Johnson said her study of the city budget was the major force that motivated her to run for office, "I was really, really annoyed with the spending in our town." She expressed her disappointment that politicians do not lead the city by example. She cited the mayor's salary as a prime example, saying that if elected, she would immediately cut the mayor's salary by $35,000 per year. [Note: when I first published this, I incorrectly said it would be cut to $35k]
She had not carefully analyzed the budget for the fiscal year which started July 1st of this year, but mentioned several areas in last year's budget that she felt could have been cut. In so doing, she weighed in on some of the controversial issues that Mayor and the Common Council have grappled with this year. She felt that the city's transportation costs were excessive, saying that the decision about providing cars to city employees should be based on who needs a car, and not based on who wants a car. Johnson also questioned spending $42,000 on city cell phones, and $1.35M on overtime.
Johnson feels that the Council was premature in spending money from the sale of the Remington Rand property last year and Cucia Park this year, in both cases before the money was received, "I was always raised that you don't count your chickens before they hatched, to me it's not good business sense."
Johnson returned again and again to the theme that city government needed to get more, and more varied, input from residents. She expressed her admiration for the surveys that Planning and Zoning Commissioners are doing, saying these surveys provided a constant flow of information into government. She also lauded the newsletters that the Water department includes with their billing statements, "Other departments [at City Hall] should do that." She called on City Hall to provide more varied hours of operation, trading day-time hours of operation for occasional night or weekend hours to make it easier for people working odd shifts to participate in governance.
Johnson's vision for the city is to draw more variety in businesses. She pointed out that seniors have no place to shop, and that there are minimal opportunities to buy such things as clothing on Main Street. She pointed to Newfield Street as a potential location where car lots could be replaced by big businesses such as Borders Books. She decried the lack of planning that has gone into recent decisions, "How many drug stores do we need in a 3 mile vicinity, were there any other options?"
Johnson's platform includes numerous initiatives for the environment, including taking City Hall and all the schools off of the electric grid, improving Mass Transit (including a trolley line to Hartford), and building more bicycle routes. She has not provided any figures on the costs and benefits of her proposals, but seems convinced that they would not only make environmental but also economic sense.
Johnson is new to Middletown politics, having spent no time on any boards or commissions, and with no close connections to the long-time elected officials in the City. Her response to my questions about her lack of background in municipal governance was a question, "Define experience." She wants people with a different background in political office, "We need common sense."
Although she initially sought to run as an independent, she is now running as a member of a new political party known as the Realistic Balance Party. She gave no consideration to going through one of the major political parties, saying, "I don't like being pigeonholed into one philosophy. We can't continue to stick to parties."
Note: Rae Johnson will be a guest on this week's Eye on the Air show, Friday from 1-2 on WESU, 88.1 FM.