Politics wasn’t on Gail Johnson’s radar until the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The 40-year-old single mother said after President Donald Trump was elected, she felt personally threatened by his agenda so she decided to work against it through local government. After serving on the Mayor’s Citizens Advisory Board for Big Ideas and the Gainesville For All jobs and families committee in 2017, Johnson is running for the City Commission at-large seat.
As the owner of a catering business called delicious.delivered, Johnson hopes her perspective as a woman of color and working mother will move Gainesville forward.
“I don’t have the luxury of not being tenacious in my life,” she said. “Usually, if you’re a woman and a woman of color, you need to work four times as hard to get twice as far.”
Johnson, who graduated from UF with a degree in English in 2007, is passionate about economic inequality, which includes disparities in broadband internet access and housing. If elected, she said she will work to implement inclusionary zoning, an affordable housing tool that sets aside a percentage of future residential developments for low-income families.
City Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and Harvey Ward endorsed Johnson over their colleague running for re-election, Harvey Budd.
“I think she’s a brilliant person, a self-made entrepreneur, a single mom,” Ward said. “She represents things that we just don’t have on the commission right now.”
Growing up on the east side of Gainesville, Johnson was aware of the racial and economic inequity her neighborhood faced. Her grandfather helped implement single-member districts to increase African American representation in city government and county-wide observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Gainesville’s schools and neighborhoods still face the same segregation Johnson saw as a teenager at Eastside High School. But she said she wants her 8-year-old daughter Zora to grow up in a city where everyone has the same opportunities to succeed.
Johnson was convicted for driving under the influence and property damage in 2007 and was sentenced to one year probation and 100 hours of community service, according to court records. She said she takes full responsibility for her actions and is glad nobody was hurt.
“I have learned from past mistakes, and now I’m focused on being the best mother I can be,” she said.
Nkwanda Jah, the executive director of the Cultural Arts Coalition, met Johnson more than 35 years ago while doing activism work with Johnson’s grandparents. She said leadership runs in Johnson’s family.
“Gail would definitely make history,” Jah said.