These stories are in-depth profiles of two of the four candidates running for the Omaha City Council’s District 3 seat. For coverage of other races check out The Reader’s 2021 city election hub.
Cammy Watkins is plunging into politics for the first time running for Omaha City Council district 3. Charismatic and jovial, Watkins has worked for the public good for over 20 years with several community nonprofits, including Omaha Habitat for Humanity, Opera Omaha and The Sierra Club. She is currently Deputy Director of Inclusive Communities. She decided to run because she wants to elevate community voices, offering representation that is invested in addressing the needs of the whole community.
Lead exposure is a significant health hazard to Omaha children particularly in North Omaha. Almost 25 years ago, Omaha first reported on children with high levels of lead in their blood to the EPA. This lead to years-long cleanup of the Omaha Lead Superfund Site. Although numbers have improved, the problem has not been eradicated, so Watkins has focused on educating the community on this issue. She is also committed to helping all families to own their own home.
Faced with this, she recognizes that the cost of living is low in Omaha, feels that many things have changed and wants to create development plans for access to home ownership. “The lowest cost house right now, on average, is around $175,000. And that’s really not affordable for those homeowners for the first time. We have more real estate agents than houses to sell. If we look on the rent side, the average (rent) in our city has increased 60%, making it unaffordable for people who have middle incomes or that workforce from $35,000 to $60,000,” she said.
She sees a solution in the construction of single-family, duplex homes and multi-family apartments. “Those aren’t the only ways people like to live in our city. We have many multigenerational families who would like to live together, and more in South Omaha. We need to update the zoning laws,” she added.
Watkins has experienced the inadequacy of Omaha’s public transportation service which says she is not accessible. She also proposes expanding the bus system to connect the entire city, because many residents who now live downtown must wait a long time to move south, or if they live in the West, there is no direct route to get to North Omaha.
“It is not accessible to people with disabilities and is not accessible to people who live basically anywhere. The streets are not configured to be a primary means of transport,” she says. It’s important for her to give another nuance and look at more extensive use of multi modal transportation, such as expanding tracks for bicycles, walkways and motorcycles, she says.
For the community leader it is necessary to work to end the segregation that exists in Omaha and pay attention to food security. She recognized the work of community gardens promoted by the Latino Center of the Midlands as an alternative to access to fresh food. She is betting on the city’s ability to use community gardens to meet this need.
“We have enough ingenuity and opportunities to do urban agriculture in our city. I want us to lean on the city to invest in a city without hunger. We can do it. Also pay attention to meat production with producers,” she says.
The leader sees in Omaha a city that can attract tourists. “People want to feel at home when they visit the city,” she said, so she sees it as necessary to install a free WIFI network that facilitates internet access for both locals and visitors. In addition, this would support local businesses.
Watkins also said that for people to live with dignity, the minimum wage needs to be raised to $18 per hour, not $9. To this end, she stressed that with projects that encourage local investment and consumption, as in the field of tourism, we could reduce the unemployment rate.
Finally, she sees this campaign as a challenge to make a city more inclusive and closer to its people.
Jennifer Bauer is president of Aksarben Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association, so she hopes to apply those same leadership and problem-solving skills to representing the City Council District 3 community.
When elected, Bauer will prioritize three plans that she considers most important for Omaha. The first is to The second is to ensure that documents and laws are translated into languages such as Spanish and Karen, and add sign language interpretation to City Council meetings. The third is to address the inefficiency of public transportation and lack of fresh food in many parts of the city.
Bauer also wants to transform Omaha into a greener, friendlier city with alternative transportation systems such as bicycles.
She recalled the emerald ash borer insects which has attacked and killed many mature trees in Omaha since 2016. “I want Omaha to be greener. We need a plan to have more trees. Our parks are important. They also help clean the air,” she said.
The businesswoman also wants to work for the benefit of local businesses and find a way to lower unemployment in the city.
Bauer does not identify with any political party and claims that what matters to her is to seek solutions to the needs of the community. She reiterates the approach and extension of the City Council’s business hours.
“I have worked with multicultural companies for over 10 years. One of the things with City Hall is that you have to have the power to listen (and make) decisions based on people’s comments and ideas. It’s not about preferences, it’s about working for people and what’s convenient and in conjunction with other districts,” she said.
She supports the idea of installing internet with free WIFI in the city as has been implemented by Council Bluff. “This will help people with low resources who don’t have access to the internet. I don’t think the facilities are expensive compared to the plans a person has in their homes,” she said.
Jen, as she likes to be called, also sees a theme that should be touched on by the community—racism, as seen in the segregation of Omaha. “I don’t know how you can fight that. We need to talk about how that separation of sections comes about. That affects Omaha,” she said
She is well known in Aksarben but wants to work fully with all of Omaha. She is proud to have shared with various cultures so she wants to work with everyone as part of the city council.
The candidate is optimistic about her campaign and comes in the mood to work around town: “I love Omaha. When I moved here I saw it as a very friendly city. Here there is a lot of diversity and options such as food trucks of all kinds: Asian, Venezuelan, Latin American. (…) we have a lot of ethnicities which makes it a vibrant city,” she said.
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