Brainerd Ward 4: Gabe Johnson wants to continue work on budget, housing

Gabe Johnson is running for a third term on the Brainerd City Council against challengers Emily LeClaire and Johnathan Miller.

Gabe Johnson
Gabe Johnson is running for a third term on the Brainerd City Council in the 2022 election.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Gabe Johnson wants a chance to continue his work on housing, finances and other issues as a Brainerd City Council member for another four years.

“A complaint about government is it works so slow, but it’s also one of the exciting things about government is when it takes years to get something in the works or get something going, you want to see it through,” he said during an interview Thursday, June 23. “There’s a handful of projects that are going on in the city I just want to continue working on.”

Born and raised in the Brainerd lakes area, Johnson, 39, grew up in the Unorganized Territory First Assessment District and has lived in southeast Brainerd for the past 18 years. He owns the digital advertising consultancy firm Devine Johnson Marketing and has three children — Tegan, Joseph and Jackson — with wife Mary.

The issues

Proud of the work done on getting north/south sidewalks near Harrison Elementary School for students who walk to school, creating dozens of housing units in the Brainerd Oaks development and lowering the city’s debt levy, Johnson has his sights set on safe crossings on Washington Street, more housing and even lower taxes in years to come.

City staff and officials are working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to reconstruct Washington Street/Highway 210 in 2025, and Johnson said his focus for the project is an investment in non-motorized traffic so pedestrians and cyclists can get across the street in a safe manner.


With the Brainerd Oaks development off Oak Street set to be fully built out in a year or two, Johnson said there are still developable lots in southeast Brainerd.

“I want to work with developers and the city to see if we can’t get them going and continue to build new housing stock in the city of Brainerd,” he said.

While Johnson said the city had serious financial issues when he got elected in 2014, the council has since decreased the amount of money levied to pay the city’s debts, freeing up more funds for capital.

“That was a challenge we had, and the council worked together with staff, and we’ve got a really good plan going forward,” he said, noting council members have been good in recent years about respecting one another’s opinions and engaging in constructive dialogue.

Johnson chairs the City Council’s Personnel and Finance Committee and the Economic Development Authority. He sits on the Housing and Redevelopment Authority and serves as council liaison to the Brainerd Public Utilities Commission.

If re-elected, Johnson would like to invest more in Ward 4’s parks — O’Brien and Jaycees parks — and offer amenities like a hockey rink or new playground equipment.

Johnson said he’s always open for a phone call or text message from constituents and will also reply to direct messages on social media apps like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. While Johnson is a user of social media, he said he doesn’t feel like social media is a very good communication tool outside of direct messages.

“Obviously I’ve gotten people riled up a couple of times from (Twitter), so some people dislike me, but you know, I make other people laugh,” he said. “It’s a balance.”


Choosing a candidate

Johnson feels he has developed a solid understanding of the city’s budget and provides good leadership on the council, while working to provide high quality services to citizens at the lowest possible cost.

“Voting for me … I don’t know my opponents, but more so than even anybody else on the council, you’re going to get somebody who’s very focused — pretty much singularly focused — on the budget,” he said. “ ... That’s the value you’re going to get from me, and I think people should care about the city budget.”

Primary election

Johnson is running against challengers Emily LeClaire and Johnathan Miller to represent Ward 4, which encompasses southeast Brainerd. The primary election is Aug. 9. The top two vote-getters from the primary will be on the ballot for the general election Nov. 8.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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