Exclusive: How Lorraine Cochran-Johnson Can Make History As First Black Woman To Be Elected DeKalb CEO

Lorraine Cochran-Johnson’s desire to provoke change has led her to the cusp of making history. If elected on June 18, Cochran-Johnson will become the first Black woman to serve as DeKalb CEO. Residents of DeKalb County will begin early voting for the primary run-off election today.

However, Cochran-Johnson’s journey into politics was not linear. She was once a leading figure in Atlanta media, working at publications such as Creative Loafing and serving as general manager of Atlanta Daily World.

But after being impacted personally by crime, she knew that it was time for a change.

“It was in 2018, I can remember I was late for the paper that day,” Cochran-Johnson said during an exclusive interview with ADW. “My car had been stolen just yards from in front of my home. And for people who are familiar with DeKalb County, I live in what is considered a premier community. We’ve been featured with Henry Louis Gates because the community is a symbol of wealth. And also I’ll say StoneCrest, Georgia is the largest pocket of African American wealth in the United States, second only to Prince George’s County, Maryland. So that day, it was just startling for me to feel so violated and to realize that it doesn’t matter where you live, you can face adverse situations.”

Cochran-Johnson would use the incident as motivation to help solve the issues within her community. In 2018, she was elected District 7 Commissioner of DeKalb County.

“Politics is about service,” Cochran-Johnson said. “And we only choose from those who present themselves. I believe that it is time we have very conscientious leaders, people who care more about people than politics that lead our communities. So when I entered the race, I had not been under the tutelage of anyone. I was not a part of the machine. Because often in politics, there is a machine. There is an anointing of sorts. Some people are carried through the ranks. And I didn’t have any of that. I was just really concerned by what I saw. I begin to realize the power of those who make the decisions on the local level. And the victory was great. I am a living testimony that one does not have to come from the establishment. But if you take your message to people and you are sincere in doing so, then you can be successful without having the machine behind you. Support is great, but at the end of the day, endorsements don’t win races votes do.”

Cochran-Johnson being elected DeKalb CEO would be an historical moment, but the work begins from day one. There are several pressing issues that will need to be addressed, including the need to confront the infrastructure issues of water and sewage.

“Across the United States, most of our interstate highways were constructed during the 1960s, that was a time of a lot of growth,” Cochran-Johnson said. “So in many instances, that’s when our infrastructure was built out. What you find is most elected officials concern themselves more with what you can see than what you cannot. So it’s convenient not to deal with replacing and expanding infrastructure such as water pipes and sewage. One of the things that we are dealing with indicates that we are under a consent decree. It requires us to remediate our infrastructure because 40 years of growth in DeKalb County did not have a capital improvement plan. I’ve served as chair of Public Works and Infrastructure for the past three years. And I’m very happy to say that I’ve allocated over $1.4 billion in that space, and that is the highest dollar amount ever awarded by a sitting commissioner in the history of DeKalb. County. So as DeKalb CEO, it’s my responsibility to ensure that we meet that agreement. I’m very excited to say that currently because of President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act, there’s an unprecedented amount of funds out there. And the federal government as well as state recognizes the need to invest in local infrastructure. So we’re gonna keep doing what we’ve been doing and make sure we meet the guidelines so that we don’t have a water crisis indicator.”

Cochran-Johnson understands the significance of the moment and wants her record to speak for itself.

“I’ve saved DeKalb County taxpayers $92 million, using mandatory audits of contracts, so I say to people that when it comes to voting, we’re not all the same,” Cochran-Johnson said. “The worst thing a person can do is show up and touch the screen. You truly need to know the candidates because of voting has consequences, and those consequences manifest in our community. So I’m urging everyone to go to the polls and vote because this race for the county in particular is critical because we’re really at a crossroads. When we sit here and talk about the conditions that we see in South DeKalb and what North DeKalb looks like, we need a leader who has the capacity to change what we see and who has the vision to do it. I’m very thankful to have incredible relationships. Through Operation Hope and John Hope Bryant, we have issued over $22 million dollars in First Time Home Loans, and we provide 100% downpayment assistance up to a quarter million dollars so that we create home ownership. Because I understand that 80% of the average African Americans wealth is directly linked to homeownership. So when we don’t own homes, we have no wealth. And in order for us to create the communities that we know are possible, it’s time that we own more. It’s time that we do more. So we ask voters to really look at the record. And at the end of the day, sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.”

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