Dara Johnson, the only Democrat who filed to replace Kokomo Common Councilman Steve Whikehart following his resignation in May, is set to be chosen for the at-large seat by precinct committee members during a caucus tonight at the party's downtown headquarters.
Candidates had until Saturday night to file with Howard County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Skiles for a shot at Whikehart’s seat. Party officials confirmed to the Tribune that Johnson was the only candidate to file.
Johnson is director of financial aid at Indiana University Kokomo and was born and raised in Kokomo.
She said she was always encouraged while growing up to give back to the community and has been involved with the city’s Human Rights Commission, along with the Kokomo Housing Authority, Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and Indiana Black Expo.
“I feel like this is the next natural step to give back to the community,” said Johnson.
Johnson is also secretary of the Howard County Democratic Party. She said she talked to Whikehart about potentially replacing him when he announced his resignation. Whikehart encouraged her to run, she said, as well as others from the party.
Since this is her first experience in a political office, Johnson said she will do a lot of listening and learning from other council members.
“This is my trial run to see if I’m made for politics,” she noted. “I’m just going to get my feet wet and see what happens.”
Her role as Whikehart’s replacement will last only through the remainder of 2019. The council's three at-large seats will then be filled in January by the winners of November's general election.
Those at-large seats will play a prominent role in the fall municipal election, with two Democrats, Common Council President Bob Hayes and Vice President Mike Kennedy, seeking re-election. They are joined on the ticket by Democratic newcomer Matt Sedam.
Running on the Republican side are Kara Kitts-McKibben, Matthew Grecu and Tony Stewart.
The top three-vote getters in the six-person race will win the at-large positions.
Whikehart, whose resignation took effect May 23, was elected in 2015 to his council seat as the leading vote-getter in the at-large race, finishing ahead of Hayes and Kennedy.
He first revealed in January that he would not seek re-election before announcing his resignation last month. He said the reason behind the resignation was his family’s planned relocation to be closer to his job with Orbis Education in Carmel.
Speculation about who would replace Whikehart started immediately, with many wondering whether an existing General Election candidate would chase the seat in an effort to bolster their candidacy in the lead-up to November.
The only Democratic candidate to publicly consider replacing Whikehart was Cathy Cox-Stover, who is on the ballot in the council's District 3 race against Republican Ray Collins.
Cox-Stover, however, decided not to seek an at-large stint on the council and will remain on the campaign trail alongside other Democratic newcomers Sedam and 6th District candidate Kristianna Upchurch.