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County mayor's race gets off to a grand start

• Nov 19, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Joe Grandy kicked off his bid for mayor of Washington County in grand fashion last week by speaking to a crowd of the “usual suspects” at the Jonesborough Visitors Center. By usual suspects, I am referring to the same party leaders, elected officials and community activists you often find at a campaign kickoff for a candidate who is considered to be the front runner.

I mean no disrespect in using that term. It’s generally a good sign for a candidate if he or she can assemble such a diverse group in a single room. It also doesn’t necessarily mean everyone in that room Tuesday will be donating their time and money to the Grandy campaign. A few might find another candidate to back. It happens.

More than a few of Grandy’s colleagues on the Washington County Commission were in attendance for his announcement. So were a former state lawmaker, a current Johnson City commissioner and (by my accounting) three former city commissioners. Not a shabby crowd at all.

In fact, Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable mentioned the size and pedigree of the audience when he officially introduced Grandy.

“Joe, standing room only,” Venable said.”I never had one of these.”

Earlier, when I asked Venable if he would seek re-election next year, he borrowed a line from the late Congressman Jimmy Quillen.

”I have no plans not to run,” he told me.

Venable’s introduction signaled much of the tone of Grandy’s announcement speech. He spoke of Grandy’s leadership and financial stewardship, and noted he looked forward to continuing the economic partnership that Sullivan and Washington counties have enjoyed during Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge’s two terms in office.

Friday was the first day that candidates for county offices could pick up qualifying papers to run in the May 1 Republican Primary, so I would not be surprised if Grandy has some company in the GOP race for mayor. I’ve heard a number of names being bandied about, with Johnson City Mayor David Tomita being the most interesting. Tomita, who did double duty as a city commissioner and county commissioner before resigning from the latter when he became mayor, is up for re-election next year.

Will he seek a another term on the City Commission, or will he give a bid for county mayor a try? The city election will be held on Nov. 6. The general election for county offices is Aug. 2, so conceivably he could give re-election a shot if he comes up short in the county mayor’s race.

There’s also talk that former County Commissioner Mark Ferguson is planning to run for county mayor. The Jonesborough politician would add an intriguing element to the race. As I noted, Grandy has surrounded himself with traditionally mainstream GOP hierarchy in Washington County. Ferguson, on the other hand, would likely be embraced by the growing “outsider” wing of the party, which is made up of staunch supporters of President Trump and conservatives who identify with the Tea Party.

That would make for a Republican Primary that could set the direction of the county party for decades to come.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.


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