Mayor-elect Johnson must put himself on a path to succeed for all of Chicago

It starts with declaring independence — in action, not words — from the powerful Chicago Teachers Union. City Hall belongs to every Chicagoan, and Johnson will eventually have to make decisions that CTU and other unions won’t like. That’s part of the job.

SHARE Mayor-elect Johnson must put himself on a path to succeed for all of Chicago
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson greets supporters at the Chinatown Red Line Station the day after he defeated Paul Vallas in a runoff mayoral election, Wednesday morning, April 5, 2023.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson greets supporters at the Chinatown Red Line Station on April 5, the day after he defeated Paul Vallas in the runoff mayoral election.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

There’s a small yet perhaps telling anecdote about new Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s time as a county commissioner that we’re hoping is a sign of how he will approach the enormous job ahead of him.

When Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart sought funding for a police helicopter last year to help protect against carjackings and cover the wide territory of the county, Johnson initially opposed the idea, fearing it would add to the creeping militarization of police.

But after reaching an agreement that the county would not buy certain military hardware, Johnson — who historically has supported shifting police spending to job creation, housing, health care and safety measures — voted for the county budget, which included an amendment funding the helicopter as well as money for social workers.

Johnson’s support of a compromise is encouraging. It signals, at least in this small instance, a willingness to listen to the other side and change his mind when presented with a new solution. That’s something Johnson will have to do plenty of, in far more consequential circumstances than a single budget vote, as he tackles Chicago’s myriad problems.

Editorial

Editorial

It’s too early to say that we’re cautiously optimistic about the incoming Johnson administration. As a candidate, he clearly showed passion for revitalizing the city, and that’s a plus. But with his lack of executive experience and limited time as an elected official, we’re still from Missouri: Show us, and the rest of Chicago too.

Johnson can, and should, take a huge step in the right direction by making it clear — in action, not just words — that he’s not going to govern at the behest of the Chicago Teachers Union.

A former teacher and CTU organizer, Johnson wouldn’t have won the election without the union’s hefty financial backing. He owes them. But City Hall belongs to every Chicagoan. That includes those who didn’t vote for Johnson, as well as those who did, but were reluctant because of his close ties to the CTU — and Johnson should make no mistake that there wasn’t a sizable number of voters who felt that sentiment.

His decision-making must reflect that reality. He won the election, but the win was close despite the glaring political differences between him and Paul Vallas. There’s no overwhelming mandate for Johnson to claim, and his history with the CTU — giving rise to fears that he might cave to the union in future contract negotiations — is a part of that.

Johnson will eventually have to make decisions the CTU and other unions won’t like. That’s the job. He cannot set out to fulfill the wish-list of a powerful union that clearly aims to remake city government in its image, via an agenda that goes far beyond public education.

Johnson has to listen to opposing views, incorporating those ideas that work. If he does, he’ll have a fighting chance to bring our divided city together.

Hiring and firing

Johnson could start to show his independence by asking Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who has clashed with the CTU and whom Johnson has said he would fire, to stay on.

Arwady, who helped guide Chicago through the pandemic, has in our view handled the job well. Expressing a willingness to keep her in place, along with Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox and Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, would be smart. Johnson is entitled to build his own team, but there’s nothing wrong with retaining good people who are committed to the job.

Johnson’s hiring will tell Chicago a lot. Who will he recruit for his transition team? Who will be on the 5th Floor with him, ensuring that the sprawling behemoth of city government works to make peoples’ lives better — in other words, herding the cats?

Those hires will be an early bellwether of the next four years.

Crime, city finances

If there’s a make-or-break issue for Johnson, it’s surely crime, the issue uppermost in voters’ minds during the campaign. The mayor-elect has repeatedly called for more spending on anti-violence and social programs to deter crime. But even the most effective initiatives won’t bring down crime overnight. Meanwhile, Chicagoans deserve to feel safe going about their daily lives. Better policing is essential, as is doing more than inching forward on court-mandated police reform.

Which is why picking the right person as police superintendent is Johnson’s most important task. The choice isn’t entirely up to him; a commission will pick candidates for Johnson to choose from. But he’ll have the final say on which person has the skills, and will, to transform CPD for the better.

Johnson also now has the unenviable job of getting Chicago’s fiscal house in order, at a time when pension problems remain a huge drain on city finances. His proposed $800 million in tax increases is unrealistic, and Johnson has to convince taxpayers he can skillfully manage the city’s coffers. The best way to do that is by bringing on a savvy budget manager who’s not afraid to tell him what does, and does not, make fiscal sense.

This editorial board has weighed in recently with recommendations for the next mayor on public transit, policing reform, economic development, the environment and public education. Ours are surely not the only suggestions.

Don’t let Chicago down, Mr. Mayor-elect.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

The Latest
During a tense vacation together, it turns out she was writing to someone about her sibling’s ‘B.S.’
Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.
“We’re kind of living through Grae right now,” Kessinger told the Sun-Times. “I’m more excited and nervous watching him play than I was when I broke in.”
The White Sox didn’t get a hit against Chris Paddock until the fourth inning as Twins deal the Sox’ eighth shutout of season.