First, the fanfare; then, get to work

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson campaigned on a lot of promises, including promoting 200 detectives, doubling the number of summer jobs for young people and investing heavily in education, mental health, education and other social programs.

SHARE First, the fanfare; then, get to work
Brandon Johnson waves to the crowd Monday at Credit Union 1 Arena at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Brandon Johnson waves to the crowd Monday at Credit Union 1 Arena at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Monday was about celebration, symbolism and setting a tone.

Next up for Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson is rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on the city’s two most pressing problems: the immigrant crisis and unveiling a plan to address the typical surge of violent crime over Memorial Day weekend.

The new mayor got a running start by signing four executive orders. The first directs the city’s Office of Budget and Management to comb through the 2023 city budget and identify “all resources” available to create jobs and year-round recreation and education programs for young people.

The three remaining orders establish deputy mayors for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights; community safety; and labor relations.

Johnson campaigned on a promise to promote 200 detectives, double the number of summer jobs for young people (and make those employment opportunities year-round) and invest heavily in education, mental health and other social programs. His vision was to bankroll these plans, in large part, with $800 million in new or increased taxes on businesses and wealthy Chicagoans.

That holistic approach to delivering Chicago from violent crime will take time — maybe years — to deliver.

More immediately, the pressure will be on interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller to get Chicago through the summer.

“What I am grateful for is that the leadership that Fred Waller brings to this moment — it’s just been so valuable. He has the confidence of rank-and-file members, those in the violence prevention or interventionist space. Community organizers and activists have found him to be a very, very unique leader because of his willingness to collaborate with folks,” Johnson told WBBM-AM reporter Craig Dellimore on the eve of the inauguration.

“That part really brings a level of comfort that should reassure the city of Chicago that we’re headed in a direction that people expect us to” go, Johnson said.

The business and faith-based communities have a “seat at the table to help formulate” the anti-violence strategy. So do “organizations committed to violence prevention,” the new mayor said. Policing, of course, will also play a heavy role in developing, what Johnson called the “comprehensive response.”

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Mayor Brandon Johnson makes his inaugural address during the city of Chicago’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena, Monday, May 15, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Arguing there is “no one who’s gonna work harder” than a mayor who is raising his young family in Austin, Johnson said: “What I’m most encouraged by in this moment is that, everywhere I’ve gone throughout this entire transition process — all over the city of Chicago, no matter who I’ve spoken to, whether it’s a CEO, the owner of a large corporation or a child care provider — they’re all asking the same question: ‘What can we do to help?’”

The other pressing issue is the more than 8,000 immigrants who have descended on Chicago — with more on the way. Chicago is literally out of money, space and time to handle a burgeoning crisis, forcing scores of young families with children to sleep on the floors of the city’s police stations.

South Shore residents have already filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the city from using a shuttered neighborhood high school as a respite center. In other neighborhoods, some people are furious about their Park District field houses being used as immigrant shelters.

Johnson’s challenge — and his solemn promise, he told WBBM — is to do a better job making sure residents of long-neglected African-American neighborhoods like his own “feel heard and seen.”

“There are communities that have suffered under the weight of an oppressive form of government that has left Black communities, in particular, experiencing a great deal of pain,” Johnson said.

Fighting against school closings and school privatization, the closing of the city’s mental health clinics and the shortage of affordable housing in Chicago has been the “driving force behind my political maturation,” the new mayor said.

“We need to make sure — and I’m gonna do that as mayor of the city of Chicago — that Black communities in particular that have suffered will be seen and heard, and I will invest in those communities because it’s the community I’m raising my family in, while at the same time recognizing that there are families who wish to call Chicago their home,” he said.

“I’m confident that there’s more than enough for everyone in this city, and no one has to lose at the expense of someone else winning. But, it’s really gonna require the intentionality of my administration of communicating with the communities that are involved. It’s also gonna require a collaborative approach from every single level of government. The federal government has to step up and create and provide more resources.”

Next week comes the first test of Johnson’s City Council muscle. Sources said the new mayor has already lined up “north of 30” votes for his revised City Council reorganization. It would reduce the number of committees from 28 to 20, replace Finance Committee Chairman 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack with 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell and install Democratic Socialist Caucus Chair and 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa as Zoning Committee chair and floor leader.

“My job is to get to as many yeses as we possibly can,” Johnson said. “And I believe our yes votes will be stronger because … everyone has a voice.”

The Chicago Public Schools has a looming $628 million deficit and has hemorrhaged students for more than a decade. Federal stimulus funds propping up CPS will dry up in two years.

But Johnson said his ace in the hole is the partnership between CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez and Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates. It was on display — at the new mayor’s request — during their joint lobbying trip to Springfield this month.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened. I certainly don’t know the last time it’s happened,” Johnson said.

During her final work day in office, now former Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed 10 executives orders in an unprecedented attempt to cement her legacy and box Johnson in.

The most significant of those would establish a pension advance fund with $641.5 million in surplus funds from this year and last to match the $242 million in pension pre-payments included in Lightfoot’s final budget.

Johnson likely has other priorities for those surplus funds, which means he will need to issue his own executive order to undo the one Lightfoot left behind.

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