Omaha City-County Building (Cate Folsom/Nebraska Examiner)
The nation’s largest and oldest Hispanic organization is blasting the Omaha City Council for not appointing a Latino to fill a South Omaha council vacancy, calling the action a “betrayal of trust.”
The League of United Latin American Citizens, a volunteer-driven coalition based in Washington, D.C., announced Sunday the launch of “¡OYEME OMAHA! Hear Me Omaha!” to mobilize Omaha’s Latino community to demand representation on the council.
LULAC’s attention comes after the City Council last week unanimously selected Ron Hug, a longtime member of the Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors, as the successor to District 4 Council member Vinny Palermo.
Palermo was federally indicted on an alleged fraud scheme in April, and the council voted in August to remove him from his seat after he had three months of unexcused absences from council meetings.
‘We deserve far better’
District 4 includes a majority of Omaha’s Latino community, and nearly one in two voting-age residents in District 4 is Latino, LULAC said announcing its campaign.
Elsa Ramon Aranda, Nebraska LULAC council president and an Omaha Latino community advocate, described the selection process as a “farce” and said the council overlooked three Latino candidates “of a new generation our community knows and respects.”
“Instead, the members reverted to the good-ol’ boy safe pick of a white male who stated he’s already ‘done a lot for Latinos,’ as if we are a one-and-done community,” Ramon said in a statement. “We deserve far better than that.”
Hug told the Nebraska Examiner the objections indicate that his constituents don’t yet know him or his family, some of whom are Latino. He said he’ll work to remind his constituents of his South Omaha roots and serve them as he’s done on the MCC board since 1998.
Hug added he’s represented similar parts of South Omaha for nearly 10 years and is a member of LULAC.
“After all that time, there has never been any question as to my support for our minority constituents,” Hug said Monday morning. “I’m kind of just kind of taken aback by it.”
Council selection process
A former chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party, Hug said he believes the council chose him because of his decades of service that separated him from the pack of five finalists. Twelve people had applied for the seat.
The City Council is officially nonpartisan, but the three Republicans and three Democrats Hug will be joining split their votes along party lines before landing on Hug. The Republicans chose Terri Blackburn, a Republican, in the first two votes while the Democrats chose Erik Servellon, a Democrat, and then Hug. During the third round, the group unanimously chose Hug.
Blackburn and Servellon have said they intend to run for the District 4 seat in 2025.
“Clearly, the exclusion of Latinos reflects ignorance and attitudes that are relics of past generations and have no place in the great city of Omaha in 2023 or beyond,” Servellon, a Latino community leader, said in a statement.
Council President Pete Festersen said Monday that the selection process was open and transparent and he noted his support for Servellon. However, there was not a fourth vote to get him on the council. Festersen added he welcomes a call to register more Latino voters and thinks it could be very positive for Omaha.
‘The right thing’
LULAC intends for its campaign to serve as a “rallying cry” ahead of the 2024 and 2025 elections and is encouraging Latinos to reach out to Omaha-based corporations.
“You either support Latinos, or you don’t, and we will spend our dinero or money with those companies that stand with us,” said Emma Lozano, LULAC national vice president for the Midwest.
Hug will serve the remainder of Palermo’s term and be eligible for election in 2025. He said he’ll serve his constituents no matter their background.
“You don’t do the right thing because of the color of your skin,” Hug said. “You do the right thing because that’s the person you are.”
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