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Second-graders grill Covington mayor

Jaffet Arredondo-Mendoza, also in Hancock’s class, let the mayor know it was his eighth birthday and got a high five.

Jaffet Arredondo-Mendoza, also in Hancock’s class, let the mayor know it was his eighth birthday and got a high five.

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Mayor Ronnie Johnston prepares to shake hands with Erik Gutierrez, who said, “When I get bigger, I want to be mayor too.” Gutierrez is a student in Dr. Gloria Hancock’s class. (Photos courtesy of Sherri Davis-Viniard)

COVINGTON — Mayor Ronnie Johnston was put on the hot seat by second-graders at Middle Ridge Elementary School Thursday. Among their questions:

• “Does a limo pick you up?”

• “Does a policeman hold the door for you?”

• “Are you 20 feet tall?”

• “What is your favorite book?”

• “Are you really cool?”

• “Why do they call the Square a square when it’s really a circle?”

The answer to the first two questions was a firm, “No.” Johnston explained to the students that the taxpayers would have to pay for a limousine and that would not be a good use of their money. He said police keep the city safe and he would never take up their time by asking them to hold the door for him. For the record, he is 6 feet, 4 1/2 inches tall and his favorite books are the Bible and anything by Dr. Seuss.

The mayor wasn’t too sure about his cool factor, but agreed with the student that his job is pretty cool. As for the inquiry about the Square, well, “That’s a really good question,” he admitted.

Johnston was on hand to talk to all second-graders at Middle Ridge as they wrap up their unit on government. They have recently learned about the mayor, governor and president and their roles and responsibilities, said Angela Page, grade level chair for second grade at Middle Ridge.

“To them, he’s like a celebrity … this is an incredible opportunity for them to see somebody up close in the city who makes those kinds of decisions,” Page said.

Along with explaining what he and the Covington City Council members do, Johnston took the opportunity to encourage the children to pay attention in school. He admitted that he wasn’t always a good student, something he later regretted.

“I didn’t pay attention to teachers. I didn’t listen,” he said.

Johnston said he knows it’s hard for them to understand, but these are the years they are building the foundation for the rest of their lives.

“Listen to these teachers. Follow their directions because they want nothing but what’s best for you,” he said.

Johnston said though he eventually succeeded and became mayor, many more doors could have been opened to him if he had applied himself more at school.

“You can overcome and you can be whatever you want to be but you’ve got to make one decision, to apply yourself, listen and take direction because it will impact you the rest of your life,” he said.

Johnston said he had no prior experience in politics when he ran for mayor, but started attending council meetings to learn about government, just like the students are doing now in their classrooms. Because he was new in town, he went door to door to shake hands and introduce himself.

He said one of his roles is to be an ambassador for the city.

“I’m kind of like a big cheerleader,” he said, which got a lot of laughs.

He said he is also trying to attract businesses and jobs to Covington and is talking with a company right now about locating a movie theater in the city.

One student asked if the city will build a public swimming pool. Johnston said it has been discussed, but he doesn’t think it will happen right now. The city is in the process of improving Legion Field to include an amphitheater and maybe a skate park, he said.

Johnston also talked about his personal life, including his wife, Kelley, their four kids and their dogs. Johnston said he’ll turn 50 in January, which drew horrified gasps from his pint-sized audience. “I agree with you,” he said.

He presented the students with light blue City of Covington rubber bracelets and said he’d like to speak to them each year as they advance in school as long as he remains mayor.