Openly gay may­oral can­di­date run­ning in South Ful­ton

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

One of the first things you no­tice when you talk to Rafer John­son is that he loves South Ful­ton and he wants ev­ery­one to know it.

“I’ve lived here since 2001. I built my first house here,” he said. “For me, it’s about hav­ing pride in our city. I want our kids and our res­i­dents to say they’re proud to be from South Ful­ton, not that they live near At­lanta or Col­lege Park.”

John­son, who is openly gay, is run­ning to be the in­au­gu­ral mayor in the newly char­tered city of South Ful­ton af­ter los­ing a bid last year for the Ge­or­gia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He’s worked for more than 30 years in busi­ness, served as chair of Ful­ton County’s Hous­ing Au­thor­ity dur­ing the Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina dis­as­ter and was chair of South Ful­ton NOW, the coali­tion ded­i­cated to es­tab­lish­ing South Ful­ton as a city.

John­son said he has no shame in his sex­u­al­ity and it has helped equip him to serve in this role. He has marched in the At­lanta Pride pa­rade and is mar­ried to Kelly John­son, who serves on the board of di­rec­tors for Ge­or­gia Equal­ity.

“We’ve faced a lot of ad­ver­sity as gay peo­ple,” he said. “I know what it feels like to have chal­lenges, up­hill bat­tles and have peo­ple count you out. I’m sure there’s go­ing to be bumps in the road, and I’m not go­ing to be eas­ily shaken. We’re a new city and there’s peo­ple ques­tion­ing if we can even do this.”

If elected, John­son would be the only openly gay mayor in Ge­or­gia, and though be­ing gay is a part of his life, he doesn’t want it to de­fine him.

“I’m a can­di­date who hap­pens to be gay, I’m not the gay can­di­date,” he said.

‘We’re set up for suc­cess’

South Ful­ton was char­tered last month with 59 per­cent of cit­i­zens in the area ap­prov­ing the char­ter. The lat­est cen­sus re­ports ap­prox­i­mately 87,000 peo­ple live in the city, but John­son said the num­ber is around 125,000 now due to rapid growth in the area.

De­cem­ber 9, 2016

All cities face chal­lenges when elect­ing new of­fi­cials and South Ful­ton is no dif­fer­ent. Though they’re in a great start­ing place, he said.

“We’ve been op­er­at­ing on our own as un­in­cor­po­rated South Ful­ton and have our own bud­get,” he said. “So we don’t have to start from scratch, but we do have new peo­ple. We have a two-year tran­si­tion pe­riod ahead of us, but we have to take our time. That’s why I wanted to step up. I want to make sure that we ap­ply the sur­plus that Ge­or­gia projects for us, up to $17 mil­lion. We want to take our time and make sure we spend our money right.”

With the sur­plus, a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and a pas­sion for his city, John­son said there’s a wealth of op­por­tu­nity.

“It’s about vi­sion for the fu­ture,” he said. “I be­lieve that the first mayor and city coun­cil have to be ones that are vi­sion­ary, en­er­getic and ac­ces­si­ble to the peo­ple. We’re not fac­ing chal­lenges that other cities face. We don’t have those.

“We’re walk­ing in with a sur­plus of $17 mil­lion and have lots of un­de­vel­oped land. We’re right next to the air­port and have rail run­ning right through our city. We’re set up for suc­cess. It’s about hav­ing the right lead­er­ship to take us to the next level.”

Elec­tion will be held next March

Some of the big­ger con­cerns fac­ing South Ful­ton are taxes and es­tab­lish­ing their own po­lice and fire pro­tec­tions. The city has been un­der the um­brella of Ful­ton County’s po­lice and fire de­part­ments.

“We’ve had good peo­ple in our area,” he said. “But out of the seven peo­ple mak­ing de­ci­sions, only one lives in our area. The dif­fer­ence is now, we’d have to­tal con­trol. All of the of­fi­cials would be com­ing from our district. They’re peo­ple who live here, eat here, shop here and send their kids to school here.”

As for taxes, John­son fre­quently re­peats a phrase that best sums up his stance: hold the line.

“I’ll def­i­nitely hold the line on that,” he said. “I don’t want to see our taxes raised un­less it’s re­lated to our prop­erty val­ues go­ing up. There’s no need to raise our taxes at this point at all. I want to de­velop more busi­nesses in the com­mu­nity, so we can sup­ple­ment what we have al­ready.”

The elec­tion will be held March 21 and the new ad­min­is­tra­tion will take over May 1. Un­til then, Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will es­tab­lish a five-per­son com­mis­sion to help es­tab­lish the city.

John­son touts his ac­ces­si­bil­ity as some­thing he’s in­cred­i­bly proud of and some­thing he ex­pects in who­ever is elected mayor. He’s es­tab­lished a voter hot­line for cit­i­zens in the area to call to have di­rect ac­cess to him.

“I’m invit­ing res­i­dents to call with their hopes, dreams, con­cerns, fears and ques­tions,” he said. “Any­thing they want to know, I’ll be there.”

John­son pointed to his ex­pe­ri­ence and love for the city as why he’s the best can­di­date.

“I want peo­ple to know that I come to the table with lots of ex­pe­ri­ence and I come from the com­mu­nity,” he said. “I’ve been here since 2001 and I’m go­ing to be here. Some­one asked me the other day, ‘How do we know you’re go­ing to be here?’ And I joked, ‘I just put in a sprin­kler sys­tem.’”

By KALEB CAUSEY

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