Sarah Johnson is one of four candidates running for Omaha City Council in District 1. Click the links to learn about the other candidates including Pete Festersen, Tyeisha Kosmicki and Paul Anderson. Read the rest of our coverage at our 2021 city election hub.
“To be quite honest, I was not really thinking I was going to do this because politics are kind of gross,” City Council candidate Sarah Johnson said during a March 1 interview with 1st Sky Omaha in the Morning.
A year ago, the Omaha native had just closed her Benson-based bike and coffee shop, the Omaha Bicycle Company, before undergoing emergency surgery for a recurring health issue.
Now, Johnson is feeling good and looking to solve what she said has been a lack of political willpower.
“I [was] anxious because there’s a lot of work to do. And I didn’t feel like our current representatives were doing it,” the District 1 candidate said. “So I looked for someone else who was going to run for City Council, and everyone, understandably, didn’t have the capacity. Everyone has kids and pandemic school. There’s just so much going on. And I am underemployed and overly enthusiastic. So here we are.”
In addition to owning a bike shop, Johnson also co-founded Mode Shift Omaha, a non-profit advocating for transportation equity.
According to Johnson, redefining the look of public safety and transportation are some of her campaign’s core issues.
“It’s like, okay, we just passed a $200 million road bond. And what are we going to do? We’re going to rebuild back roads for cars, a system that’s already proved unsustainable and inefficient,” Johnson said. “There’s just way too many issues around that. And we needed to get real about it yesterday.”
Johnson, who said she sees a lot of issues through a transportation and mobility justice lens, is also aware of the role transportation plays in bringing communities together and breaking down barriers.
“Streets are supposed to connect communities, and we have used them to destroy and separate,” the District 1 challenger said. “I think that we need to also just get real about the way police treat our Black and brown friends in this community.”
Following a year defined by police brutality and an international Black Lives Matter movement, the self-proclaimed privileged white girl believes hard conversations about race are long overdue.
“Racism, that’s something that I think is uncomfortable to name, but it’s past time. And I don’t feel like we are having enough representatives really get focused on that,” Johnson said. “I say, we’re ready for courageous conversations. There are some things that are not fun necessarily to talk about. But it’s way past due. And we can’t just [try to] ignore them until they go away.”
Despite Omaha’s increasingly diverse population, Johnson said the city has failed to change a history of systemic racism and become more inclusive.
“If you look at the redlining maps … it’s all the same maps, the social disparities, the health disparities, everything still lines up. And it’s embarrassing. It’s disgusting. We’re supposedly a 21st-century city, [and] we’re not acting like we’re inclusive in any way,” the Benson resident said. “City Hall thinks they have it all figured out, [but] they are not being inclusive and welcoming to all these brilliant folks in our community that have good ideas.”
No matter what happens this election cycle, the challenger to incumbent Pete Festersen said she will continue to be a resource for the community.
“This is what I do anyway. I’m that person that people text or call when they have a question, [like] is it recycling week? Or what’s up with this? I’m happy to be that resource,” Johnson said. “And I will continue to be regardless of the outcome of this election, but I really hope that I can be an advocate inside City Hall to make more impactful change.”
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