A Disappointing First Year For Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson

Authored by Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner via Wirepoints.org,

Nearly one year ago, Chicagoans cheered Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s removal from office.

Gone was her toxic attitude. Her flippant dismissal of the city’s many crises. Her abrasive politics.

In her place was Brandon Johnson, who promised a more inclusive approach to building a “better, stronger, safer Chicago.” 

It hasn’t turned out that way.

Today, there’s little disagreement that Mayor Johnson has disappointed on most key issues. On crime. On policing. On migrants. On education. On governance. Even on foreign affairs. 

Two recent polls show Chicagoans have a low opinion of Johnson and his performance so far.

A January poll by Tulchin Research found just 21% of registered Chicago voters approved of Johnson. And a new Harris poll shows just 9% of city residents rated Johnson’s performance as above average while 50% rated his performance as below average. 

It’s reached the point where some Chicagoans are pursuing a recall initiative to remove the mayor.

As we approach Johnson’s one-year anniversary, let’s review how he’s mishandled the city’s key issues.

On crime 

Even before taking office, Mayor Johnson fully embraced soft-on-crime policies. Johnson said in 2020 that defunding the police is not “a slogan, it’s an actual real political goal.” He later defended looting as “an outbreak of incredible frustration and anguish” tied to “a failed racist system.” And at a panel for a police-free future, Johnson said “part of it is removing ourselves away from this state-sponsored policing…”

Johnson has continued to openly excuse crime and violence since becoming Mayor. He declared the youth of last summer’s teen takeovers as just kids being “silly.”  He later pushed back against those who complained of youth mobs taking over city streets: “We’re not talking about mob actions…to refer to children as baby Al Capones is not appropriate.”

All that rhetoric has helped fuel Chicago’s crime problem. 2023 ended up with a five-year high in major crimes committed, while Chicago led the country again in homicides for the 12th year in a row. And while murders are down 10% this year, robberies and violent crimes overall are currently running at a six-year high.

Despite that rise in violence, Johnson earlier this year canceled ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection technology, to appease soft-on-crime advocates who declared the program “racist.” He was later pressured to extend the contract through November to ensure ShotSpotter would be in place during the Democratic National Convention. 

The saga is not over, however, as now there’s a concerted effort by several aldermen to override Johnson’s decision to get rid of the program. They call ShotSpotter an ‘invaluable tool’ for fighting crime in their homicide-ridden wards.

On illegal immigrants

Mayor Johnson never had a plan – and still doesn’t – for how to handle the inflow of illegal migrants to Chicago. That’s led to a series of walkbacks, unforced errors and costly mistakes by him and his administration. The mayor continues to blame Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for the inflow, but it’s Johnson’s continued support of Chicago’s failed sanctuary status and his increased handouts that keep the migrants coming in

The Johnson administration has committed nearly $400 million to migrant health and welfare so far and that’s created outrage across the city’s black and brown communities, many of whom protest that the city’s resources are being diverted away from their own struggling neighborhoods. They feel they’ve become second class citizens in their own city. 

And then there was the Mayor’s flip-flop on his traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border. Johnson originally said he would travel there to see the impact of the migrant crisis first-hand, but walked that back a few weeks later, with the excuse that he had too much to do and that “I’m doing all of that with a Black wife raising three Black children on the west side of the city of Chicago. I am going to the border as soon as possible.” Mayor Johnson has yet to visit the border.

There’s also the tent city debacle, where the Brighton Park site Johnson chose to host a migrant encampment turned out to be an environmental health hazard. Gov. J.B. Pritzker had to step in and block Johnson and the city from proceeding with the 2,000-bed encampment.

On schools

Johnson staked out his vision for K-12 education long before he ran for mayor, declaring he was “against the structure” of education and decrying homework, standardized tests and selective enrollment schools. 

His first step in enacting that vision, a CPS school board resolution calling for a “transition” away from selective enrollment schools and “school choice,” sparked a major backlash from both parents and the state’s political class. Chicago’s selective enrollment and magnet schools are actually among the best, most diverse schools in the state, where black and Hispanic students achieve the same high marks as white students.

A bill protecting those schools from closure recently passed overwhelmingly in the House, serving as a direct repudiation of the Mayor’s efforts.

On Gaza

The mayor recently took the tie-breaking vote in support of a city resolution that called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

That, from the city that leads the country in murders and just hit a five-year high for major crimes.

Even Saturday Night Light Live mocked Johnson and the city council, joking that Gaza had in return called for a ceasefire in Chicago.

On tax hikes

Johnson’s failure to pass his signature “Bring Chicago Home” initiative, a real-estate transfer tax hike to address homelessness, highlighted how little support the mayor has.

Passage of the tax should have been a slam dunk. It was structured to deliver small tax cuts to the overwhelming majority of Chicagoans, while hiking taxes on the wealthy few.

The tax hike, effectively a referendum on Johnson’s performance, failed 52 to 48, dealing a significant blow to the mayor’s authority.

On a new Bears stadium

Johnson is looking for any win to lift his flagging popularity. Cue his support for the Chicago Bears’ plan for a new multi-billion dollar stadium with more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies.

Never mind that Johnson originally rejected the idea of public subsidies for a stadium during his candidacy, saying that such money would be better spent on new housing, removing lead pipes or “dozens of other urgent needs.” 

What makes Johnson’s desperation for a “win” so obvious is that no prominent Democrat stood with him in support, certainly not the ones that matter most: Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Chris Welch all expressed skepticism of the deal.

*  *  *

Perhaps nothing better captures the depth of the mayor’s struggles more than this: Johnson was asked not to attend Monday’s funeral of slain police officer Luis Huesca.

His mother said, “Tell the mayor not to come.  We do not want him there. Tomorrow is about my son and my family’s grief. We do not want him to disrespect his memory. The mayor does not support the police.”

A Chicago mayor, not attending the funeral of a fallen officer. Nothing more needs to be said.

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