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Longtime Councilman Ben Gray concedes, congratulates challenger

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 10:01 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After 12 years, there will be new representation in Omaha City Council Dist. 2.

Councilman Ben Gray held a news conference Thursday morning after continued counts Wednesday made it clear he didn’t have the votes. He congratulated his challenger, saying he plans to focus on his family and his future.

“Congratulations to Juanita Johnson for her win,” he said. “I want to thank the community for their support over these past 12 years, and I really want to thank the staff and my colleagues on the City Council. We have worked wonderfully together.”

Gray also said he would help the new councilwoman get settled, if asked.

“So what we’ll do in the future, I’m not sure, but I think... I think they’ll be opportunities to work together on various projects. But I’m not going to inject myself in anything,” he said. “If I’m asked, I’ll give my advice.”

Johnson said Thursday she is looking forward to taking over the seat held by Gray after beating him in Tuesday’s city election and welcomes the handover as she transitions into city government.

“That’s just business sense,” she said. “I mean, that doesn’t make any sense not to have a conversation with him because anytime you pass the baton, you should get the information from the person ahead of you.”

Johnson, who will become the second African-American woman to represent Omaha’s second city council district, credits her victory to getting out and talking to the people — and plain old hard work.

“I was running against an incumbent, and I needed to get name recognition,” she said Thursday. “And so, we had to do more than what was normal, and so we did that, and we were up to the challenge.”

She said she’s ready to get to work on her first priority.

“The channels of communication between city government and Dist. 2 — that is a real unique problem,” she said. “It’s something that needs to be looked at, that needs to be addressed and fixed, and I plan to do that.”

Gray wouldn’t speculate on why, after a dozen years and many accomplishments, he didn’t win a fourth term, but he did talk about the “word on the street,” which basically said his diverse group of supporters didn’t play well in the African-American community.

“You know... I’ve heard rumors about that — about my connections with people in the community, the various collaborations I’ve had in the community from both Black and non-Black people because it’s going to take that if you’re going to make any moves in city government if you’re going to get anything done.”

Gray also said he was disappointed in the voter turnout for the city’s general election.

“I expected that after all of this talk about voter suppression and so forth that it would bring people out more for whatever reason,” he said. “It didn’t. ... But it still doesn’t diminish the quality of the win Juanita Johnson had.”

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