Before I began interviewing him, Mr. Johnson asked for an excuse to return a phone call.
Apparently, a campaign aide had sent an email to him for proof reading before its publication. He went through the email line by line, refining sentence construction and suggesting synonyms that were more apropos. I could tell by the way he offered alternatives that he was not only leading but had taken the opportunity to teach, as well. It’s a juxtaposition that is relatively incongruent in politics, yet Mr. Johnson made that connection seamlessly; with a comfortable ease that foretold that he was in a space that he had the prerequisite acumen for; that he was not just running because he met the baseline qualifications to be candidate.
As he went through the syntax and calibrated the vocabulary, I smiled. He is Guyanese born and raised and we actually attended the same preparatory school. I could hear the signature of those indelible lessons coming through.
By the time he turned back to me and asked if I was ready, I had a reasonable anticipation of engaging a person who was well past the rudimentary questions, who was well past the stock answers, so I went right in to what I perceived was his comfort zone – asking him what he thought he could bring to Fulton County, Georgia with its, approximately, million in population, overabundance of depressed areas and living complexes that are hatcheries for social problems, partly because leasing agents are more concerned with income by filling apartments with any applicant, than they are with the quality of the living environment.
An eclectic background could be nothing less than an advantage and in Rafer Johnson’s case it showed. As former chair of the Fulton County Housing Authority and as overseer of the relocation of hundreds of Hurricane Katrina victims to his district, Rafer knows how germane adequate housing and community intermingling is to family stability and the promotion of higher social standards. So, he sees a revolutionary alternative to the swarming apartment complexes that sit so close to prime property in cities like East Point Georgia which houses the Atlanta Hartsfield International – the busiest Airport in the country and on a grander scale, in the world.
Rafer looks back at when the surrounding housing complexes, now magnets for antisocial behavior and extensive police activity, used to be housing for flight attendants, pilots and other Airport personnel because they sit just about ten minutes from the job site. He feels a different model of housing would restore the primary purpose of these units – that of housing people and families who will take pride in their surroundings.
As a forward thinker, his vision is to create a different living construct in which the complexes will have a combination of single family homes and apartments, with centralized parking to optimize the use of space and to, exponentially, improve aesthetics. There could even be some small stores, possibly a café, all in keeping with his community mantra of “live, work, play”. And there is an outcome to this module that is priceless. The benefit of integrating low income residents into communities where people work and take pride in their surroundings could promote the change of ethic by osmosis – where people emulate the good they see as against the stagnation they wallow in, when there is no next -door example to imitate.
In addition, these housing complexes are in such prime locations that Johnson sees even past the accommodation of local residents. He sees it as a respite point for corporate representatives who, way too often, spend more time sitting in Atlanta traffic than they do in the board rooms of the meetings they take flights to Hartsfield – Jackson Atlanta Airport to attend. What if they deplaned at Hartsfield, drove no more than ten minutes to their meeting or event locations, which would be right where these troubled complexes sit? It is a vision that has solid socioeconomic benefit to it and comes from a knowledge base that includes his employment at Delta Airlines which has just invested 6 billion dollars into airport expansion in the county he wants to lead, with a pledge of 4 billion to follow. He appreciates the potential viability of the area from several angles – as a resident, as an airline employee and as a visionary with practical ideas to improve the economy of the district.
He sees a revitalization in the Camp Creek Market Place as salient to the development of the East Point area, especially since it is the closest shopping center to the Airport and the nearest place for those overnight travelers to shop. His vision is to improve the connectivity of the store layout by bringing stores closer to each other to reduce walking distance from one store to the next, while relocating parking lots to the rear, making the stores the location’s centerpiece. For him, there is untapped economic viability here and he will court businesses like Whole Foods which tend to be located in more traditional locations like down-town Atlanta, by showing the earning potential businesses situated closer to the international airport have.
Rafer realizes that these are big visions that may take several years to come to fruition but notes that the process could only be started if a proponent for this level of progress is elected to start pushing this agenda of change and growth.
And Mr. Johnson’s visions are not confined to the development of real property. He is a leader for his District’s #Something Greater initiative – a movement about people who believe in progress, responsive elected officials, and solutions to lead them forward. This means he is just as ready to address the assembly line school systems which gratuitously award grades to retain funding, as he is to address community policing that profiles and singles out specific demographics. As a leader of twenty thousand of his colleagues at Delta Airlines Incorporated, he understands the mechanics of negotiations and the methods to effect motivation – both tools critical to successful outcomes, when representing the electorate.
His message to his constituents is simple…..vote. It is the singular way to effect change. And for those constituents who are eligible for citizenship but retain green cards because they feel American citizenship will betray their loyalty to their countries of origin, he wants to tell them that they can never be denied the birthright of where they were born and while they are here, to be a part making life better for them and their offspring, voting is not a choice but an imperative and that requires them to trade in their green cards, their alien status, for American citizenship.
With a resume that details comprehensive experience in both private and public sectors, management of billions in assets and an enviable variety of leadership positions and features in reputable media, Rafer Johnson brings a gravitas to the candidacy that can only be outdone, only be bested, if used at the State Representative level.
With his vision for District 62, Fulton County could be moving well past reform.
It could be in for an economically significant transformation.
Visit Rafer Johnson’s web site to read more about who he is and what he stands for.
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