with everything he did.

“But we never held it against each other. And we never raised our voices. There’s no need to,” Kruse said.

Of course, no one knew or remembered the man like his family.

Maureen Boyle, a physician as well as a county commissioner, recalled that her parents had their five children by the time her father gradated law school. The Boyle kids often joined their dad as he cleaned offices in the days before he became election commissioner.

His daughter didn’t hesitate when asked what made her dad special to so many people.

 “When you had a conversation with him, he always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world,” she said. “His obvious passion to help everyone in need was apparent.”

Then, she added, you can throw his sense of humor into that mix.

Maureen Boyle pointed to her father’s humble beginnings as the source of his passion for the underdog and the marginalized. Mike Boyle grew up in a house with no indoor plumbing, but he had constant love and support.

“That’s what mattered most,” she said.

Mike Boyle also adored Debbie, his sister, who survives him.

“I would like him to be remembered as a man who loved his wife and family, who never met a stranger, and hoped to be remembered as someone who others would recognize (for) his love for them in his commitment to public service,” Maureen Boyle said. “I think he’d like to be seen as a guy who made a difference in the lives of others.”

She also remembers her father for the remarkable love affair that was her parent’s marriage. Mike and Anne Boyle, their daughter said, were great role models as parents and a married couple.

“They had a lot of mutual respect,” she said. “He saw her as a true partner.”

Maureen Boyle followed in her father’s footsteps as an elected office. So, will another sibling follow? She hinted there could be at least one more, but that name is being withheld to protect the, so far, innocent.

In addition to Maureen, Mike Boyle is survived by Michael, Patrick, and James, daughter Maggie, and their spouses. Also surviving him are his sister, Debbie Rickerl, and eighteen grandchildren.

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