A vote to impose a tobacco tax in the city of Omaha earned Councilman Garry Gernandt an opponent in next year's election.
Virgil Patlan, a retired Omaha police officer, said Thursday that he intends to challenge fellow police alumnus Gernandt for the South Omaha seat representing District 4.
Patlan, a longtime South Omaha community activist, said Gernandt's October vote for the tax spurred him to get into the race.
The ordinance added about 15 cents to the average price of $5.10 for single packs of cigarettes sold in the city. The money will go to help finance a University of Nebraska Medical Center cancer treatment and research center.
Patlan, 56, said the tax is especially hard for South Omaha businesses because customers can just hop the county line to buy tobacco in Sarpy County.
“It upsets me to think of someone losing their job because of this,” said Patlan, who said he doesn't smoke.
Patlan, who attended South High School and served with the Omaha Police Department for 25 years, is involved in the local chapter of the Latino Peace Officers Association.
Patlan has publicly expressed his desire to boost Latino political representation for South Omaha.
Gernandt has been a member of the council since 2001. He said he plans to seek a fourth term.
The two former police officers have often found themselves on the same side, but they've also sparred on occasion.
Gernandt, for example, backed Mayor Jim Suttle in a recall election in 2010. Patlan signed a petition to recall the mayor, saying he considered himself a “big Hal Daub fan.”
In 2002, Gernandt originally opposed an affirmative action in city hiring proposal, which was pushed by Patlan and the Latino Peace Officers Association.
But Gernandt eventually changed his mind and became the deciding vote in favor.
“Virgil and I see a lot of things through the same pair of eyes, but from time to time we have differences of opinion,” Gernandt said in an interview. “I respect that and I hope that he does.”
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