By Barrett Baker
Mayor, City of Suffolk
Linda Johnson chuckles when asked what initially stoked her political aspirations. The truth of the matter is she never expected to be in politics at all. In fact, she was a teacher when she first got out of school and eventually began a career in real estate. She is currently with Berkshire Hathaway Towne Realty and has been a member of the Board of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors since 1986. She was originally appointed to be Suffolk’s first female mayor on July 5, 2006 after representing the Sleepy Hole Borough for two terms. Johnson became Suffolk’s first directly elected mayor on January 5, 2009, was re-elected for a second term in 2012, and a third term in 2016.
Johnson started in real estate because she wanted to do something that was on “fair ground” when it came to doing something that women could do as well as men and be rewarded for exactly what you did. It was that kind of forward thinking that eventually got her appointed to the Office of the Mayor. “In 2000, the Sleepy Hole Borough representative, who was the only woman on the City Council at the time, decided that she was going to step down,” says Johnson. “I somehow got on a committee that met for breakfast once a week to find someone to run in her place. We asked a number of people to run, including my husband, but for whatever reason, no one chose to do that. One morning while we were meeting for breakfast someone said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’ And I said, ‘I really hadn’t thought about it, but maybe I will.’ That’s truly how I got into politics.”
After being appointed to her first term and re-elected three times since, it’s safe to say that Johnson’s involvement as mayor is more than just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. “I am very, very proud of the position of where our city is today,” Johnson says. “We now have two AAA ratings for financial strength, and we’re working hard toward our third one. I’m also proud of where we’re going with the city. We’re growing, our economic development is coming together, and all of the pieces are working together. The other thing I’m really proud of is our regional transportation initiative. I’ve been the chair for the Transportation Planning Organization for two years, and we’ve done some very significant things together as a team. Oftentimes I think the cities of Hampton Roads are accused of not working well together, but I personally don’t see that. I think we’re all working very well together.”
Photo by Jim Pile
As a woman, Johnson has had her share of obstacles along the way. But she has created an attitude that is undeniably someone to reckon with. “A lot of times in life, some people are just not ready for women to be in a position of power, and I learned that early on. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Why do you think a woman should be in that position?’ and I reply, ‘Why not?’ So, I know that sometimes I have to think about how I’m going to approach something because men and women approach things differently. But I think that’s the case with all people when it comes to different personalities and different ways of doing things. We all just have to learn how to work with one another. I really don’t stop to think that much of myself as a woman. I just hope that I’m doing the best job I can do and that I can prove myself as an individual and a human being. Being a woman is certainly part of it, and I’m proud of that, but I think we don’t need to let it hamper us in any way or make us feel that we’re different. You just have to open your eyes and seize opportunities when they come your way.”