Wednesday, September 06, 2017

TOP STORY >> Johnson to run for mayor

Leader editor

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) announced Tuesday he will run for mayor of Jacksonville in November 2018.

He’ll be challenging Mayor Gary Fletcher, who said Tuesday he plans to seek re-election.

Johnson told a group of supporters gathered at his accounting practice’s office that his experience in the legislature the last three years and as a Pulaski County justice of the peace for more than a decade can benefit Jacksonville.

He thanked his wife, Laurie, for supporting him in his bid for mayor, which he called a life-changing decision for them.

“I’m walking away from my seat at the House of Representatives to run for mayor. I think Jacksonville needs some changes. Jacksonville has not changed in as positive a direction as it could. We lack unity. We don’t have a sense of direction. We don’t have Team Jacksonville.”

He called for greater cooperation between the city government and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, which have been divided on some issues over the best way to pursue economic development.

Johnson also called civic groups to work together, envisioning the chamber, the Jacksonville NAACP, the Sertoma Club, the historical district, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club and the military museum.

“All of those aren’t working together towards one common goal. Oh, guess what, I’m a member of all of those. I’m proud to be a member of them, but it’s time we started looking at how we can, as a group, get to know each other, get to know our focus, go in a direction that’s going to make this a town that people want to be at, that want to stop at, that are glad they’re here,” he said.

Johnson said he wants people to feel a renewed sense of pride in their city.

He also pledged to make public safety a top priority. “I want us all to feel this is a safe town.

“I think we have a lot of work to do, but together we can make this change. We are poised to make a change.

“There’s a lot of desire for change, desire for unity and I don’t want our city council members to just sit there and say yes to what I say. I don’t know it all. I expect them to bring ideas and fight with me to make this city better.

“I expect we are going to see some changes that are positive and good, and Jacksonville’s going to be the city that we want it to be in the future,” he said.

Johnson said he helped stabilize Pulaski County’s finances when he first joined the quorum court.

Fletcher said he plans to seek a third full term. He became mayor in 2009 after longtime Mayor Tommy Swaim left office early. Fletcher defeated Alderman Kenny Elliott in a special election.

Fletcher survived two bitter races for re-election — one against Rizelle Aaron and another versus Fletcher’s own police chief, Gary Sipes, who attended Johnson’s campaign event Tuesday.

Others in attendance included Phillip Carlisle, John Hardwick, Jody Urquhart, John Sisk, Barry Jefferson, Reginald Ford and Tommy Tompkins.

Election filings won’t open for about six months, but Fletcher said he’s prepared for another campaign.

“There’s still work to be done. I think the national economy is getting better, and hopefully that will come down to the local level,” Fletcher said.

“I’ve got a job to do and for the next several months I’m going focus on doing my job and not on campaigning,” the mayor said.

Johnson, who is 63, was born in Jacksonville, where he graduated high school in 1971. He has a master of science in accounting from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a bachelor of science in accounting from the University of Central Arkansas.

In the legislature, he has served on the Public Transportation Committee, the Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs.

“We have to make some tough decisions. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to make us go forward,” Johnson said.

“I’m not going to throw rocks at Gary. I think we need a different set of eyes and a different approach,” he said.