Inauguration Day: Prayers, promises and a party

Many who attended the swearing-in ceremony said they were excited for Brandon Johnson to take office because they felt he would bring positive change to Chicago.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson with his wife, Stacie Johnson, two sons, Owen and Ethan, and daughter, Braedyn, after making his inaugural address Monday, May 15, 2023 at Credit Union 1 Arena.

Brandon Johnson was sworn in as the 57th mayor of Chicago on Monday at Credit Union 1 Arena. He is seen here with his wife Stacie and their three children.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cathy Dale met the future Mayor Brandon Johnson for the first time while she was on hunger strike, trying to save Dyett High School from closing.

The South Side resident and education activist participated in the month-long hunger strike in 2015. Toward the end of the strike, Dale said, Johnson paid the protesters a visit. He was an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union at the time.

At Johnson’s inauguration on Monday morning, Dale wore a jacket she customized herself. In sparkly silver letters across the front, her jacket read “Brandon is Better.” On the back, it read “Brandon is Da Mayor.”

Dale was among thousands of supporters who filled the Credit Union 1 Arena on the University of Illinois-Chicago’s campus to watch Johnson become the 57th mayor of Chicago.

“Brandon was clearly the person who showed compassion and showed love and has a direction for the city,” Dale said.

Cathy Dale poses for a portrait at the 2023 mayoral inauguration at Credit Union 1 Arena on Monday, May 15. She wears a pink jacket with silver letters reading “Brandon is Better.”

Cathy Dale customized a jacket to wear to the inauguration Monday to show her support for the new mayor. Dale met Brandon Johnson during the 2015 hunger strike to save Dyett High School.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

Religion takes center stage at inauguration

Dale said she is “praying” not just for Johnson, but for the other elected officials sworn in on Monday — and for the city of Chicago.

The event saw prayers not only from audience members like Dale, but also from Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders. A rousing gospel performance by Karen Clark Sheard brought the audience to its feet before Johnson took the oath of office.

Johnson referenced Bible verses during his inaugural address, as he called for the city of Chicago to be hospitable to all people. His address often had the call-and-response quality of a church sermon, as his supporters shouted words of encouragement from the crowd.

Manny Trinidad (left) wears a purple SEIU sweatshirt and T-shirt as he poses next to fellow union organizer Ryan Miller, who wears a yellow sweatshirt bearing the slogan “Treatment Not Trauma” at the inauguration on Monday, May 15.

Manny Trinidad (left) and Ryan Miller both work as organizers for the SEIU. Miller said he enjoyed seeing people he knew who had worked on the campaign at the inauguration Monday.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

Supporters look toward a ‘bright future’ with Johnson

Numerous attendees said they were excited for Johnson to take office because they felt he would bring positive change to Chicago.

Ryan Miller, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, said this election “was the intersection of hope and fear in the city of Chicago ... and fear lost.”

Now, he added: “We can look to a bright future.”

Unions like the SEIU represented strongholds of support for Johnson throughout the election. During the event, CTU and SEIU took turns chanting their unions’ names.

Dane Tucker, a political organizer who lives on the South Side, said he had not felt as invested in a campaign as he did in Johnson’s since Harold Washington was elected mayor in 1983.

Johnson energizes crowd during inaugural address

The new mayor elicited loud cheers during his inaugural address as he spoke ambitiously about the future and potential of the city, and dealing with many issues he campaigned on, including education, neighborhood investment, public safety and homelessness.

Alderpeople walk onto stage as the crowd at Credit Union 1 Arena watches. The new City Council was sworn in on Monday, May 15.

Audience members watched the new City Council take the stage at the inauguration Monday. Alderpeople were sworn in at the event in addition to the new mayor.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

He was interrupted several times by supportive shouts from the crowd, including the man who yelled: “You’re a true leader, Mr. Johnson!”

That brought echoes of approval around the arena.

Cheers from West Side residents broke out throughout Johnson’s speech, especially when Johnson reminded the audience that he lives in the Austin, “one of the most disinvested and violent communities in the city.”

