Garcia questions whether Johnson, a CTU organizer, can be an objective mayor

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is a paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union who helped lead it in two strikes and two job actions since 2012.

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Chicago mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia answers reporters’ questions after speaking at a City Club of Chicago luncheon in January 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

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U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., questioned Friday whether Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson can represent the interests of Chicago taxpayers when his mayoral campaign is bankrolled by the Chicago Teachers Union and he is a paid CTU organizer who helped marshal support for two strikes and two job actions since 2012.

“Will Brandon, if he’s elected mayor, be able to say that he is impartial? That he is fair? That, in negotiations with the union, that he’ll make the best decision for children and taxpayers as issues in education, in the Chicago public school system as other bargaining units come to the table to negotiate? That a really tough situation to be in, and he’ll have to grapple with that,” Garcia told the Chicago Sun-Times, referring to the teachers contract that expires next year.

Johnson campaign spokesman Ronnie Reese could not be reached for comment.

Garcia was the last of eight candidates to join the field of challengers seeking to deny Mayor Lori Lightfoot a second term.

He took so long to make up his mind, the progressive coalition of labor unions and political groups that supported Garcia’s 2015 mayoral campaign and formed the backbone of his political support for his entire career got tired of waiting.

They endorsed one of their own in Johnson and threw their full political and financial muscle behind him. In the last few days alone, Johnson has received another $1 million from the CTU, other teachers unions, and SEIU Local 73 and SEIU Healthcare.

Garcia remains confident that he can force Lightfoot or someone else into a runoff and the progressive family would reunite behind him.

It explains why he was somewhat reluctant to come out swinging against Johnson — even after Johnson accused Garcia of “abandoning the progressive movement” by “copying and pasting” Lightfoot’s failed plan to deliver Chicago from violent crime.

“Look, I helped Brandon get elected to the County Board. It pains me sometimes to hear things that he says,” the congressman said.

Johnson’s $800 million tax plan initially included a “Metra city surcharge” to raise $40 million “from the suburbs.” The tax has since been dropped after generating a firestorm of controversy.

The plan still includes a $98 million jet fuel tax; a $100 million “mansion tax” on high-end home sales; a financial transaction tax; an increased hotel tax; and $100 million in “new user fees for high-end commercial districts frequented by the wealthy, suburbanites, tourists and business travelers.”

Garcia characterized Johnson’s tax plan as a “work in progress” that is not within the mayor’s power to enact. Garcia estimated about $450 million of Johnson’s tax proposal would have to be approved by the Illinois General Assembly.

“When you run for office, you can’t just run on slogans that sound good, that sound appealing. You’ve got to be able to produce policy and plans that would stand scrutiny,” Garcia said.

Lightfoot has denounced Johnson’s tax plan as a “job killer” that will further burden already beleaguered taxpayers and drive businesses out of Chicago. She has branded Johnson a “radical” who wants to defund the police, using a clip from one of his recent radio interviews to support her claim.

In a statement, Reese said Lightfoot is “desperately on the attack using old clips” and “lies” because she knows Chicagoans have “lost faith in her ability to keep our city safe, and they see Commissioner Johnson as the one candidate in the race for mayor who is both smart and serious about crime.”

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