When President Trump stepped on to the tarmac after Air Force One landed at Tyndall Air Force Base last week, he greeted with a handshake Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson and a group of Panhandle mayors, Cong. Dunn, U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott, Gov. DeSantis and his wife, and other officials.
Next, the president toured the base, he and his entourage in a limo, Johnson and the rest of the politicians on a bus in the convoy.
Lastly, it was time for a short briefing on Hurricane Michael from Air Force personnel, a chance for the politicians to talk amongst themselves, and then of course photos, with Mr. Trump, front and center, flipping a thumbs-up before heading off to a massively popular rally in Panama City Beach.
“I’m grateful to God and humbled by the opportunity presented today to lend the voice of my office to the cause of helping Northwest Florida communities impacted by Hurricane Michael receive much needed federal financial assistance,” Johnson wrote online, part of an internet presence he has expanded and polished over the last several years
“We had an opportunity to converse with a very engaged president concerning the needs of Northwest Florida,” he wrote.
Johnson, the son of civil rights pioneers in a small Panhandle town in the years before it became a magnet for retirees, has cultivated a non-partisan political persona in his dozen years as mayor, accommodating and supportive of Democrats and Republicans alike.
He also, like Trump, has a healthy chunk of detractors to go along with his robust set of supporters, although they probably didn’t talk about the tribulations of their offices.
“Who would have ever thought that an African-American boy, born and raised in a small obscure coastal community like Apalachicola,” he wrote, listing his many interactions with state and national leaders, “(would) meet with a sitting U.S. president, all while remaining humble before his God?
“God is indeed Good and with Him all things are possible,” Johnson wrote.
The mayor had just returned from a trip to Mississippi, paid for by Gulf Power and organized by Opportunity Florida, to see how recovery from Hurricane Katrina had gone there, and in a portion of Alabama where they visited.
He said he saw how they rebuilt a Chevron refinery, and shipbuilding yard in Pascagoula, Mississippi and said he is confident, once appropriations are forthcoming from the federal government, the Panhandle will be able to rebound from Hurricane Michael.
“The things we talked about, is how they got appropriations through, with the disaster bill after Katrina,” he said. “They were able to get grants through CDBG (Community Development Blocks Grants) and rebuild Mississippi.
“When I got the call from the White House, I thought ‘his is one of the reasons I’m in Mississippi,’ said Johnson.