With sometimes self-deprecating humor, Johnson presides over first City Council meeting

The new mayor more than made it through his first Council meeting with grace, style and plenty of jokes.

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Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson smiles and waves as his first City Council meeting wraps up at City Hall on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson smiles and waves as his first City Council meeting wraps up at City Hall on Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

He took a selfie when he got to the rostrum in the City Council chambers with the city seal as his backdrop.

He stood for every minute of the three-hour meeting, listening intently to what public speakers and his legislative partners had to say.

Throughout the meeting, he injected levity, sometimes self-deprecating, making fun of his own struggle to pronounce peoples’ names.

Mayor Brandon Johnson presided over his first City Council meeting and conducted his first post-Council news conference Wednesday and more than made it through.

He clearly demonstrated how different he is from Lori Lightfoot, both in style and in substance.

Lightfoot responded to parliamentary maneuvers that delayed consideration of her initiatives by scolding the perpetrators and punishing everybody by summoning the Council back to session in 48 hours, sometimes late on a Friday afternoon.

Johnson took the maneuver that stalled $51 million in surplus funding for Chicago’s migrant crisis in stride. There were no mayoral put-downs. Not an ounce of spite. And he gave the Council a week to reconsider and scheduled the next meeting for next week.

When deposed Finance Chair Scott Waguespack (32nd) rose to congratulate the mayor and wish his replacement, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), good luck, Johnson responded in kind.

“Though he’s not in a three-piece suit, still very eloquent,” said Johnson, who had earlier joked that so many male members were dressed to the nines, they might want to form a “Three-Piece Suit Caucus.”

Throughout the day, humor was Johnson’s calling card and ice-breaker.

He opened his first meeting with a joke at the expense of Fox News, the conservative news network that stirred controversy on his inauguration day by interviewing people in Naperville about violent crime in Chicago.

“There’s breaking news. This City Council meeting is being recorded live from Naperville,” Johnson said.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson reads during Johnson’s first City Council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson reads during Johnson’s first City Council meeting.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

He ended the meeting with a word of thanks.

“I just want to thank this body for its welcoming spirit or, as I like to call it, the ‘soul of Chicago,’” Johnson said, reiterating the theme of his inaugural address.

“I appreciate the energy and the effort of those residents and constituents who joined us today. I thank you for your commitment to democracy.”

After the meeting, Johnson was asked about the Chicagoans in the lobby who were denied entry to the City Council chambers and the glass-enclosed third-floor gallery above it.

“I was not aware of that. I did not issue an edict to prevent people from coming in. … I’ve been a part of many protests in this building, so of course I would not prevent people” from coming in, Johnson said.

“I’m committed to figuring out where the breakdown happened and to make sure that the people who actually belong in this building have complete access,” the mayor said

Toward the end of his 40-minute post-Council news conference, Johnson even joked about all of the jokes.

“I didn’t want to make this breaking news today because my wife is not aware of this,” the new mayor said, “but it is my full intention to develop my stand-up routine and take it on the road.”

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