Johnson and Daily

Dara Johnson, right, takes over the role of chairwoman of the Howard County Democratic Party, while former Kokomo mayor Steve Daily, left, moves forward as its vice chair.

The Howard County Democratic Party on Thursday night selected an up-and-coming party official and one of the community’s most recognizable faces to take over its two most prominent leadership roles.

A caucus ended Thursday with the party’s secretary and interim chairwoman, Dara Johnson, taking over the role of chairwoman, while former Kokomo mayor Steve Daily jumped back into the political fray and now moves forward as the Democrats’ vice chair.

Johnson and Daily, both unopposed at the caucus, will lead the party as it embarks on an uphill battle in the 2020 Howard County election and attempts to rebuild following a municipal election in November that saw Democrats lose control of City Hall.

“This position is not to be taken lightly and one that will require determination and dedication,” said Johnson in a statement to party leaders at Thursday’s meeting later distributed in a media release.

“I know our Party represents dignity and excellence, and I have support from people who are passionate and strategic. I know the legacy and history of this Party, and we know what we need to do to win.”

She is the first African-American to chair the Howard County Democratic Party.

“I cannot do this by myself. I need everyone’s help,” said Johnson. “I will do what it takes to make sure we have the right people in the right positions to make sure that the Howard County Democratic Party flourishes and progresses into its next season.”

Before Thursday, Johnson had been secretary of the Howard County Democratic Party since 2017 and served as its interim chairwoman since December.

In June, she also took over the at-large Kokomo Common Council seat vacated by Democrat Steve Whikehart after his May resignation, serving the remainder of the year.

Professionally, Johnson is the director of financial aid at Indiana University Kokomo. She has also been involved with the city’s Human Rights Commission, along with the Kokomo Housing Authority, Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and Indiana Black Expo.

Daily, meanwhile, has a long political history in Kokomo, first winning a seat on the Common Council in 1975. Then, in 1979, he was elected the youngest mayor in Kokomo’s history at just 32 years old.

He would serve two terms as mayor before starting a career in education. From 1988 to 1995, Daily worked as vice chancellor for external relations at IUK; he would later become chancellor for Ivy Tech Community College’s Kokomo Region, serving from 2000 until his retirement in 2015.

Daily, who now helps run a 130-acre Russiaville farm focused on organic produce and unique livestock, was most recently selected to the Howard County Hall of Legends in 2018.

A media release from the party said he had been “active in the Democratic Party behind the scenes for many years.”

“I know I have not been visible for a number of years, but I have always supported our candidates. That’s not all that I want to do going forward,” said Daily.

“I am ready to be present, fundraise and recruit candidates.”

Johnson and Daily’s new roles were necessitated by the resignations last month of Kathy Skiles, who had chaired the local Democratic Party since 2016, and vice chair Steve Geiselman.

Skiles said in an interview that the decision to vacate her seat atop party leadership was the result of changes at work and a subsequent lack of the free time she was once able to dedicate to the party, while Geiselman said in a statement that “stepping down is the best thing for myself and for the party.”

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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