Smyrna’s new mayor sees bright future for the town

SMYRNA — What’s to like about Smyrna’s new mayor and his hometown?

Actually what’s not to like?

“I love the small town feel here, I love the friendliness, I love the way people always seem to get along,” Robert C. “Bob” Johnson said this week.

Mr. Johnson who’s “66 and proud of it” relishes personal relationships and sees guiding the rapidly expanding northern Kent County town as a collaborative effort.

“Being a leader is all about communicating, being a great listener and being willing to take into account other people’s opinions,” he said.

The open-mindedness comes from his mother Elva, a staunch Republican “who instilled in me to always vote or elect someone you believe in and sometimes you have to cross party lines to choose the best person.”

Short-term, developing the KRM Business Park north of Duck Creek Parkway and establishing a Farmer’s Market on the Route 300 commercial strip are a must for the mayor. Rennovating the Boys and Girls Club is a priority, he said, and maintaining low taxes for all.

He laughs at the thought of bringing a Cracker Barrel to town to suite his own tastes, and believes more businesses are on the way.

“If you have a good product, folks will come from a long way to visit,” he said.

Mr. Johnson said he’ll maintain his State of Delaware accountant’s job too because “I still enjoy it, I’m very active.”

Mayor Johnson was sworn into office earlier this month.

Campaign manager Charlotte Middleton orchestrataed an energetic campaign that included knocking on doors, videos, mailers and photo shoots. The contacts resulted in a landslide win after a 13-hour election day.

“He wanted this, he really did,” she said. “I motivated him to take the responsibility of being the mayor to address the needs of his town,” Ms. Middleton said.

“In Smyrna a people to people connection is quite important — he was born there and knows a whole lot of people. He’s a good person with a good heart and they know that.”

Mr. Johnson won’t speak on it unless asked, but he was one of the greatest athletes in Smyrna High’s history. His junior and senior years included multiple state track and field championships in jumps and hurdles, a 1,000 point plus basketball career and second-team all-state honor and summertime baseball pitching prowess that earned a scholarship to Delaware State University. On that, he acknowledges all the coaches who helped him along the way.

What everyone says
There’s a uniform description for Mr. Johnson among long-term friends.
“One of the things they’ll like the most is that he’s very approachable and a good listener who will build a consensus and address issues that the townspeople face today,” former Delaware State University teammate Gary Foreman.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Foreman were the best man at each other’s wedding and worked together in the City of Wilmington’s finance department during a trying time when every penny or lack thereof was scruitinized.

“I landed as Wilmington’s Finance Director of Finance and then hired Bob as a Senior Accountant,” Mr. Foreman said.

I couldn’t have made a better move. He was the glue for a lot of difficult changes that were going on.

“He was one of those individuals who knew all the players, was knowledgeable and had to people skills to connect with everyone involved.

If he had an objective or goal he would accomplish it and then share the process and results in an open setting.”

Also a finance director, Ron Morris offered a similar review of his time with Mr. Johnson, the impact that continues today.

“I’m pretty proud of him because not only is he in his town he remains on boards helping out Wilmington as well,” Mr. Morris said.

“He isn’t a Johnny-come-lately, he’s been here a long time and knows a lot of people, which has allowed him to evolve as the top leader in a municipal government working for the benefit of its residents,” Mr. Morris said.

Wilmington’s immense loss was Smyrna’s huge gain when Mr. Johnson left to return home.

“I predicted long ago that Bob would end up in politics when he returned to his hometown,” Mr. Foreman said. “It was just natural that someone would recruit him into public service.

“When you live somewhere people are always looking for good people and that’s what Bob is.

“He calls me his older brother and I say I couldn’t be prouder of my younger brother.”

Smyrna’s population of just over 11,000 has grown steadily as have commercial interests adjusting the vibe within town limits.

“He is someone who will work hard in representing Smyrna and its needs,” Mr. Morris said. “Smyrna isn’t the same little town it used to be and guiding it now is more complex that it once was.

“When I drive through it now there’s a noticeable change in the number of businesses and people and being the top elected official requires a certain version to manage that continued growth.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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