Capping an improbable rise and carrying the hopes of a political movement determined to remake Chicago as a more progressive and equitable place to live, Brandon Johnson was sworn into office Monday as Chicago’s 57th mayor.
Johnson faces massive challenges as he replaces now former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who leaves Johnson to govern a badly fractured city struggling to recover from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic that served to spotlight its deeply entrenched problems of crime, poverty, homelessness and inequity.
After Johnson, 47, won the runoff election he had just 41 days to put together his administration and lay the foundation for an ambitious agenda — the shortest mayoral transition in Chicago history.
Johnson vowed on Monday to make good on the promises he made during the campaign, including a pledge to reopen publicly run mental health clinics closed more than a decade ago and to push through the proposal known as “Bring Chicago Home,” which would to hike taxes on the sales of properties worth $1 million or more in an effort to fight homelessness in Chicago.
Johnson again endorsed the plan authored by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward), known as Treatment Not Trauma, that calls for publicly run mental-health clinics to be reopened and for social workers, not police officers, to respond to 911 calls for help from those experiencing a mental health crisis.
During a nearly 45-minute address at the Credit Union 1 Arena on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Johnson pinpointed his inauguration as the latest step forward in the city’s storied history that stretches from the era of the Potawatomi tribe to the skyscrapers that now line downtown.
“There is something special about this city,” Johnson said, starting a refrain that would echo through his speech. “I like to call it the soul of Chicago.”
Johnson said he would work to bridge the divisions separating Chicagoans, adding that he would highlight what those who love Chicago have in common, while working to make Chicago a safer place for everyone.
“Many people who love our city deeply have radically different ideas about how to confront the shared challenges we face,” Johnson said, adding that was “marveling” at how much Chicagoans nevertheless have in common.
“The tears of Adam Toledo’s parents are made of the same sorrow as those of Officer Preston’s parents,” Johnson said, linking the fates of a 13-year-old boy shot and killed by a Chicago police officer after a brief chase with that of the 24-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed in her police uniform. Four teens have been charged in connection with Preston’s death.
Johnson vowed once again to unite Chicagoans around a “holistic” public safety plan that takes a new approach to the surge of crime and violence that began during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to fully recede.
Johnson said the city must raise revenue and invest in people “without breaking the backs of working people with fines, fees and property taxes.”
Johnson faced intense criticism during the campaign for being in debt to the city after falling behind on his water bill and agreeing to a payment plan. Some observers called that debt disqualifying, and wrongly predicted it would doom Johnson’s campaign.
“You can’t make people feel bad because they have a payment plan,” Johnson said to intense cheers. “You can’t stop someone with a payment plan from becoming mayor of the city of Chicago.”
Johnson vowed to make Chicago’s streets safer for everyone, and to make the CTA safe and reliable.
“You all know we have no time spare,” Johnson said, adding that he was working on efforts to develop new programs for teens and young adults this summer. “It is not just up to Fred Waller and his officers; it is up to all of us.”
Interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller took the helm of the Chicago Police Department Monday, becoming the beleaguered department’s third leader in six months.
Chicago's South and West side neighborhoods “have still not tasted the fruits” of the investments they deserve, Johnson said, adding that Chicago must offer its children a “world-class education” at fully funded schools.
Johnson also promised Chicago would welcome the thousands of immigrants who have been sent to Chicago from Texas after claiming asylum.
“There’s room in Chicago for everyone,” Johnson said, triggering a standing ovation.
Johnson promised to bring the “rivers of prosperity” to “dry” neighborhoods like his own, Austin, and write a new story for Chicago.
Studded with flashes of humor and knowing references to growing up in Chicago, Johnson welcomed all of his “play cousins” to the celebration and paid homage to Italian beef. Johnson frequently interacted with the boisterous crowd, which bolstered him when he appeared to become overwhelmed.
Johnson began his inaugural address by pledging to find “common ground” with the Chicago City Council, even when they don't agree on issues, vowing not to question their “motives or commitment.”
“This is your day, too, and you deserve recognition, and I’ma turn around and clap for ‘em,” Johnson said.
That stood in stark contrast with Lightfoot’s opening message to alderpeople during her inaugural address, when she vowed to put an end to the sense that putting Chicago government and integrity in the same sentence is an oxymoron at best — or a joke at worst.
Video: The Spotlight Politics team of Paris Schutz, Heather Cherone, Amanda Vinicky and WBEZ’s Alder Loury weigh in on Brandon Johnson’s inaugural address. (Produced by Paul Caine)
Johnson took office alongside 13 new members of the Chicago City Council, shifting the balance of power at City Hall to the left. Three others were elected to full, four-year terms after being appointed by Lightfoot.
In all, nearly a quarter of the city has new political leadership as compared with four years ago, a result of an unprecedented exodus of veteran alderpeople that led to a generational shift in Chicago politics, with six Black, Latina and Asian American women replacing veteran City Council members, all of them men.
Eighteen members of the City Council are women, tying a record.
Nine alderpeople identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, the most in Chicago’s history. The City Council also has 14 Latino alderpeople, an all-time high. There will also be 14 White alderpeople, the fewest in Chicago history. Twenty members of the City Council are Black, a tally that is unchanged since 2019.
For the first time, two Asian American City Council members were sworn into office Monday. Ald. Nicole Lee (11th Ward) is the first Chinese American to serve on the City Council, and became the first female and Asian American alderperson when she was appointed in 2019.
Lee took office alongside Ald. Leni Manna-Hoppenworth (48th Ward), the City Council’s first Filipina member.
Seven City Council members are Democratic Socialists, and five are set to serve as committee chairs, a significant expansion of power for the council’s most progressive members, all of whom backed Johnson for mayor.
Monday’s ceremony marked the first time in 54 years that Ed Burke was not sworn in as alderperson of the 14th Ward. The indicted now-former alderperson did not run for re-election and was replaced by Ald. Jeylu Gutiérrez, 35, one of 12 alderpeople in their 30s.
Even before he took office, Johnson put his stamp on the Chicago City Council by unveiling an organizational plan that will create one new committee for a total of 20 committees. That plan must be ratified by the City Council at its first regular meeting after the inauguration, which is set for May 24.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), who endorsed Johnson on Feb. 3, giving his campaign a much-needed endorsement from a moderate member of the City Council’s Black Caucus, is set to chair the powerful Finance Committee.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th Ward) will not only lead the powerful Zoning Committee but also serve as Johnson’s floor leader, making him the most powerful member of the City Council. That represents a remarkable rise to prominence for Ramirez Rosa, who was just 26 years old when he defeated a powerful incumbent politician tied to the City Council’s Democratic machine in 2015, and was once the only Democratic Socialist on the Chicago City Council.
Hours after taking the oath of office, Johnson signed four executive orders to begin the hard work of making the vision he laid out in his speech a reality.
Johnson’s orders create three new deputy mayor positions: one for immigrant, migrant, and refugee rights; one for community safety "with a focus on eradicating the root causes of crime and coordinating efforts to invest in young people" and a deputy mayor for labor relations.
The fourth executive order Johnson signed directs the city’s Budget Office to find all available to funds that can be used for youth employment and enrichment programs. Johnson has vowed to double the number of jobs for young people as an proposal that will reduce violence and increase economic development.