Johnson: ‘Most fulfilling thing’

Published 5:39 pm Saturday, October 29, 2016

Linda T. Johnson is the incumbent mayor and is running to be elected to the post for the third time.

“It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Johnson, who faces four challengers. “I think we’re in a great place. We can be in an even better place.”

Johnson became the city’s first directly elected mayor in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. Prior to 2008, she served two years as the appointed mayor.

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She graduated from John Yeates High School and earned a journalism degree at the University of Richmond. She later worked at the State Corporation Commission, in social services and as an English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School before she became a real estate agent in 1986.

She was first elected to City Council in 2000, representing the Sleepy Hole Borough.

Johnson said her priorities are education, economic development and public safety.

“We need to fund it to the fullest extent we can,” she said of education. She noted the seven new schools that have been built since she was first elected to City Council, including the two currently under construction in North Suffolk.

She said continued investment is needed in education so the school division can keep up with the population. A school in the heart of downtown is also something to look at for the future, she said.

“The School Board decides where they need it,” she added.

Career and technical education also is a priority of hers and ties in with economic development, Johnson said.

“There are jobs available, and they’re good paying jobs,” Johnson said. Students need to be provided with the skill sets to start a career even if they’re not going to college, she said. Advanced manufacturing is becoming bigger in Suffolk, and Suffolk workers need to have the right skills to take those jobs.

Support for small businesses also is an area where Johnson wants to focus economic development efforts.

Public safety is another area of focus for Johnson.

“Nothing matters if you don’t feel safe,” she said. It’s a saying she frequently repeats during budget discussions.

She said she is proud of the investments made in recent years in equipment and other resources for the fire and police departments. It has helped reduce response times to the city’s large land area, she said.

“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” she said of the decline in response times.

Other aspects of quality of life are another area where Johnson wants to focus. She hopes to improve the city’s trail system — long-term, perhaps with a riverwalk along the Nansemond River — and solve downtown’s food desert problem with a permanent indoor food market in one of downtown’s vacant storefronts.

“I don’t think it should be that hard to do,” she said of the market.

Johnson also touted the city’s fiscal responsibility and said the she is looking forward to the city’s third AAA bond rating. It already has been rated at the top by two of the three agencies that evaluate the creditworthiness of municipalities.

Johnson said voters should return her to office because of the regional and statewide relationships she has built that have been good for Suffolk.

“It’s something I’ve worked hard to do,” she said.

She mentioned the $3 billion transportation package passed by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization earlier this month.

“Relationships are the only way that came to be,” she said. “No one can do any of this alone.”