composite Savannah mayor 2023
Kesha Gibson-Carter, Van Johnson

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter have never been very successful in hiding their dislike for each other, as their frequent wrangles during city council meetings attest.

But with the two squaring off in this year’s mayoral contest, their mutual antipathy seemed to hit a new low on Saturday.

Johnson’s campaign re-posted a TikTok video mocking Gibson-Carter the same day that former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams came to Savannah to campaign for the mayor ahead of next week’s election.

Abrams’ visit on behalf of Johnson was followed by one on Sunday by Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, and a day later by ex-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms.

In the re-posted 50-second video, the woman playing Gibson-Carter collapses into caricature — mouthy, pouty, and stylishly dressed. She tells the woman portraying a Johnson supporter, who is also Black, that Abrams’ arrival in Savannah must mean the mayor is “scared” about his reelection chances.

The riposte is withering.

The Johnson supporter asks why any candidate with influential friends wouldn’t welcome their campaign help, culminating with the dig: “Oh, I forgot — you don’t have any friends.”

When the Gibson-Carter character acknowledges she “had friends” but wouldn’t stoop like Johnson to being a “clout chaser” (“Somebody all up . . . in your face, trying to be noticed”), the Johnson supporter unleashes what’s intended as a knockout blow against an alderwoman renowned for her political theatrics:

The Johnson ally flashes a doctored photo of the Gibson-Carter double posing cozily with none other than Stacey Abrams.

The video ends with the Gibson-Carter character walking huffily offscreen, her frustrated quest for fame and celebrity exposed.

‘Outraised,’ not ‘outnumbered’

Gibson-Carter wasn’t to be outdone.

On the day of Abrams’ visit, her campaign posted a 30-second video on Instagram that was less acerbic than the pro-Johnson TikTok video but no less pointed.

In the video, which was paid for by Gibson-Carter’s campaign committee and features the candidate herself, she seeks to tap support from the many Savannahians who “grew up here” but “can no longer afford to live here” — reminding voters that  she, in contrast to the Brooklyn-born Johnson, is a native daughter of the Hostess City. 

Gibson-Carter casts the mayoral contest as a David-and-Goliath affair, acknowledging Johnson’s far larger campaign coffers and referring obliquely to skullduggery by the mayor and his campaign.

“We are outraised, but we are not outnumbered,” she says, seeking to minimize the significance of the mayor’s support from Black Democratic luminaries in both Atlanta and Savannah, as well as labor, environmental and police and firefighter groups.  

She concludes: “We have to be smarter than the tricks, bigger than the endorsements.”

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...