Brandon Johnson on Raising a Family in Austin, Choosing the Next Top Cop

“Chicago Tonight” co-anchor Brandis Friedman sat down with Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson for a wide-ranging interview on everything from why he chose to raise his family in Austin to how he’ll choose the next police superintendent.

(The interview has been edited for length.)

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WTTW News: You’re originally from Elgin. What made you move to Austin when you did?

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson: Well, my family is a part of the second migration. And so my father was the eldest, they actually stopped on the West Side, first settling on 79th and Ashland. We spent a lot of time growing up hanging out with cousins and family and did a lot of celebrations in Chicago. Of course, my father is a pastor. So we worshiped quite a bit on the West Side, South Side of Chicago. When my wife and I knew that we were fulfilling our purpose, we knew the West Side of Chicago would be the place for us. Austin is one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in the entire city. The housing stock, the Green Line, the Blue Line, the main arteries that move through the West Side of Chicago. Austin neighborhood in particular, again, Columbus Park, I mean, these are just great institutions. And so my wife and I wanted to raise a family in a neighborhood that really embodies and reflects the best part of our values. Austin certainly does it.

You will be the first mayor of Chicago to live on the West Side in about a century. How will that shape and influence the decisions that you make?

Johnson: There’s no secret that the West Side of Chicago has yet to recover in totality from one of the more dramatic moments in our city’s history. And when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the West Side of Chicago and he expressed all that, which was certainly tumultuous, but he also expressed, what was possible, there’s great history here, right? So Chairman Fred Hampton, one of the great educators and organizers. So there’s just a rich history here. I believe the West Side of the city of Chicago is not just positioned to help provide direction for what investments will mean, not just for the West Side, but for the entire city of Chicago, but it also reflects where we can pull the city of Chicago together. And we certainly are close to the Loop. The challenges that we have on the West Side are not that much different than, in fact, they’re not different from the challenges that exist in the South Side of Chicago.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson takes “Chicago Tonight” co-anchor Brandis Friedman on a tour of the Austin neighborhood on April 13, 2023. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson takes “Chicago Tonight” co-anchor Brandis Friedman on a tour of the Austin neighborhood on April 13, 2023. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

You mentioned earlier today bringing business leaders out to the community to meet young people. At the same time, members of the business community in Chicago are concerned about your election and what it means for them. So what kind of conversations have you been in with the business community?

Johnson: The conversations have been incredible, and the outreach I’ve started from the moment that I accepted the results last week and what every single business leader has indicated to me, whether they are a CEO or an owner, they want what’s best for the city of Chicago. And they’ve said repeatedly, ‘What do you need? How can we help?’ And, and that really captures the essence of what I’ve been saying since I declared my candidacy a year ago.

Walmart has announced that it is closing four stores in the city. We already know that Whole Foods has left. What is your reaction to the city’s food deserts and your plan to address that?

Johnson: I’m very much committed to working with the community on businesses to ensure that these holes that have been left, that we can fill as quickly as possible. This is not the first time, of course, the city of Chicago has experienced this. I’m confident that this is still a place that serves fresh foods. I’m confident that the city of Chicago is a place that is embracing of, of, of companies and grocery stores that want to do business here in the city of Chicago. We’re gonna go after it with all expediency.

Top of your to do list: You’re going to have to pick a new top cop. What are you looking for in the person who fills that role?

Johnson: Having served in this city as a rank-and-file worker as a teacher, I know the experiences of what workers go through every single day. They’re raising families, they want to serve. What officers want, they want to know what their assignment is, they want direction, they want clarity of what is expected of them every single day. It doesn’t mean that our law enforcement isn’t nimble or flexible to do the type of work. For me, the superintendent has to be someone who understands the desires of the rank-and-file members who serve this city, but they also have to understand the desires of everyday residents. And how do we make sure that those desires are working in tandem? So again, as I’ve said, compassionate, collaborative and competent.

Stacy Davis Gates introduced you at your own victory party. How do voters, citizens and the people of Chicago know that you’ll be independent of the CTU, particularly when it comes time to renegotiating that contract next year?

Johnson: I’m going to be the mayor of the city of Chicago for everyone, and that’s not the only contract that I’ll be responsible for. I’m gonna take the same approach with every single contract that those who do the work and those who rely upon those services, that our systems reflect the best part of the city of Chicago. Now, obviously, I have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that whatever decision is made, that it reflects our values, that it is done in the most responsible ways.

Read More: Touring Chicago’s Austin Community With Mayor-Elect Brandon Johnson

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