Mayor-elect Johnson chooses City Hall ‘lifer’ as his chief of staff

Rich Guidice has spent years quarterbacking public safety operations at marquee events, including Lollapalooza, the Chicago Marathon, the 2012 NATO Summit and the parades and rallies that celebrated championships by the Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks.

Now, the 54-year-old Guidice will be putting out fires for Chicago’s new mayor.

Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson on Thursday chose Guidice, a respected City Hall lifer, to fill the most important role a mayor has to fill, particularly one without executive experience.

Guidice has agreed to end his two-week "retirement" to serve as Johnson’s first chief of staff, with state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas as his deputy. Guidice could not be reached for comment.

Pacione-Zayas was chosen in 2020 to fill the state Senate vacancy created by the election of Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez. Before that, she led the Erikson Institute’s Policy and Leadership Department. She is an ally of 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, chairman of the City Council’s Democratic Socialist Caucus.


Johnson’s choice of Guidice is likely to be reassuring to the City Council, business leaders and longtime observers of city government.

He knows city government like the back of his hand, having started as a laborer and worked his way up to executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which operates Chicago’s 911 emergency center. His father and namesake spent two years in the state Senate along with then-state Sen. Richard M. Daley.

Jason Lee, a senior adviser to Johnson’s mayoral campaign and transition team, said what impressed him most about Guidice is his humility, his "deep commitment and passion to service" and his vast experience "managing systems to get things done and deliver results."

"How do you survive City Hall after multiple administrations? By building relationships across departments," Lee said. "By learning how to use soft influence to get things done. At different points in his career, he didn’t have full authority. But he was able to build relationships, understand systems and move things even before he was in that commissioner position.

"That type of collaborative spirit will serve him well as he’s trying to direct departments," Lee said. "He seemed to have a good understanding of what motivates people in city government, particularly levels of mid-management and below. That level of motivation and what inspires people to act is really important."

Having managed "large-scale public events," Lee said Guidice is "used to managing competing priorities and building systems to execute within an ever-changing environment."

Those attributes "serve you well in the chief-of-staff position," he said.

"We see his experience in city government as one of the major benefits. Particularly when we’re bringing in a diverse team that has other areas of expertise, his deep knowledge of city government is unique and will help develop everybody else on the team," Lee said.

During the interview process, Guidice "told a lot of stories" about opportunities he’s had to make a real difference in peoples’ lives," Lee said.

The task force created to tamp down a surge of carjackings was a classic example.

"When he started this, the time between when your car was taken and when you got it back was averaging well over 120 hours. And he was able to, by working with various partners, get that recovery time down to about 55 hours," Lee said.

"That’s not something that’s going to make headlines. … But for people who did get their car taken, knowing that it’s going to be a third of the time to get your car back so you don’t miss work — so you can get your kids to school — that means a lot," said Lee.

As mayor, Daley spit out chiefs of staff almost as often as most people spit out gum. In 22 years, he went through a dozen of them, generating a one-liner at his last City Council meeting.

"I’d like to thank my chiefs of staff. All of them," Daley said, laughing at himself for a change.

The pattern continued — to a much lesser degree — under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Lee acknowledged that the chief of staff position is likely to remain a burn-out job under Johnson.

"It’s probably not healthy for someone to do it for an overextended period of time," he said. "We don’t expect our administration to be different. But we also don’t expect to have undue, unnecessary turnover. And in that time, one of the things that Rich has talked about and done in his career is develop leadership around him."

"There’s a reason why we announced him at the same time as Sen. Pacione-Zayas," Lee said. "She brings a wide range of policy experience and execution in core areas important to the mayor-elect’s agenda: early childhood education, building out community schools and managing teams that take over institutions and improve them, working with folks on the ground. That’s what we’re gonna need to do with city government."