Brandon Johnson wins runoff election to become Chicago’s new mayor
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson defeated former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas to become Chicago’s next mayor.
Damien Henderson, USA TODAY
Brandon Johnson was sworn in as mayor of the nation’s third-largest city Monday at a ceremony attended by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.
Johnson, 47, a progressive former union organizer and teacher, won a tight runoff in April against former city budget director Paul Vallas after Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for a second term as Chicago mayor. The mayoral race focused largely on public safety, taxes and education and was seen as a major win for progressive groups.
Johnson congratulated the city’s other newly elected officials and shared his vision for the future of Chicago.
“Our stories get to reach well beyond this moment, they do,” he said. “And I’m grateful that I will be working with a body of government that is committed to that transformation.”
Who is Brandon Johnson?
Johnson is a former public school teacher and organizer for the Chicago Teachers union, which he supported during a strike in 2019. He was one of 10 siblings growing up in Cabrini Green, a former public housing complex where he later became a teacher. He’s raising three children in a neighborhood on the West Side that sees some of the city’s highest rates of gun violence.
“Growing up one of 10 in a working-class family, it teaches you a lot of things, but I never could have foreseen this,” Johnson said Monday. “Now, make no mistake about it, that doesn’t mean that I’m not prepared.”
Johnson was elected as a Cook County Commissioner in 2018, a position from which he resigned ahead of his mayoral inauguration. He was not well known when he entered the mayoral race in 2022, but his progressive campaign focused on addressing the root causes of violence attracted endorsements from U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Johnson faced pushback for calling “defunding the police” a “real political goal” in a 2020 interview. He later clarified his position, saying he would take a “more holistic approach to public safety” and would not “defund the police.”
He promised to promote 200 Chicago police detectives, strengthen police accountability and work closely with the city’s new civilian police oversight body.
He tapped retired police Cmdr. Fred Waller, who is popular among rank-and-file officers, to serve as interim leader of the Chicago Police Department. Johnson has the final say on the city’s next police superintendent, but for the first time, an appointed citizen commission will select three finalists.
Johnson to tackle public safety, taxes, migration
Homicide rates in Chicago were falling steadily until they reached a 25-year high in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Homicides decreased last year while crimes including carjackings and robberies increased.
Johnson said a policing-first approach has failed and the city should invest in mental health treatment, affordable house and jobs for young people instead of policing and incarceration. In his victory speech in April he promised Chicagoans a city “that’s truly safer for everyone by investing in what actually works to prevent crime.”
“Too many Chicagoans, though, fear for their safety and when they walk down the streets to get groceries and drive to the gas station because our city’s homicide and violent crime rates have consistently outpaced our peer cities,” he said Monday.
He also proposed a plan to tax “ultrarich” people and businesses which he says will raise $800 million. The plan includes a per-employee “head tax” on employers and an additional tax on hotel room stays.
Johnson’s proposal to tax financial transactions would require approval from state lawmakers. Pritzker has indicated he won’t support the plan, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Johnson will also have to address a growing migrant crisis and an influx of new arrivals, which is expected to increase now that pandemic-era restrictions on migrant crossings have ended. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has bussed in more than 8,000 migrants to Chicago since August, according to Lightfoot who urged Abbott to stop the practice earlier this month.
Chicago mayoral race: Brandon Johnson elected mayor in close victory for progressives
Crime in Chicago: What Brandon Johnson wants to do
Lori Lightfoot bids farewell
Lightfoot, the city’s first Black woman and first openly gay person to serve as mayor, left City Hall on Friday in a maroon Cadillac amid cheers from her supporters and members of her administration.
Lightfoot, who has faced criticism for her handling of the teacher’s strike, the pandemic and the 2020 racial justice protests among other issues, told reporters she feels confident about her record and accomplishments in office.
She said she’s going to focus on her family moving forward and she wishes Johnson success during the transition.
“We’ve done everything that we could to set him up for success,” she said Friday. “As I mentioned to him before, and I’ll say it here, my door’s always open for any consultation that he wants, and I won’t even charge him.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press