Many Chicagoans don’t know that 47-year-old Brandon Johnson was a county commissioner and teacher union organizer. He will be sworn in as the city’s 57th mayor on Monday.
From political obscurity to leadership of America’s third largest city, Mr. Johnson’s rapid rise was fueled by an unapologetically progressive platform, a gift for retail campaigning, and the enthusiastic support and money of organized labor. He beat incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the first round of voting in February, then defeated more conservative and well-funded Democrat Paul Wallace in a runoff last month.
Now comes the hard part.
Mr. Johnson has a proud city that has never fully recovered from its epidemic. Chicago’s downtown is empty, its public schools have fewer students, and crime rates are far higher than before the pandemic.
In an interview last week in his transition office on the Chicago River, Mr. Johnson said he was clear on the scope of the challenges ahead but optimistic about the city’s trajectory.
Here are some of the biggest issues facing Chicago and what he had to say about them:
The city needs a new superintendent of police.
“It is important for the City of Chicago to have confidence in the superintendent. It is someone who understands constitutional policing, but who also understands that public safety is an overall goal that cannot be confined to the police.
Mrs. Lightfoot’s handpicked Superintendent David Brown resigned after losing re-election, leaving the Chicago Police Department under interim leadership. Mr. Johnson revealed before running for mayor Support Removing some law enforcement funding needs to be done soon Select a permanent supervisor.
Mr. Johnson said he was looking for someone who understood Chicago and could earn the trust of rank-and-file officers, but also someone who shared his vision of policing as part of a broader safety strategy. He said the new superintendent should be ready to work Newly elected assemblies Residents formed to provide feedback and make recommendations to law enforcement in each police district of the city.
Chicago struggled to make up for the influx of immigrants.
“We are a sanctuary city. The city of Chicago has an incredible history of being a welcoming place for families from all over the country and the world.
Mr. Johnson inherits an intensifying crisis: a growing number of Venezuelan and other immigrants arriving by bus and plane from border states seek shelter in Chicago. In the past several weeks, the number of immigrants entering Chicago has swelled, filling city shelters and more police stations where immigrants have been abandoned. Even more immigrants are expected to arrive in Chicago after last week’s repeal of Title 42, a federal policy that allowed the United States to deport many people who crossed the southern border before applying for asylum.
The influx is both a problem and an opportunity for Chicago, a city that grew in population from 2010 to 2020, but those gains were erased during the pandemic when thousands of residents left. Mr. Johnson said he wants to help welcome immigrants, but also wants to make sure black families who have been in the city for decades aren’t cut off from city resources.
Public education presents a formidable test.
“There is no major company to replace at this time. Our public school system needs to be overhauled.
Former social science teacher, Mr. Johnson most recently served as an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, a progressive and politically powerful organization that has engaged in repeated strikes during his tenure and has been a key opponent of the most recent two mayors.
Mr. Johnson has repeatedly talked about investing in neighborhood schools as a way to address the city’s broader challenges. “He envisioned an education system that would expose our children to as many careers as possible in a real, tangible way,” he said.,” Focuses heavily on connecting high school graduates with career opportunities, including trades that don’t require a college degree.
Downtown still lacks its precocious swagger.
“I believe this is a unique opportunity for this generation to set a curriculum that will be readable a century from now.”
Downtown is never going to look like it did before the pandemic, Mr. Johnson said. But it’s not clear what that will turn out to be.
Mr. Johnson said he sees an opportunity to create a sector that has seen recent growth in existing industries, particularly life sciences. During his mayoral transition, Mr. Johnson met with business and civic leaders downtown, which his opponent, Mr. Vallas was greatly supported.
And Mr. Johnson will be a face of the city New and very divisive events: A NASCAR street race downtown this summer. Mr. Johnson said he intends to run the new car racing event “with care and sensitivity” and hopes to build on the festivals and activities the city offers, especially to appeal to young people.
Public safety is a major concern.
“Do you know what Safer Communities is doing across the country? Do you know what they do? They invest in people.
Mr. Johnson spoke on the campaign trail about making deeper investments in communities where he lives in the South and West, areas that have seen the most violent crime. She said people feel safer with strong neighborhood schools, low unemployment and access to mental health services.
Those goals feel long-term, but Mr. Johnson says.