The Conservative Party today announced its candidate to become Mayor of Watford at this year's local elections.

Less than 12 months ago, Steve Johnson was not even a member of the party's Watford branch.

But following a by-election in May 2009, he was elected as a Tory to represent Leggatts ward at Watford Borough Council and will stand against incumbent Liberal Democrat mayor Dorothy Thornhill at the polls on May 6 this year.

The Conservative party, so far, the only party to announce its candidate for the mayoral election, which will take place on the same day as borough council elections and, as is widely expected, the General Election.

Although he would not reveal too much of his manifesto before it is officially published, Councillor Johnson said that, if elected mayor, his priority would be to increase funding for frontline services by cutting the costs incurred by the mayor's office and his own mayoral salary.

This, he said, would free money for more support for park rangers, improved street cleaning and a secure future for Watford Market.

Councillor Johnson also said he would not serve for more than two terms as mayor and would create a cross-party cabinet to achieve “what's best for Watford”, such as more social housing and the possibility of free swimming for certain age groups.

Speaking to the Watford Observer today as he announced his candidacy, he said: “If we have a chief executive on £135,000 who takes the day-to-day decisions and have a chairman who represents the council, the role of mayor is fairly nebulous. Is it really a full-time job? I don't know.

“Hopefully the election won't be about personalities but policies and people can vote for them or not. My background is a local resident, not a party politician. I'm not embroiled in all the past. I have been a member less than a year and a councillor less than that. I see that as an advantage, not a disadvantage.”

As chairman of the Ridge Association, Councillor Johnson has campaigned against back garden developments.

And he now sits on the council's development control committee and others, including licensing committee and the highways panel.

But he faces a double election battle this year as his seat as a Leggatts ward councillor will also be up for grabs on election day.

Councillor Johnson, 50, said: “I'm a local resident, not a party hack, and somebody just concerned about Watford. People will see I have clear policies and if they don't like them, don't vote for me. It's a mayor willing to work for a lot less than the current salary (£64,000 per year). The salary would come down substantially.”