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Editorial: Four sound choices for council are Festersen, Watkins, Harding, Kohen

Editorial: Four sound choices for council are Festersen, Watkins, Harding, Kohen

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Omaha is a growing city with great opportunities for progress. It’s also a city facing major challenges on issues such as affordable housing and transportation. We need a City Council whose members are capable and understand the need to work constructively with each other. We need members who well represent the interests of their individual districts but also understand the need to look to Omaha’s needs as a whole.

Our editorial today looks at four of the City Council races and gives our endorsements. We will examine the remaining three contests in our Wednesday editorial.

Our endorsements:

Pete Festersen, District 1. Festersen is a highly engaged incumbent who has shown strong leadership and has deep experience addressing key city issues. He stands out for his effectiveness in Omaha city government, working constructively with other leaders on complex issues to build consensus on solutions.

Last year amid the uncertainties of the COVID emergency, Festersen helped guide the city forward as one of the leaders crafting the city’s mask ordinance. He provided strong support for passage of anti-discrimination protections and expanded city contracting with small and emerging businesses. As chair of the Council’s Planning Committee, he helped write the landlord registry ordinance. The city, he says, must explore options, such as incentives, to boost affordable housing; work with Metro and other entities to expand transportation opportunities; and devote far more support to meet mental health needs.

Festersen, who is facing opponent Sarah Johnson in District 1, spearheaded efforts for renovations in the Benson, Dundee and Florence business districts and is working on expansions of those efforts. The property crimes ordinance he championed has stepped up investigative capability and returned more than $1 million in stolen property to victims of crime.

Cammy Watkins, District 3. This is an open-seat contest, since incumbent Chris Jerram is not seeking another term. We find Cammy Watkins to be a worthy successor. Indeed, election of this capable, knowledgeable candidate to the City Council would be a major plus for Omaha. Watkins demonstrates an exceptional understanding of both her district and Omaha as a whole, leading us to support her over opponent Danny Begley.

The breadth of Watkins’ knowledge about key issues and her ability to explain them show she would be a dynamic leader on the City Council. As a council member, Watkins could help colleagues understand issues of growing importance to the city and enable Omaha to begin making progress on them. A key example: affordable housing.

Watkins has years of experience serving on local boards. That work has given her contacts among a wide range of Omahans, from neighborhood residents to nonprofit officials to business leaders. With her wide knowledge of the city and her ability to build consensus on major issues, Cammy Watkins can bring vital leadership and perspective to Omaha city government.

Brinker Harding, District 6. This incumbent has longstanding experience in Omaha city government, having served as chief of staff during the Hal Daub administration. He underscores that although council members are elected by district, they must also be mindful of the needs and interests of all parts of Omaha. That’s why it’s vital for council members to work constructively with each other, he says, not allowing honest disagreements to bog down in stalemate.

Harding speaks knowledgeably about his priorities such as public safety and economic development. He points to significant improvements regarding the Police Department and stresses the need to strengthen the ability to help people in mental health crises. He ably explains the key points of the garbage collection/recycling issue. A member of the Council’s Planning Committee, he points to Omaha’s need to expand transportation options and to promote development in the city’s urban core so that Omaha as a whole retains its vitality.

Harding’s opponent, Naomi Hattaway, offers strong analysis of Omaha issues and is an impressive candidate. But we find Harding’s experience and ability to work with colleagues to be assets warranting his reelection.

Sara Kohen, District 7. In an era when fierce political polarization harms both our city and our country, we find Kohen’s focus on practical problem-solving an important asset warranting her election over incumbent Aimee Melton.

Melton has sometimes come across in council deliberations as too political. The mask issue, in which Melton stood out for her contrarian approach, is the key example.

Kohen not only explains well the need for constructive relationships in Omaha policy-making; she also speaks knowledgeably about the range of city issues, from economic development to transportation to the city’s need to promote diversity and a welcoming community spirit.

With Kohen on the City Council, District 7 would have a well-informed, constructive representative participating in the center of policy discussions and decision-making, rather than being on the periphery. This would be a major plus all around.

In these four City Council contests, we find that voters would do well by supporting Pete Festersen in District 1, Cammy Watkins in District 3, Brinker Harding in District 6 and Sara Kohen in District 7.

We need a City Council whose members are capable and understand the need to work constructively with each other.

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