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April 3, 2007 > City leader shares fond memories

City leader shares fond memories

By Steve Warga

On March 9, Newark Vice-Mayor Susan Johnson resigned her seat on city council to begin a brand new chapter in the story of her life. She shared some of her thoughts and memories with TCV just prior to the March 30 groundbreaking ceremony for a major addition to Newark's Senior Center on the corner of Filbert Street and Enterprise Drive.

TCV: You spent 22 years on the city council. How did you come to run for a seat in the first place?

Johnson: As a single mother of two young kids, I moved to Newark in 1980 to go to work in my family's hair salon. It was right across from what is now the NewPark Mall. That was a rapidly growing area in those days and it was exciting to be a part of it all.

One of the first things I did was to join the Chamber of Commerce. It was pretty small then, but a great group of people, many of whom are still active in the community to this day. I met Dave Smith and George Silliman at that meeting; plus others like Bob Marshall; Bill Fisk. Gosh, it seems like everyone was there! I enjoyed these people and I got more involved in community projects and activities over the next five years.

Then, in 1985, Councilmember Jerry Foster resigned because he was relocating from Newark and the city held a special election. I was encouraged by numerous people to run; I did and was elected.

It was 22 years, to the week, that I held the seat. I was opposed by one or more candidates in every election except in 2003. I'm proud that I had to campaign and win the voters approval in all but one of those election cycles.

TCV: How tough was it deciding to accept your new job at the Hayward Hall of Justice?

Johnson: Really tough! It was a huge decision that involved some long discussions with my family before I took the new job. I didn't want to leave the council, but I simply don't have time to devote to the position that the citizens of Newark deserve from their councilmembers.

TCV: What is it you're doing now?

Johnson: I'm training to be what's called a court attendant, which is similar to the position of bailiff in criminal court. Court attendants only work in civil court and we're not in uniform.

I've loved every minute of it, so far! I'm learning all that's involved in the civil side. That includes family court and traffic court among others. It's fascinating to see what goes on in a trial. I'm a sworn officer of the court and I handle paperwork; help with the details of jury selection; maintain order in the courtroom; and many other things.

TCV: What were your priorities while serving on council?

Johnson: Seeing to public safety was always number one for me. Then I focused on seniors, youth and library issues. Beyond these issues, I was always interested in expanding community services.

I drew a lot of satisfaction from being involved from Day One in things like the Silliman Center. That was something that took years and years of planning and working to make happen and I'm proud of my part in that.

The new Senior Center addition gives me the same sense of satisfaction. Years ago, we started looking at expanding our senior services. And now, this Friday, we're breaking ground for a big, new addition. In fact, I'm taking my first day off from my new job to attend the ceremony.

TCV: What comes to mind when you think of your career on city council?

Johnson: I had 22 of the best years of my life on council. It was a privilege and honor working with so many different citizens on behalf of Newark. It's a great city with great residents and some of the very finest people on its committees, staff and council.

When Mayor Smith talks about the 'Newark way,' it's really true. There's something special about Newark and I wouldn't trade my time there for anything.

They say all good things must come to an end, though. For me, it's been the end of one good thing and the beginning of another. I enjoyed every minute on the council; and now I love every minute of this new aspect of my life in the Hayward courts.

I want to thank the community that allowed me to serve for so many years. And I want to thank my fellow councilmembers too. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

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