Brandon Johnson fleshes out senior staff, shows continued influence of Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Teachers Union

Annette Guzman, Preckwinkle’s county budget director, will be Johnson’s city budget director. Jennifer Johnson, chief of staff for the CTU, where Brandon Johnson has been a paid organizer, will be deputy mayor for education.

SHARE Brandon Johnson fleshes out senior staff, shows continued influence of Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Teachers Union
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s picks announced Thursday for his senior staff shows the continued influence of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson on Thursday fleshed out the senior staff who will accompany him into office in a way that shows the continued influence of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Annette Guzman, Preckwinkle’s budget director for Cook County government, will be Johnson’s city budget director.

Guzman replaces Susie Park, who for the last four years has been part of a triumvirate of women credited with engineering a financial turnaround under Mayor Lori Lightfoot that has included a record low $85 million budget shortfall, a $272 million pension pre-payment and 13 bond rating upgrades.

Guzman’s resume includes stints as deputy Cook County assessor, deputy chief administrator and chief of staff for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability as well as having worked in corporate law for the firm Sidley Austin LLP.

“It’s not just, you get the budget done, and that’s it,” Preckwinkle said of Guzman. “It’s the entire process of being sure that the budget numbers are met all the way through the process. She’s been very good at that.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

“I’m sorry to lose her, but I know that Brandon will definitely need her skills and talents on the city side. The city faces clearly a lot more challenges than the county at this point.”

Guzman will join a financial team under Johnson that also includes newly appointed Jill Jaworski, who’s moving from managing director and partner of PFM Financial Advisors to City Hall’s chief financial officer.

Jaworski replaces Jennie Huang Bennett as the city’s CFO, who hailed her replacement as an “incredible” choice — a “well-respected municipal finance professional with decades of experience.

“I expect her to continue on the path of fiscal discipline” and build on the “financial turnaround” under Lightfoot, Bennett wrote in an email.

Preckwinkle’s behind-the-scenes influence is also reflected in Johnson’s choice for policy director: S. Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby, chair and commissioner of the Cook County Human Rights Commission. She formerly was chief of policy for City Clerk Anna Valencia and an assistant prosecutor in Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.

Jennifer Johnson, chief of staff to the CTU, where Brandon Johnson was a paid organizer, will be deputy mayor for education. She is a former history teacher at Lincoln Park High School.

Jennifer Johnson, Chicago Teachers Union chief of staff, speaks to reporters before a vaccination event at CTU Headquarters in October 2021. Behind her is Jesse Sharkey, who at the time was the union’s president.

Jennifer Johnson, Chicago Teachers Union chief of staff, speaks to reporters before a vaccination event at CTU Headquarters in October 2021. Behind her is Jesse Sharkey, who at the time was the union’s president.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

CTU President Stacy Davis Gates said she was “absolutely elated” about the appointment. She called Jennifer Johnson “a unifier, a bridge builder” and the “best thing that ever happened to education in Chicago.

“She is one of the smartest people in this entire ecosystem. She has a grasp of the broad framework and an eye for detail. She is relentless in getting it right. … I have depended on her totally in this first year of my administration. ... She exceeds any objective or expectation put before her,” the CTU president said.

“The children of Chicago will have the most fierce advocate. The parents of Chicago will have someone they can trust,” Davis Gates said.

Vanquished mayoral challenger Paul Vallas repeatedly questioned whether a paid organizer for the CTU whose mayoral campaign was bankrolled by the union and its affiliates could represent the interests of Chicago taxpayers in negotiations with the CTU.

The same question could be asked of Jennifer Johnson, the CTU’s “chief negotiator.”

But Davis Gates predicted Jennifer Johnson would create a “different type of negotiating dynamic” between City Hall and the CTU after “less than ideal” bargaining over the last three contracts.

“That perspective on negotiations was obviously broken. I foresee Jen Johnson creating a new table that speaks first to the sustainability of the Chicago Public Schools and the needs of every single family that brings their children into the Chicago Public Schools. I cannot wait for the innovations that the city receives as a result of her leadership,” Davis Gates said.

Pointing to Brandon Johnson’s roots as a middle-school teacher, Davis Gates said: “What once was is no longer. We do not have a mayor who has declared war on us. The previous two mayors were very clear about being adversaries. The mayor-elect and his team … will lead the transformation and sustainability of our public school system.”

Jennifer Johnson, then Chicago Teachers Union chief of staff, protests outside CPS headquarters in November 2021.

Jennifer Johnson, then Chicago Teachers Union chief of staff, protests outside CPS headquarters in November 2021, in front of a display of fake cockroaches and rodents. The CTU at the time was demanding clean, safe and fully staffed schools.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Former CTU President Jesse Sharkey joined his successor in singing the praises of Jennifer Johnson. The new deputy mayor for education is a “remarkable human being who has a deep respect and admiration from anyone lucky enough to get to work with her,” Sharkey said.

“Jen is caring, pays attention to people on a personal level. Jen is brilliant — one of the best-informed, most thoughtful, smartest people I know. … She’s incredibly conscientious and hardworking. Everyone who works with her admires the hell out of her,” he added.

“She’s been really important to the CTU and all of the things that we’ve accomplished. ... It will be the city’s gain, and it’ll definitely be the people in the union who experience a loss,” said Sharkey.

Brandon Johnson’s senior staff will be particularly important since the new mayor is not ready to clean house. He has asked nearly all of Lightfoot’s appointees, cabinet members and agency chiefs to stay for at least three months, giving them a chance to prove themselves.

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