West Side resident Margaret Smith said she appreciated that Johnson has continued to live on the West Side.

As Johnson closed his speech, he asked the audience, “Can I get a witness?” The audience erupted in applause and leapt, cheering, to its feet.

City Council members weigh in

Ald. David Moore (17th) said he appreciated Johnson’s calls for development on the South and West sides, but that the new mayor’s call for inclusivity rang hollow a week after announcing that he wants to undo a recent Council reorganization in favor of his own plan.

“You’ve got to be inclusive of everyone, including the City Council. So he needs to go back and tear down what they did in terms of going behind closed doors and setting up these new City Council committees, because not all City Council people were involved in it,” said Moore, the third-term alderperson who was left out of Johnson’s leadership plan.

“If we’re talking about democracy, everybody should have a voice in it, and a vote in it, and how it’s done should be public. And until we do that, I think we start off on the wrong track.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) commended Johnson for “trying to bring people together. That’s the bottom line of what we have to do in the city. I think overall it was a good speech, good points and talked about a lot of different parts of Chicago that are oftentimes overlooked — you know, we’re all in this together, we’re gonna make it go.

“The reality is that we spend a lot of time on the West Side and we joke all the time — I’ve known Brandon now for years, and I believe that he’s gonna bring that same type of energy that he brought to the West Side and bring that across the city. So we’ll continue working,” Ervin said.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) called Johnson’s speech “inclusive.”

“He touched a great tone when he made the connection between the fallen officer [Aréanah Preston] and Adam Toledo. I thought that was a very touching moment. These issues are very nuanced, and we need to handle them in that way, and I’m glad he’s leading in that way.

“I look forward to having an inclusive mayor who’s looking to work with the City Council, and I think as a former elected official, Brandon understands what that means,” Rodriguez said.

Former CTU president praises Johnson’s poise and message

Former CTU President Jesse Sharkey said “it’s clear [Johnson] has a great regard for people in all different walks of life, and he actually takes the things that he says about working together with him with the community seriously. It’s great to have a mayor that both has deep humane values and political skill, and connections to the grassroots movement in this city.

Sharkey also commended Johnson for maintaining his poise in front of a boisterous crowd that often sent out shouts of approval mid-speech.

“That would’ve rattled me. That’s real skill, and I think it’s probably honed by being in front of a classroom, putting on five lessons a day. It’s really honed by being a pastor and by being a genuinely decent person,” Sharkey said.

“This speech, it really just felt different” from others in recent years by former Mayors Lori Lightfoot and Rahm Emanuel, Sharkey said. “That’s partly because of how invested a lot of people in the union movement are in this election, that it really means something.”


Common performs at Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inauguration party Monday at UIC’s Dorin Forum.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Having a ball

Johnson’s day ended with “The People’s Ball,” a party at UIC’s Dorin Forum.

Guests dressed to the nines began trickling in about 7 p.m. The space was decorated in the colors of the Chicago flag — large swaths of blue, accented with red highlights.

Although dress was formal, the food set-up was casual, with offerings from Chicago staples Connie’s Pizza and Eli’s Cheesecake serving complimentary plates from small booths, sort of like a miniature Taste of Chicago.

As guests ate, a playlist of classic hits, house music, and pop blared through the speakers.

The night’s headlining musical act was Chicago rapper Common, who performed lively renditions of several of his hit songs, including “Go” and “Be.”

Common said Johnson’s inaugural speech showed why he had supported Johnson’s candidacy.

“This brother struck me in a way that I had to stand up for my city, and there’s no way that I could let somebody else be mayor when we had this great opportunity to bring somebody who really cares for people.”

Johnson and his family, all in black, then took the stage. He thanked his supporters for their work but said the fight for change was just beginning.

“It’s a new day Chicago, but we are challenged in this room to make it a new week, a new month, a new year,” Johnson said. “I’m talking about a new decade, a new century, where our children’s children’s children will look back in this moment and say this was the generation that stood the test of time — that we were not intimidated by this moment.”

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