Former mayoral Chief of Staff Brinker Harding and Omaha Public Schools board member Vinny Palermo will join five Omaha City Council incumbents who rode to re-election by landslide margins.

Council members Pete Festersen, Ben Gray, Chris Jerram, Rich Pahls and Aimee Melton cruised to victory.

Harding, the current City Planning Board chairman, is a real estate executive who served at City Hall under former Mayor Hal Daub. He defeated former State Sen. Dwite Pedersen for the District 6 seat being vacated by council member Franklin Thompson.

“The voters appreciated the fact that I’m energized and motivated,” Harding said. “With my work experience, that resonated with voters. ... In the end, they thought that was a good combination to have in a representative for District 6 and all of Omaha.”

He praised Pedersen on a positive race.

“He’s served Nebraska and Omaha and Elkhorn well and should be congratulated.”

Pedersen said Harding is a nice man and will do a good job.

“He’s given me the impression that he will give the people as far out as I live, Elkhorn, good representation,” Pedersen said. “He’ll represent the whole district.”

Harding will have to resign his Planning Board seat before being sworn in to the council in June.

Palermo and Rogers had finished in a virtual tie for first in the April primary, but Palermo pulled ahead in the general election.

“Hard work, 100 percent hard work,” said Palermo, a former Metropolitan Utilities District and city worker who owns tree-trimming and auto glass businesses. “Not just me, but the 100 people who volunteered, my friends and family.”

He said voters would see his election as “a breath of fresh air” that “we still live in a city where hard work matters.”

Rogers, former outreach director for U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford and a former campaign manager, had been endorsed by longtime District 4 council member Garry Gernandt, who did not seek re-election.

Palermo was endorsed by Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan, who had finished third in the primary.

Rogers cited two factors for coming up short. Palermo “has a great name for the political realm.” And Rogers told people who asked that he supported Heath Mello for mayor, even if they had a Jean Stothert sign in their yard.

“The battle’s been resolved, and you go on and move the community forward,” Rogers said. “I absolutely have appreciated the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had. Our greatest untapped resource is people who love our community, and there are a lot of people who truly love Omaha.”

In District 1, Festersen beat University of Nebraska at Omaha student Grant Sturek for another term representing Dundee, Benson and part of Florence. He has represented the area since 2009.

Festersen said he was pleased with Tuesday’s strong showing.

“Our margin of victory has increased in every election, which is a reflection of our hard work,” he said. “I’m excited to serve on what will be a strong City Council over the next four years.”

In addition to continuing his work on public safety, the city’s finances and improving neighborhoods, Festersen said he looks forward to establishing a common vision to address infrastructure challenges and economic disparities in the area.

In District 2, Gray defeated challenger Dennis Womack to win a third term on the council.

“People recognized the work we’ve been doing,” Gray said.

He said the vote acknowledged progress in economic development and toward combating unemployment and poverty in north Omaha.

“We’ve made some really good progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go; it’s still what we need to really bring those poverty and unemployment numbers down,” Gray said.

He said he’ll work with the new council on those issues, as well as on voters' demand for better streets.

Jerram was also victorious, beating community activist D’Shawn Cunningham for the District 3 seat. The area covers downtown, midtown and the Aksarben area. It will be Jerram’s third term in office.

Jerram said that the victory was exciting and humbling and that he looked forward to another four years of service.

He said he wanted to keep working on economic development, mass transit, housing along mass transit routes and programs for people who are not employed and living in high-poverty areas of Omaha.

In District 7, Melton handily defeated challenger Brian Thommes to win a second term on the council.

An attorney, Melton has been a staunch supporter of Stothert during her first term.

Melton attributed her re-election to her hard work on the council and campaign trail.

“I respond to neighborhoods and to constituents when they call and email me,” she said. “I try to address the issue they’re concerned with, not just the ones I’m concerned with.”

She said voters will want her to work on improving streets and fashioning a new trash-hauling contract proposal for the city.

Melton said the city won’t fix its street repair problems in four years, but “what we can do is put together a strategic plan for future mayors that we can strive for so we’re not so far behind.”

Pahls, who did not have an opponent, was elected to a second term as the District 5 city councilman. The area covers southwest Omaha.

Pahls said Tuesday night that he enjoys being on the council and trying to solve issues and to make Omaha a better place.

Because Pahls did not have to be out campaigning or pushing any agenda, he said he’s been listening to all of the candidates for City Council and mayor. No matter who was elected, Pahls said he thought the City Council should sit down as a team and be more visionary and less reactive. He said the council should be coming up with ideas instead of just voting yes or no on proposals from the administration.

“I’m anticipating the next four years to be very bright,” Pahls said. “I feel good about it.”

World-Herald staff writer Emily Nitcher contributed to this report.


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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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