Brandon Johnson vows to fully fund, and resource, city’s public schools

The Cook County commissioner who’s backed by the Chicago Teachers Union also plans to create a “robust” youth hiring program to “give our young people hope.”

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Brandon Johnson said one big difference between himself and incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot is that “I don’t break promises.”

Johnson, in fact, has a long list of what he says are Lightfoot’s broken promises to progressive voters.

“The hopes and desires of working families have been ignored. … This is what happens when you are not legitimately connected to the progressive movement,” Johnson told the Sun-Times when he launched his campaign.

“It’s not a surprise to me that she broke those promises because she never believed them from the beginning,” he said.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, which is backing his candidacy for mayor.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, cited the mayor’s about-face on an elected Chicago Public Schools board as one of her broken progressive promises.

Eventually, state lawmakers created a 21-member elected board, which Lightfoot criticized as “unwieldy.”

Johnson also cites other Lightfoot promises, including reopening shuttered mental health clinics; raising the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales to create dedicated revenue to reduce homelessness and create affordable housing; and delivering tax increment financing reform.

Then there’s the standoff over whether a car-shredding operation would be allowed to relocate from Lincoln Park to a predominantly Black and Latino area on the Southeast Side.

Lightfoot’s administration initially backed the move, triggering an ongoing federal civil rights investigation. The city health department eventually denied the operating permit.

Johnson slammed “an administration that was willing to set up a toxic waste dump ... where Black folks and Brown folks reside.”

That real estate transfer tax was in a package of revenue-generating proposals Johnson unveiled in late January.

He started the race with a healthy bank account, including a $1 million contribution from the American Federation of Teachers, on top of an earlier $125,000 donation from the group’s Illinois affiliate. He’s been endorsed by United Working Families, the CTU and independent political groups affiliated with both groups in four Northwest Side wards: the 30th, 33rd, 35th and 39th.

But the CTU endorsement and Johnson’s close ties to the union could be a mixed bag.

Some working parents blame the union for keeping schools closed for 15 months because of COVID-19, causing a loss of student learning documented by recent test scores.

But Johnson makes no apologies for the union’s strong stand.

“We wanted to save lives. That’s it. ... The death toll in the Black community and the Brown community was horrific. Anyone that believes that our intentions were anything other than saving lives somehow missed the entire episode of a 100-year pandemic,” Johnson has said.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson after announcing his campaign for mayor on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022 in Seward Park, 375 W. Elm St.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson celebrates with supporters after announcing his campaign for mayor in October.

At a forum hosted by the Northwest Side progressive groups that endorsed him, Johnson said he was “absolutely” committed to freezing the Chicago Police Department’s budget and, instead, investing in “data-proven crime reduction strategies.” That echoes the non-binding resolution he championed at the County Board.

With polls showing violent crime foremost on the minds of Chicago voters, Johnson vowed to launch a year-round, “robust” youth hiring program to “give our young people hope” and steer them away from the fast money lure of violent street gangs. He also promised to deliver a CTA system where students and seniors ride free.

He also pledged to deliver “fully funded and resourced” public schools and improve Chicago’s homicide clearance rate by ramping up programs that would allow mental health professionals to respond to the nonviolent situations that make up more than half of all 911 calls.

He specifically slammed Lightfoot’s decision to raise bridges to seal off downtown during civil unrest sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

“We should be building bridges — not raising them,” Johnson said. “Ridiculing Black people for the hardship that we’ve experienced in this city is difficult to hear — especially when it’s coming from another Black person.”

Pressed to explain how Lightfoot has “ridiculed” Blacks, Johnson said: “It’s easy to set up curfews for Black children versus finding jobs for Black children. It’s easy to come up to Black children in playgrounds and shoo ’em away without having a conversation and asking them how they are experiencing this pandemic.”

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