Brandon Johnson sworn in as Chicago's 57th mayor
Chicago - Brandon Johnson was sworn in Monday as Chicago’s 57th mayor with a promise to "write the story of our children’s and our grandchildren’s futures" by confronting the city’s enormous challenges in a way that summons, what he called the "soul of Chicago."
"What will that story say? That Chicago with its sturdy shoulders and its diverse economy and the legacy of all of our generosity was too afraid to stand up? Is that what our story will say?" Johnson said, as a smattering of "no’s" could be heard from the crowd at Credit 1 Arena.
"We get to tell a different story. I’m talking about a story that binds us together. We don’t want our story to be told that we were unable to house the unhoused or provide safe harbor for those who are seeking safe refuge here because there’s enough room for everyone in the city of Chicago — whether you are seeking asylum or looking for a fully-funded neighborhood. We don’t want our story to say that we did not invest in all of the people and all of the communities that make our city great. We don’t want that to be our story. We cannot afford to get it wrong Chicago. We don’t want a Chicago that has been overwhelmed by the traumatization of violence and despair that our residents felt no hope or no choice but to leave."
The inauguration started with the introduction of the newly-elected City Council, which includes 16 fresh faces; a record 14 Hispanics; 18 women, matching a previous all-time high; and nine members who identify as LGBTQ. The average age is 47. That’s nearly four years younger than the average age of the old Council.
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Johnson owes his meteoric rise to the millions of dollars in campaign contributions and foot soldiers provided by the Chicago Teachers Union, Service Employees Union Locals 1, 73 and Health Care, United Working Families and the Grassroots Collaborative.
Seats on the dais were reserved for the leaders of those unions and community organizations, underscoring the pivotal roles those unions and organizations will undoubtedly continue to play in Johnson’s administration.
The loudest ovations were heard when CTU President Stacy Davis Gates and her Vice-President Jackson Potter were introduced. Loud ovations also greeted Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative and Grassroots Illinois Action and Emma Tai, executive director of United Working Families, where Davis Gates serves as chair.
At 10:59 a.m., a beaming and clapping Johnson was introduced to the crowd, followed by his wife, Stacie and their three children: Owen, 15; Ethan 11 and Braedyn, 8.
The new mayor was dressed for the season in a pale green suit and matching tie. His wife wore a black dress offset by a pearl necklace. Owen was wearing an open collared white shirt and a slightly darker suit. Ethan’s suit matched his older brother’s, but with a tie. Braedyn wore a white summer dress the opposite of her mom.
Shortly before 11:15 a.m., Mayor Lori Lightfoot banged the gavel for the final time calling, what is technically a ceremonial City Council meeting to order.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the peaceful transfer of power," said the outgoing mayor, who got a warm and sustained reception when she and First Lady Amy Eshleman were introduced to the crowd.
After the City Council approved the bond for the new mayor and the motion was seconded by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), the crowd cheered.
In a magnanimous and unexpected gesture of goodwill, Johnson hugged Lighfoot, who had just executed her last official act as the 56th mayor of Chicago. The outgoing mayor responded in kind, shaking the hands of Johnson’s wife and three children to congratulate the new first family.
At 11:50 a.m., Johnson, 47, took the oath of office surrounded by his young family. wife, Stacie, and their three children: Owen, 15; Ethan, 11, and Braedyn, 8.
Brandon Johnson, mayor-elect of Chicago, during an inauguration ceremony at the Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago, Illinois, US, on Monday, May 15, 2023. Chicago elected Johnson in the mayoral runoff, a progressive who plans to raise taxes on major cor
In the audience was his 80-year-old father Andrew, a pastor whose example and spiritual guidance the new mayor has followed his entire life.
In 2006, Stacie Johnson spent a year as an intern at WBEZ-FM Radio, the Chicago Sun-Times news partner. She subsequently spent five years as a staff assistant to then-29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham, followed by one year as an assistant to State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the current Senate president.
Stacie Johnson has been described by her husband of 25 years as "brilliant" and an "incredible writer" who played a role in crafting his inspirational inaugural address.
"Stacie, your love and care for Chicago is only dwarfed by your love for our family. Thank you for everything you do and everything you will do for Chicago," the new mayor told his wife.
It has been nearly six weeks since Chicago elected Johnson, who had been serving as a Cook County Commissioner. Since then, Johnson has been building his administration.
Johnson, 47 and a former organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, was little known when he entered the mayoral race in 2022 and has no experience within city government.
He has since tried to appeal to those who didn’t back him in the election, stocking his transition team with familiar names from Chicago corporations and philanthropies beside leaders of organized labor and progressive groups. He selected a veteran of Chicago’s emergency management agency as his chief of staff and a retired police commander who is popular among rank-and-file officers as interim leader of the Chicago Police Department.
"Mayor-elect Johnson’s top priority remains building a better, stronger, safer Chicago where all residents can live and work free from the threat of violence," spokesman Ronnie Reese said in a statement.
Johnson will not have much time to celebrate. He's inheriting a city in dire financial straits, and will immediately have to deal with the ongoing problem of the thousands of migrants arriving in Chicago and straining the city's resources. Johnson will also be under pressure to quickly choose a new Chicago police superintendent.
Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who is now the U.S. Ambassador to Japan – offered his best wishes to Johnson via Twitter.
"Mayor Johnson, I'm rooting hard for your success. I want every Chicagoan rooting hard for our new mayor's success. Because it's really simple. Mayor Johnson's success is our entire city's success. Let us come together on behalf of our shared future," Emanuel said.
Andrea Sáenz, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust foundation, said she’s hopeful that Johnson can bring philanthropies, businesses, police and activists together to create a wide-ranging strategy to prevent violence now and chip away at the conditions that let it flourish.
"It feels like this is a moment — the moment — to have those conversations, for a mayor to bring everybody to the table," Sáenz said.
Johnson has shown no sign of backing away from his campaign strategies. When violence broke out as teens flooded Chicago’s downtown streets in mid-April, he issued a statement asking that people not "demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities."
Paying for his campaign promises, including the public safety response, hinges on a number of tax increases aimed at high earners and large companies likely to put up a political fight. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the state’s most influential Democrat, already declined to back the mayor-elect’s proposal to tax financial transactions, which would require sign-off from state lawmakers.
Sun-Times Media Wire and Associated Press contributed to this report.