Brandon Johnson gets advice at his final County Board meeting

With a nod to the mayor-elect’s “unfunny” jokes and love of snacks, Cook County Board members feted Johnson before his swearing in next month.

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Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson greets supporters the day after he defeated Paul Vallas in a runoff mayoral election, April 5, 2023. Johnson will step down next month from the Cook County Board, which feted him Thursday at his last meeting. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson greets supporters the day after he defeated Paul Vallas in the runoff mayoral election earlier this month. Johnson will step down in May from the Cook County Board, which feted him Thursday at his last meeting. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

Current and former Cook County leaders on Thursday showered one of their own — Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson — with praise, gifts and a bit of advice during his final board meeting as a county commissioner.

They encouraged Johnson to stay true to himself when he becomes mayor and to keep his family close. They praised his strength as a father and husband who often weaves his wife and children into conversations, and pops for pizza on Fridays. And they were energized by his meteoric rise — last fall, he was just elected to his second term on the County Board — and what he could accomplish after taking the reins of one of the biggest cities in the U.S. on May 15.

“Today started on May 17, 2022. We had lunch that day and you confided in me that you were going to run for mayor,” Commissioner Bill Lowry recalled in the packed County Board room. “I not only saw your passion, but I saw your compassion. … It’s been a wild ride, but I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it.”

He touted the attributes that will serve Johnson well at City Hall: communicator, listener, collaborator.

Former Commissioner Deborah Simssaid when she heard Johnson announce his mayoral run, she thought back to when Harold Washington declared his intention. Washington was elected Chicago’s first Black mayor in 1983.

“I felt that same way when I heard you speak,” Sims said. “I fell in love with the way you spoke. I fell in love with the way that you presented yourself. The one thing that I can say is that you have not changed.”

Commissioner John Daley, whose father and brother ruled Chicago as mayor for decades, encouraged Johnson not to second-guess his decisions as he faces challenges ahead. Daley harkened back to having a front-row seat in learning how the city worked, accompanying his father at meetings and conferences, and the importance of going to wakes to pay respects.

“I know … watching you as the son of a preacher, an individual who, when you go out, you’re not just preaching, you believe in what you’re saying,” Daley said. “You want to unite a city.”

Commissioner Bridget Gainer advised: “Don’t tolerate things for other people that you wouldn’t tolerate for yourself.”

Commissioner Sean Morrison, the lone Republican on the majority-Democratic board, gave a nod to how he and Johnson didn’t always agree, but that didn’t get in the way of working together.

“You and I have broken bread together quietly,” Morrison said. “We have talked about issues. I have always been impressed with you to that end.”

Johnson is a progressive who was backed in the mayoral race by the Chicago Teachers Union, where the former public school teacher spent years as an organizer. During his election night speech, he immediately reached out to Chicagoans who didn’t vote for him.

“I will be the mayor for you, too,” Johnson said.

There were lighthearted moments during the County Board meeting, too. Commissioners chuckled about Johnson’s apparently “unfunny” jokes and his love for Lowry’s almonds and Clif energy bars.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who endorsed Johnson for mayor, quipped she’s a South Sider who is proud to support a West Sider. She touted Johnson’s voice for justice and equity across a variety of issues, and later handed over swag that included a shadow box of pictures from when Johnson was first sworn in as commissioner.

“This is very sobering and humbling for me to be leaving this body,” Johnson said during a y brief speech. “We’ve done so much together, important work that has literally transformed county government.”

He credited what he called Preckwinkle’s steady leadership and said he’s a “better leader today because of this body.”

He bantered that resumes for those he wants to follow him to City Hall were due that evening.

“I’m taking all y’all with me,” Johnson said with a laugh.

A spokesman for Johnson said the commissioner will likely resign from the County Board in early May. A group of elected Democratic committee people in Johnson’s district, which encompasses parts of the West Side and west suburbs, including Oak Park, get to pick his replacement on the County Board.

Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County government for WBEZ.

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