PRINCESS ANNE — Princess Anne Commissioner-elect Shelley Johnson will join incumbents Joey Gardner and Lionel Frederick for swearing-in ceremonies 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21 at the Garland Hayward Youth Center which will be followed by the organizational meeting to elect a president and vice president.
Ms. Johnson, a community advocate as far back as her high school days, defeated three challengers in the June 7 election to win the single at-large seat last held by a woman from 2006-10 when Commissioner Tanitta Thomas was in office.
When all ballots were counted including provisional and absentee Ms. Johnson dominated the non-partisan race with 167 votes, with Troy Selby a distant second with 109.
Placing third during his second run for office was Mohamed-Salih Ali Mohamed Salih with 96 votes followed by town newcomer Eugene “Skip” Colborn with 78.
The at-large seat was guaranteed to have a fresh face after two-term incumbent Commissioner Lionel Frederick filed to succeed Commissioner Garland Hayward — who after eight terms was stepping off the board. Mr. Frederick was the overwhelming favorite in the District 2 race with 120 votes compared to 50 for his challenger Rondell Redding, a town police officer.
In District 1, Commissioner Joey Gardner won a fourth term with 112 votes. Challengers Tomasha Blount and Lynnell Fletcher-Pugh trailed with 81 and 71 votes, respectively.
As votes were counted inside the newly-refurbished Election House Ms. Johnson cried tears of joy outside with family, friends and supporters as the numbers first announced in District 1 and then in District 2 were well in her favor. Their combined totals would be insurmountable by the time provisional and finally absentee ballots were counted nearly four hours after the polls closed.
Ms. Johnson’s community spirit started when she was a 4-H’er and part of the county’s first integrated club led by her mother. At Washington High School in the 1990s she advocated for her peers about teen pregnancy, forming Teen Summit which led to an invitation to attend a BET national broadcast on the subject.
Now a mother with three children and two grandchildren, and operating her own daycare, she continues to advocate for the community whether it’s through the non-profit Figi 4 the Kids Inc. which her son Eric founded or raising money for the Rosalyn Leatherbury Scholarship.
Ms. Johnson is the assistant secretary of the Somerset Branch of the NAACP, a member of the Caucus of African American Leaders and secretary on the Somerset County Lynching Memorial and Reconciliation Committee. She also serves on a local board with the Somerset County Health Department with an emphasis on STD prevention.
In 2020 Ms. Johnson and Ms. Blount organized the Our Voices Matter march, and the next year were backers of the first Juneteenth celebration at Manokin River Park — with both women each earning a Citizen Merit Award and later an appointment to the newly-reconstituted park commission.
Ms. Johnson and Ms. Blount campaigned together and while disappointed Ms. Blount wasn’t elected Ms. Johnson said they learned a lot. Gone are the days when everyone knew everyone in town, and Ms. Johnson said they campaigned to introduce themselves and build a relationship with voters.
“I had to get out there and let them know who I was, and what my plans were,” Ms. Johnson said, calling the experience “very positive.”
Campaign goals include the establishment of a youth center for all children, and bringing back youth employment opportunities. As a Prevention Works Coalition advisor she will be in Orlando in July with two local youth so they can attend a leadership conference
Ms. Johnson also advocates for partnerships for safer schools, and making housing more affordable which includes engaging landlords to address the amount of rent they charge. Living on Pecan Drive she had the experience of being a renter for 25 years, never paying less than $1,100 per month since 2008.
Ms. Johnson said it was too soon to say who she would support for president and vice president during the organizational meeting. Currently at-large Commissioner Lionel Frederick is president, and while he correctly predicted his “three-peat” win, albeit as the representative of District 2, continuing as president was not top of mind.
“There are a lot of pressures and responsibilities being president,” he said, satisfied he made the right move to run in District 2 and that during his time in office he has the experience now to lead the town.
“I’m thankful for the win and look forward to bringing my ideas to the Town of Princess Anne,” he said.
Mr. Frederick said he remains motivated and would like to thank all of the voters for their support, crediting Ms. Johnson for her win as well as Ms. Blount for her effort in District 1. The Beechwood Street resident said he loves all people and the diversity in town, which was exhibited during the election, especially the Sudanese community he called “a very special asset.”
While campaigning in the district he learned of the unique interest of its voters. “It was a very emotional campaign,” he said. “It’s a lot more than going to someone’s door and passing out a flyer,” often spending 25 to 30 minutes at a time with as few as one person.
Commissioner Joey Gardner for the fourth time earned the majority vote in District 1 and was excited and happy “and truly honored” to have another term. “I’m also truly humbled,” he said, especially when looking at the vote count in a field of three when before it was either one opponent or in 2014 when he was unopposed.
“I think it was great for the town to have as many interested people to run,” and that got a lot of residents out to vote. “Remember that it’s not all about what we want, but what the people want,” he said.
“I will continue to work hard for everybody,” to make the town better for everyone, he said.
While the Somerset Avenue resident would not commit as to who should be commissioner president, he called it “definitely important” in determining the direction the town takes moving forward.
Election day weather was pleasant and the Election House was back in use for the first time since 2016. As a result several campaigns had their pop-up tents with food and refreshments across Somerset Avenue as candidates and supporters waved to passing motorists.
At the polls assisting Election Board Chair Kendra Hayward, Vice Chair Donald Sigrist and members Warner Sumpter and Tyboia Brown with the counting was Kristen Boston, a prosecutor with Ms. Hayward in the State’s Attorney’s Office and herself an at-large candidate in 2018.
No one filed to run as a write-in after the original filing deadline, Ms. Hayward said.
Commissioners Orlondo Taylor, District 1, and Marshall Corbin, District 2, elected in 2020, do not face the voters until 2024. Mr. Taylor is currently a Democratic candidate for County Commissioner in District 3, and Commissioner-elect Johnson is a candidate for the non-partisan District 1 Board of Education seat.