Mayor Johnson’s swearing-in brings activism and an awkward hug: 7 takeaways from Inauguration Day

The new mayor received a standing ovation for his comments about raising revenue without “breaking the backs of working people” and referencing his own bill payment plan during his inaugural address.

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Brandon Johnson hugs Mayor Lori Lightfoot before he is sworn in as mayor of Chicago during the city of Chicago’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena, Monday, May 15, 2023.

Brandon Johnson hugs his predecessor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, before he is sworn in at the inauguration ceremony on Monday at Credit Union 1 Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Brandon Johnson became the 57th mayor of Chicago on Monday at Credit Union 1 Arena. Here are seven takeaways from Inauguration Day.

Johnson and Lightfoot share an awkward hug

Mayor Lori Lightfoot got a long standing ovation from the crowd and a warm reception from Johnson, too, who seemed to surprise Lightfoot with a hug. The outgoing mayor responded in kind, shaking the hands of Johnson’s wife, Stacie, and three children — Owen, Ethan and Braedyn — to congratulate the new first family.

Brandon Johnson hugs Mayor Lori Lightfoot before he is sworn in as mayor of Chicago during the city of Chicago’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena, Monday, May 15, 2023.

Brandon Johnson hugs Mayor Lori Lightfoot Monday before he is sworn in as mayor of Chicago during the city of Chicago’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Johnson jokes about his payment plan

Johnson drew some of his biggest cheers of the ceremony when he referenced his own past debts on his city water bill, which became opposition fodder late in the campaign before he ended up paying off about $3,000.

"You can't make people feel bad because they have a payment plan," he said, calling for the city to rein in fines and fees. "You can't stop someone with a payment plan from becoming mayor of the city of Chicago." The crowd cheered for about 15 seconds, with many giving Johnson a standing ovation. Some alderpeople behind Johnson on stage also stood to applaud.

Will Johnson align himself with activists?

Among the first speakers at the event was Melodi Serna, executive director of the American Indian Center, whose land acknowledgment was interrupted by a protest. A woman toward the back of the venue shouted, “Stop platforming abusers,” among other cries of opposition, as Serna delivered a speech in honor of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi tribes. Security personnel escorted the protester out.

The crowd was packed with activists from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union, which both powered Johnson’s campaign. Cathy Dale, an attendee and education activist who met Johnson while she was participating in a hunger strike to keep Dyett High School open, said Johnson’s election “means the city is going in the right direction.”

Johnson draws comparison between deaths of Adam Toledo and Aréanah Preston

Johnson, who has batted away claims that he plans to defund the Chicago Police Department, struck a solemn note in his address when declaring that "the tears of Adam Toledo's parents are made of the same sorrow as ... Officer Preston's parents."

Toledo was a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer in the Little Village neighborhood in 2021. Preston was an off-duty Chicago police officer who was shot and killed May 6 near her home.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez, of the 22nd Ward, called the tribute to Toledo and Preston a “touching moment.” But 23rd Ward alderperson and police ally Silvana Tabares slammed the new mayor for “comparing the deaths of a gangbanger & an officer,” in a tweet.

Crowd booed two City Council members

While City Clerk Anna Valencia went through the list of alderpersons being sworn in, Johnson’s crowd gave overwhelming applause to progressive candidates, polite applause to most others — and loud boos for 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez and 45th Ward Ald. Jim Gardiner. Lopez has been an early Johnson critic, and Gardiner had a tumultuous first term that saw him apologize for sending misogynistic text messages. Ald. Marty Quinn, of the 13th Ward, also got a less-than-welcoming reception, with a near-silent response for the longtime loyalist of indicted former House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Members of the Chicago City Council are sworn in during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena, Monday, May 15, 2023.

Chicago City Council members are sworn in Monday during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gospel star Karen Clark Sheard brought down the house

The youngest member of the famed Clark Sisters belted out a rendition of “Total Praise” that brought the crowd to its feet and kept them there. It was the capstone of a program that also included performances from Muntu Dance Theatre and Chicago’s first city poet laureate, avery r. young. Cassandra Figueroa sang the national anthem, and the Soul Children of Chicago performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Karen Clark Sheard sings a gospel song shortly before Brandon Johnson is sworn in as mayor of Chicago during the city of Chicago’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena, Monday, May 15, 2023.

Karen Clark Sheard sings a gospel song Monday, shortly before Brandon Johnson is sworn in as mayor of Chicago at Credit Union 1 Arena.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Common and Chicago sports mascots attend the inaugural ball

All of Chicago’s political elite were there for a day of pomp and circumstance, while rapper Common performed at Johnson’s “People’s Ball” at the UIC Dorin Forum. Mascots from the Bulls, White Sox, Cubs and Bears turned heads, too.

Common performs during The People’s Ball to celebrate Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inaguration, at the Isidore and Sadie Dorin Forum, Monday, May 15, 2023.

Rapper and actor Common performs Monday during the People’s Ball at the Isidore and Sadie Dorin Forum to celebrate Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inauguration.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

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