Mayor-elect Johnson pitches unity to state legislators in Springfield: ‘Our challenges are not that unique’

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said he didn’t come to Springfield to “dictate” what Chicago needs when it comes to public safety dollars. “How do I call myself a collaborator and then I’m dictating?” Johnson asked reporters. “These are ongoing conversations.”

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Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (at microphones) speaks with reporters after addressing the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield on Wednesday as Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (forefront, second from left), state Senate President Don Harmon (behind Johnson) and other legislators applaud.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (at microphones) speaks with reporters after addressing the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield on Wednesday as Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (forefront, second from left), state Senate President Don Harmon (behind Johnson) and other legislators applaud.

Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson on Wednesday told Illinois legislators Chicago has its needs — including funding for public schools, mental health clinics and public safety — but “there is more than enough for everybody.”

Johnson’s ceremonial trip to Springfield, ahead of his May 15 swearing-in ceremony, also included some closed-door meetings with Democratic leaders and their caucuses. There are several provisions within Johnson’s tax proposal to fund public safety that would require legislative approval, including a transfer tax on high-end home sales, a security trading tax and a Chicago jet fuel tax.

His address to the Illinois General Assembly came a day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is handing off a budget shortfall to Johnson of just $85 million.

But Johnson kept his Capitol visit to generalities and focused on unity, saying he has spoken to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic leaders about “making sure that we’re investing in the necessary programs that will allow for our neighborhoods to be a lot safer.”

And even as the clock ticks for legislators to finalize a state budget, Johnson said he didn’t come to Springfield to “dictate” what Chicago needs when it comes to public safety dollars.

“How do I call myself a collaborator, and then I’m dictating?” Johnson asked reporters outside on the Capitol steps, with Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon standing behind him.

“These are ongoing conversations. I mean that when I say we’re going to have conversations to determine what the smart investments need to look like.”

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (left) speaks to reporters outside of the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday as state Senate President Don Harmon (right) listens. 

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (left) speaks to reporters outside the Illinois State Capitol Wednesday as state Senate President Don Harmon listens.

Jerry Nowicki/Capitol News Illinois

During a 30-minute address in the House chambers, Johnson said “public safety is a prerequisite to the prosperity of Chicago.”

The Cook County commissioner said his plan includes “aggressively” expanding jobs for young people, investing in addressing the root causes of violence, supporting police officers and investing in reforms that build trust in law enforcement. He said he’d also work to reopen mental health centers in Chicago.

“The voters have sent a clear message that they want to be smart, not just tough, on crime. We have a mandate to make bold, necessary investments that address the root causes of violence,” Johnson said. “And we want to do a better job of supporting, of course, our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every single day.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson addresses the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield on Wednesday.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson addresses the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield Wednesday.

Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

“And right now we are asking them to do too much and failing to support them through the enormous mental health challenges that come with one of the most dangerous jobs in America. And under a Johnson administration, that will change,” he said.

The mayor-elect echoed what many Chicago mayors have said before in the state’s capital — the city can get what it needs without taking it from other parts of the state. He told legislators they have “shared values and shared challenges” and can come together as one state.

“They told us that this is a zero-sum game. That if something is good for Chicago, well, that means we’re taking something away from Peoria. They tell us that the challenges that we face in the city of Chicago and families like mine on the West Side of Chicago, aren’t the same challenges shared by families from Rockford to Carbondale, from East St. Louis to Champaign, and everywhere in between,” Johnson said.

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (center) delivers an address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in the Illinois House chamber. He is pictured with Senate President Don Harmon, (left) D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside. 

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (center) delivers an address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in the Illinois House chamber. He is pictured with Senate President Don Harmon (left), D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.

Jerry Nowicki/Capitol News Illinois

“Our challenges are not that unique. ... They try to frame this as a choice, but I’m here to deliver an emphatic message today. It is a false choice. No one has to lose at the expense of someone else winning. There is more than enough for everybody.”

The mayor-elect, chided by Republicans for his progressive platform, also reminded legislators of his deep pride in progressive values and in Illinois’ role in the Midwest’s “Blue Wall.”

“In my view, the state of Illinois, led by Gov. Pritzker and this legislative body has become the vanguard for progressive policy all over this country,” Johnson said to Democratic cheers in the Illinois House chambers.

Johnson also drew applause from Democrats when he mentioned “Chicago is a union town, and Illinois is a union state,” as Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates watched the speech from the galley.

Johnson arrived in Springfield Tuesday and met with the Legislative Black Caucus and the full Chicago delegation. Pritzker was planning to host Johnson for a dinner at the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday night.

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