These stories are in-depth profiles of three of the six candidates running for the Omaha City Council’s District 3 seat. More information about the remaining candidates may be found on their websites or social media pages: Ben Gray, Steven Abraham and Juanita Johnson. For coverage of other races check out The Reader’s 2021 city election hub.
Since 1981, District 2 has only had four city council representatives, and just one of them has served only one term. But even with that history, Omaha City Council District 2 candidate Jonathan Lathan said he is poised to focus on what’s ahead.
“We’ve had Frank Brown, we’ve had Fred Conley, Brenda Council and now Ben Gray,” the 35-year-old U.S. Army veteran said. “So for the last 40 years, we’ve had four people who represented the district on City Council. This year, we got an opportunity to bring a new generation of leadership with new ideas, and a new vision for the community.”
Lathan’s new vision includes combating the poverty of North Omaha and closing the wage gap by providing employment with livable wages, health benefits and opportunities for upward mobility.
With a background in freight, Lathan believes a logistics-based company located in District 2 would significantly boost the community’s economic base.
“Truck driving was an essential industry during COVID-19. It’s a recession-proof job, and it’s something that … doesn’t require a college degree. Most CDL [Commercial Driver’s License] jobs start [at] over $40,000 a year,” the District 2 candidate said. “68111 is my zip code. So the median income for that neighborhood is $29,000 a year, right? The median income for the entire city of Omaha is $60K.”
Beyond importing employment opportunities that provide livable wages, Lathan believes the city can better reinvest into the communities of North Omaha by redistributing the city’s budget.
“With the recent city budget, the money needs to go back to the community, period. The mayor just proposed a 10-point plan. And the first thing … it says [is] we need to get more police officers hired. Like, that’s literally the first point on that plan,” Lathan said. “Without relationships being built in the community, without handling the underlying issues of police contact … what happens? That’s a problem.”
The incumbent, Ben Gray, has been vocal about his support of the Omaha police and his reluctance to defund their budget. Lathan believes the current leadership has failed to properly represent its constituency and speak to the issues of the community.
“Somebody has to speak on these things, and we haven’t had representation that’s willing to.. I haven’t heard them speak on James Scurlock, I haven’t heard them speak on Kenneth Jones, and no, I haven’t heard them speak on Earnest Jackson,” the 35-year-old father of three said. “There’s so many other things that go on in the community that I don’t think are being addressed by some of our predecessors.”
Despite what he sees as inactivity from some of his predecessors, Lathan hopes to work with his political elders to keep the fight for change going.
He even secured an endorsement from longtime senator and community activist Ernie Chambers in early March.
“Sometimes that fire starts to dwindle as you get older, so you’ve got to keep that fire alive. You’ve got to keep that torch burning to pass that torch on [as a] mentor,” Lathan said. “I am truly honored to have received the endorsement of a legend who knows what it takes to do the work. He told me to run like someone is chasing me, and that is what I plan to do.”
“I want to improve the job situation in North Omaha,” Cornelius Williams said during a March 17 interview with 1st Sky Omaha in The Morning. “Economics is what drives everything, really, from education to housing to almost any of the issues that we can affect politically.”
Williams, who unsuccessfully ran for Legislative District 11 in the 2020 election, is now running against incumbent Ben Gray for Omaha City Council District 2. According to Williams, improving the economic disparities in North Omaha would benefit Omaha as a whole.
“Improving the job situation in North Omaha would improve the job situation in Omaha in general,” he said. “We need to look at the future with large jobs like [those in] manufacturing.”
Williams graduated from Omaha Central High and earned a B.S. in physics from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in physics from Michigan State University. A longtime educator, Williams emphasizes the importance of skilled labor. He believes institutions like Metropolitan Community College and other trade-based programs will help spark the economic boost Omaha needs.
“[People should] get involved with unions because unions will help [people] get better paying and more stable jobs,” Williams said. “Trade unions, kitchens, electricians, carpenters, sheet metal workers, things like that … And people have to understand that [Metropolitan Community College] is where they go, [it’s] not all about trying to prepare you for a four-year school. Community colleges are often [to prepare] people for jobs in the area.”
In particular, Williams said building up renewable energy manufacturing jobs in North Omaha will move the entire city into the future.
“I’m thinking about renewable energies because that’s where we have to go as a nation. And if we can get a foothold in it early enough, we can, hopefully, keep it there,” Williams said. “[We should be] making solar cells modules for housing … we’ve [already] got the railroad system, we’ve got the waterways, we’ve got highways going through … we’re a hub!”
Williams knows that, without employers paying a livable wage located in the community, those who live in North Omaha are at an economic disadvantage due to barriers in the city’s transportation system.
“That’s one of the areas we’ve just simply got to improve,” he said. “You know, you get on the bus … and it takes you, what, 45 minutes to get somewhere? No one really wants to get up 45 minutes early and wind through [their] neighborhood to get to work.”
In addition to securing access to stable employment, the District 2 candidate believes raising the minimum wage is a necessity. Williams suggests it’s best to raise minimum wage on a gradual scale, similar to what Senator Terrell McKinney proposed in LB480.
“It’s a gradual buildup,” Williams said. “[When] Republicans say it is too high or whatever, they’re always talking about the final point … and not the slow build up over a couple of years. It needs to be raised.”
As a candidate for Omaha City Council District 2, David Mitchell knows his name has been making headlines for over a year. The candidate, who’s considered controversial because of his refusal to accept money from special interest groups, shared his thoughts during a March 16 interview with 1st Sky Omaha in the Morning.
According to Mitchell, challenging incumbent Ben Gray wasn’t something he wanted to do but something he needed to do.
“I actually did not want to get into politics just due to how dirty and crazy it’s got[ten]. But I had to sit down and realize that I needed to do something for the community. I needed to make change,” Mitchell said. “After seeing … no stop to this ethnic cleansing that’s happening in our community … I was like, ‘I have no choice but to get into this political arena and make something happen!’”
Despite being the first to announce his candidacy, the Gamers owner believes he is being intentionally excluded from some of the platforms and resources given to other candidates.
“There’s controversy surrounding my name, but this controversy was created by the powers that be that fear me getting into this political position,” Mitchell said. “They have really been making sure they let me know that they did not want me running.”
Mitchell said this is because of his stance on economics and unwillingness to accept special interest money.
“I financially backed my entire campaign. I haven’t accepted a single endorsement, not a single donation, from any special interest groups,” the husband and father said. “Because the thing people don’t understand is, when you accept special interest money, now they have a vested interest in you … the hand that pays is the hand that rules.”
As a self-made business owner and North Omaha native, Mitchell believes in the economic potential of North Omaha and advocates for more labor-based businesses planting their roots in District 2.
“The first thing we need to be able to do is fight for people to come down and build buildings and their operations in North Omaha,” the District 2 challenger said. “[We must] make sure we can be zoning friendly, and [employers are] actually going to pay a livable wage and hire the people that live within their own community.”
Beyond expanding employment opportunities, Mitchell said a Black-owned and operated bank would spark a substantial redistribution of wealth.
“The main goal for me will be to get a Black-owned financial institution,” Mitchell said. “I’m talking about real distribution of wealth amongst the people so we can actually be able to build our own businesses within our community.”
Regardless of any controversy surrounding his name, Mitchell continues to push his platform of economic stimulation and believes he’s ready for the uphill battle to represent District 2.
“If I can actually make it into office, we got to start with ground zero,” Mitchell said. “I want to work with everyone in the community to figure out what we can … do to re-stimulate our economy in North Omaha.”
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