Race for Omaha City Council District 1: Festersen vs. Johnson

Posted at 6:38 PM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 22:07:53-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — After being in City Hall for 12 years, Omaha City councilman Pete Festersen says his experience in working with others, and his deep knowledge of city issues, should give his constituents confidence in bringing him back for a fourth term.

“Having the experience to address these complex issues like affordable housing, mental health and public transit... those are things that require partnerships not just the city. Someone who listens to people and works well with others, that’s been my track record,” said Festersen.

Festersen, who works in hospital administration when he's not at City Hall, touts his work in Benson, Dundee and the Florence Business Improvement Districts as reasons why he's the right candidate.

“Ten years ago in Benson, we were really struggling,” said Festersen. "Now, we have a bustling area, one of the coolest places to be in town... almost every storefront is filled. It’s really exciting to see and I want to continue that success going forward."

But he’s got competition.

“I would like to do this full-time. I’m already at city council most Tuesdays testifying,” said Sarah Johnson, former owner of Omaha Bicycle Company.

Johnson, an independent, is already an active community member and is now challenging Festersen, a Democrat, to his left.

“There’s so much work to do, it’s hard to even have a priority. It’s just like, everything needs a fresh set of eyes and new energy,” said Johnson.

If elected, Johnson wants to dive into the details — updating the housing plan and making sure the city code defines terms like affordable housing and sidewalks.

“While it may not be some big sweeping, sexy’s a lot of little stuff that will add up to shifting the perspective and shifting the priorities and actually working towards change,” said Johnson.

They both want to expand public transportation, with Festersen pointing to the new ORBT buses as a good start.

“It’s not just any one thing, but the ORBT, I think, was a big step forward. We’re looking for the potential to expand that in a number of different ways. I think it has increased in better bus routes for our citizens,” said Festersen.

Johnson wants to be a bit more aggressive and has already identified a north-south street she’d like to see ORBT go to next.

“I really think 24th Street needs to be looked at. North Omaha to South Omaha. It’s a great connection and that’s something I’d really advocate for,” said Johnson.

One area where they agree is expanding on protected bike lanes, similar to the one the city just created on Harney Street.

“It is a pilot project but I think it’s time to make that permanent. I’ll make that commitment and I’d like to see the city expand to other places too,” said Festersen.

“We need to get serious about a safe and connected protected network. It’s not about one lane on one road, that’s not enough,” said Johnson.