“Our city is stronger now today than at any other time in its 290 year history.”
Those were Mayor Van Johnson’s words six days before Election Day during his annual State of the City address on Nov. 1, 2023. Two days later, Savannah’s 67th mayor spoke to Connect Savannah about his first term, his message to voters, his campaign contributions and his opponent on Nov. 7, Kesha Gibson-Carter.
“I take nothing for granted,” said Johnson during a recent phone call with Connect Savannah. “So until I win, I’m losing.”
Johnson and Gibson-Carter are the front-runner candidates in the race for Savannah's mayor, and the two have been in showdowns plenty of times before in the roles of mayor and alderwoman. Still, when asked if anything about this campaign has surprised him compared to his first mayoral campaign four years ago, Johnson did not hesitate.
“The absolute incivility in this campaign cycle. That’s something we haven’t seen before,” he said in reference to Gibson-Carter’s passionate criticisms of his administration. “It’s one thing to disagree about the issues. It’s something different to be personal about it. Unfortunately, it has been reduced to very juvenile, personal attacks.”
Having the inherent advantage of being an incumbent, Johnson also has a drastic edge when it comes to fundraising. That’s something Gibson-Carter has not been shy about bringing up.
“When you look at the campaign contributions of Mayor Johnson, two-thirds of those are coming from people who live outside Savannah,” Gibson-Carter said during a recent phone call with Connect Savannah. “So that should tell you that if people outside Savannah have that much of a vested interest in keeping someone in office who has a track record of not delivering for Savannahians, but delivering for people who don’t live here, those people are making a down payment on what they want from Savannah.”
Her “two-thirds” allegation has not been verified, but the disparity in campaign contributions to date is easy to see in the two candidates’ Campaign Contributions Disclosure Reports submitted on Nov. 1. Gibson-Carter’s report states $15,372.88 in total contributions while Johnson’s form shows $605,235.28.
Some donors of Johnson, 55, include Stacey Abrams from Atlanta, IBEW PAC Educational Fund and Health Jobs Justice in Washington D.C., and Southern State PBA PAC Fund in McDonough. Johnson, when asked, said the sharp difference in the two numbers can be explained.
“I report all of my contributions because I follow the rules,” he said. “I don’t believe that is the case for every candidate in this race.”
If voters re-elect Johnson as Savannah's next mayor, he intends to build on the work they've already done. "We want to continue the things we've done to be, in my mind, one of the most community-based city councils in recent memory. But we want to supercharge those things too. We have the resources in place to do that. Things like paying city employees more and addressing issues of crime in our community."
"We have to make sure we are protecting our residential community while growing, smartly, our business community."
Johnson says he’ll be “all over the city” on Election Day before hosting an event Tuesday evening at the Odyssey 2.0 Restaurant & Lounge on Fairmont Avenue.Visit his campaign’s website at www.WeAreSavannahStrong.com and follow him on social media, @MayorJohnsonSAV.