After winning the Republican primary and runoff by a nose this summer, Fitz Johnson is facing a different challenge as he campaigns in the general election for the District 2 seat on the Cobb Board of Commissioners:
An energized Democratic electorate in the county that could yield historic gains in November.
Johnson, a retired Army officer, entrepreneur and civic leader with strong ties to Cobb establishment institutions, is facing political upstart Jerica Richardson.
Although she was unopposed in the Democratic primary, she received more votes (24,126) than the three Republican primary candidates combined (18,371).
Neither has been elected to public office before. Johnson ran for Georgia School Superintendent in 2014. Richardson is a first-time candidate who has worked on recent local Democratic campaigns, including that of Cobb school board member Jaha Howard, who’s been a firebrand in his two years in office.
Johnson, who serves on the board of the Wellstar Health System and is a trustee of Kennesaw State University, has been touting what he calls “experienced leadership” in the military, business and community service.
Here’s Johnson’s campaign website. Richardson has been contacted by East Cobb News seeking an interview.
The winner will succeed retiring three-term commissioner Bob Ott, a Republican who’s endorsed Johnson.
“The message is the same,” Johnson said. “The target is different.”
District 2 includes much of East Cobb as well as the Cumberland-Vinings area and part of Smyrna.
Johnson is touting an emphasis on public safety, traffic improvements, fiscal conservatism on taxes and spending and protecting neighborhoods.
As he did during the primary campaign, Johnson is stressing his opposition to East Cobb Cityhood, limiting high-density development and boosting salary and incentives for police officers and firefighters.
He said he’s best situated to attend to those ongoing matters, as well as possible budget challenges due to the economic fallout from COVID-19 closures, because of his background.
“What stands out is my experience compared to my opponent,” he said. “I worrying about me and running my own campaign, but when you stack it all up, I’m the clear choice.”
During the primary Johnson campaigned extensively in East Cobb, which was unfamiliar to him but traditionally has been strong Republican territory. He admits that the district is diverse, but the message he’s hearing from East Cobb voters is a desire to maintain a suburban atmosphere of single-family communities.
The county budget that began on Oct. 1 maintained the same property tax millage rate, but the longer-term financial implications could pose some unpalatable budget decisions in the future.
Johnson admitted that “while we’re in an unprecedented” time, he will never support a tax increase to address budget shortfalls.
“That’s a no-compromise issue,” Johnson said, acknowledging that some hard decisions will have to be made.
Also off-limits would be any interruption in continuing a step-and-grade compensation program for public safety employees begun last year by commissioners.
“I will make sure we don’t take a step back,” Johnson said, adding that he thinks commissioners have “done a good job” handling the immediate financial impact of COVID-related revenue drops.
The District 2 winner would become the second African-American on the board, and if current commissioner Lisa Cupid wins her race to become chairman, the five-member board would have a black majority.
Earlier this summer commissioners adopted an anti-racism resolution that caused some consternation, and they voted last month to create a new community diversity council.
Johnson said “this is a very good start they’ve put on the table,” in reference to the latter, whose members include citizen members chosen by commissioners.
Racial concerns and disparities won’t go away, he said, just by appointing people to serve. “What we need now is results. We’re not going to let this go.
“It’s important to the entire quality of life in Cobb County” to address racial and cultural disparities, he said.
“I don’t have a scorecard, but I feel I’m being treated well as an African-American in Cobb County,” Johnson said.
“But we’re not finished by any means,” in reference to making greater progress in racial relations. “We need to make it better so it doesn’t continue to be an issue.”
Johnson said while he’s working to get his based energized, he acknowledges a need for crossover votes from independents and what he calls “soft Democrats.”
An appeal to that kind of open-mindedness, he said, will be important as he seeks to fill “some very big shoes” being left behind by Ott.
“I believe there are many voters out there who willing to zig-zag down the ballot.”
- Candidate profile: Lisa Cupid, Cobb Commission Chair
- Candidate profile: Mike Boyce, Cobb Commission Chair
- Ga. Secretary of State’s office creates absentee ballot tracker
- Cobb absentee ballot dropbox locations include 4 in East Cobb
- Cobb elections 411: registration, absentee balloting and more
- East Cobb 2020 Elections Guide
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