Savannah mayor reflects on trying first year in office

Updated: Feb. 8, 2021 at 1:02 AM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A little more than a year ago, long-time alderman Van Johnson was sworn in as the 67th Mayor of the City of Savannah.

He has led the city through an historic time. This pandemic has destroyed families, businesses and more and forced the mayor and council to make some very tough decisions. But through it all, Johnson said he’s grateful.

“In spite of tremendous loss, tremendous pain, tremendous suffering, Savannah’s still here. We’re bloodied, but we’re not bowed and we continue to be a blessed city,” explained Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.

He went on to say this year has been “game-changing, uncertain, everyday was something different. It was balancing the needs of our citizens and our businesses with the need to be safe, with the need for our children to be able to go to schools that are safe. To make sure that our economy remained stable and then to protect our greatest asset, which are our employees, to make sure they were safe as well.”

As you know, Mayor Van Johnson takes COVID-19 very seriously. “I have lost family members, friends, people I know. Our community has lost so much. I go hard in the paint for my city. That’s just been my thought process myself and then with the city council, we’re going to do what it takes to protect our city. And that means that we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions. Decisions people did not necessarily like. I think decisions in the full analysis that really helped to protect our community,” said Johnson

Mayor Johnson had to make some tough decisions, including canceling the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and implementing a mask mandate. He also put restrictions on businesses before Georgia Governor Brian Kemp made a move. That put them at odds for a moment.

“It has always been about the same thing. It’s an act of faith, but it’s also following the science. And I’ve said that throughout. If we keep the faith then we’re going to get through this. We don’t know how and we don’t know when. It has been as simple as wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance,” said Johnson.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, Johnson says he sees more people wearing masks because they understand it’s the best way to stop the virus from spreading. But he thinks even more people would wear those masks in public if he had help from the governor.

“We need to insist that our businesses care about their employees and care about their customers to insist on mask-wearing,” said Johnson. “Which is why I have continuously called on Governor Kemp to require a mask in private facilities. I don’t think that is a hard deal to make. He’s already said that he strongly recommends masks. I’m just asking for him to mandate it. This type of bipolar activity confuses people because in the public space they are requiring masks and in the private spaces it’s up to people to decide one way or another. This is not the time for politics.”

Residents have been anxiously awaiting the vaccine, but the distribution process has not been as smooth as we had hoped.

“I’m not one to point fingers. I’m one to help provide solutions,” said Johnson. “Whatever resources the City of Savannah has, be it physical or be it personnel, we’re offering it.”

As tourism season gears up, Johnson says the city and the business community are ready for the crowds.

“People have enjoyed still coming to Savannah and many of our businesses have found very safe ways to be able to accommodate them,” said Johnson. “I am greatly appreciative of that. We know more people will come and we are just saying to respect our city. Respect our employees in the hospitality industry and respect our fellow Savannahians. Wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. Enjoy yourself. Eat, drink and be merry and buy up a lot of stuff!”

The mayor couldn’t stop talking about how proud he is of residents as they have come together during this pandemic helping families who have lost their jobs through food drives, donations to charities and making masks. He says it doesn’t surprise him though since Savannah is the “mother city” of Georgia. He says residents are acting like the mother by caring‚ nurturing and loving people in need. He says Savannah’s love makes Savannah strong.

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