testLocation — As Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson neared his 100th day in office, he strode into a scene reminiscent of his teaching days more than a decade ago.
It was a back-to-school rally for ahead of the start of the new Chicago Public Schools, academic year, and families children of all ages shuffled across the football field of a Near West Side campus, lugging with them free backpacks and popsicles that dripped under the heat. Johnson stood out with his pressed black suit and cadre of security details, but the mayor seemed to set his official role aside and for a moment to put his teaching hat back on.
“So this school year, you’re gonna go into hallways that you’re familiar with, you’re gonna see familiar faces. But I want you students to challenge yourselves,” Johnson said., addressing the crowd last week. “Those of you who are participating in sports: Challenge your teammates. Pick them up. That’s how you learn how to support one another right on the field.”
Such moments — interacting with people in the community, appearing at celebratory events — are the ones the mayor prefers to focus on when recalling his first 100 days in office, listing Lollapalooza, Sueños music festival and the Bud Billiken parade as personal highlights in a brief interview with the Tribune. He clearly takes pride in having become a role model for kids, especially Black youth.
Asked about how his first 100 days have fared, Johnson’s answers paint a picture of a new chief executive who hopes to keep the fire that ignited his grassroots campaign burning while revealing few details about not betraying details of how his progressive agenda will exactly unfold. They demonstrate what he He and other City Hall mainstays have characterized his style as a more diplomatic style than that of his predecessors, but the new mayor also balked at the mention of critics who say he was not ready or that he has not moved quickly or forcefully enough on issues ranging from cracking down on crime to passing legislation championed by leftists.
His positivity is such that he laughs when asked to list any low points in his first three months., Johnson laughed.
“Oh, it’s Chicago. There’s no low point,” Johnson said. “The Cubs are at two games out of first place. We’re good.”
But the mayor’s outward optimism belies potential problems swirling underneath the surface and a broad array of political challenges on the horizon. Johnson’s first budget forecast is expected next month, ramping up pressure where he will be hard-pressed to fully fund progressive priorities like such as reopening the city’s closed mental health clinics without making painful cuts elsewhere or pushing controversial tax increases.
The new mayor also has substantial work to do on nuts-and-bolts issues within City Hall. Johnson has not yet hired key department leaders. to push his agenda. He did not appoint a top lawyer until weeks into his administration. So far, Johnson He has not announced replacements for the city’s Public Health, Transportation, Housing, Planning, and Human Resources commissioners, who have all either left resigned or announced their intention to leave.
Johnson fired Dr. Allison Arwady as public health commissioner this month without having a full-time replacement lined up and drew flak criticism for his approach, On the campaign trail, he had promised to meet with her [[AY: Don’t remember this and having trouble finding records of that. I do recall he might have promised to meet her as mayor-elect though, not as a candidate, but having trouble finding proof of that too]] He but did not grant her a one-on-one before sending having sent a staffer to dismiss her late on a Friday.
On two of Chicago’s most pressing issues this summer — gun violence, and the recent influx of migrants — the Johnson administration has weathered criticism as well, though the bulk of those crises preceded his time and won’t be solved immediately.
For his part, the mayor has asked the public for patience as he pursues a deliberate agenda and bristles when asked to respond to concerns to criticism that he isn’t prepared.
“No one is coming to me saying, ‘Mr. Mayor, are you prepared to lead the city of Chicago?’ No one asks me that. When I talk to people — and I’ve been all over the city of Chicago — people are asking how they can be helpful. Government is fully functioning, right now,” Johnson said. “And it was on display, you know, ... over the course of these last several weeks. We have, what, 10 more shelters that we’ve stood up since I was sworn in? We’ve had 90 buses of migrants coming from the border, here. And again, the full force of government on display when it came to the (early July) flooding.”
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Caption: Mayor Brandon Johnson, center, meets residents who have been affected by recent flooding in the 4900 block of West Walton Street in the Austin neighborhood, July 25, 2023.
Johnson has gotten less tangible work done so far than his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot, did in her first 100 days. By this time, Lightfoot had proposed changes to the fines and fee changes system to make them the city fairer to overburdened residents and pushed through the fair workweek predictive scheduling ordinance long favored by organized labor.
She also signed an executive order aimed at limiting aldermanic power the power aldermen wield in city departments and got the City Council’s unanimous approval of her ethics reform package, which included measures aldermen have long opposed, though it was far weaker than her campaign promises.
“Very, very much different,” Ald. David Moore, 17th, said about Lightfoot’s first 100 days in office. “We was in a lot of different briefings on a lot of different issues. in terms of her plan. … I’m like, ‘Man, I didn’t even get a chance to be in my ward, we had all these doggone briefings!’ But it was something because I think most administrations realize you have to lay those things out.”
Johnson has had few legislative achievements. since. He passed an ordinance first drafted under the Lightfoot administration to make the COVID-19-era outdoor dining program permanent and oversaw a vote to approve a $51 million appropriation toward supporting the city’s thousands of new asylum-seekers.
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Caption: Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks during a Treatment Not Trauma campaign summit at First Presbyterian Church in the Woodlawn neighborhood, July 22, 2023.
His 100-day promises on the campaign trail to pass Treatment Not Trauma and Bring Chicago Home — two activist-backed demands to reopen the city’s shuttered mental health clinics and raise a tax on luxury real estate sales, respectively — also won’t happen this year. The mayor claimed said he has already made progress because City Council held initial took the first step by holding subject matter hearings this summer. //It also emerged Tuesday that he’s signed off on adjustments to the real estate tax increase proposal before it goes to a voter referendum next year.//
“Both of those pieces of legislation, there were no hearings,” Johnson told the Tribune last week about how those proposals fared under Lightfoot, who opposed them. “There were no conversations. In fact, for the last several years, many folks didn’t even say that was possible. … That is an incredible shift from where we were and where we are.”
What’s still largely to be seen is how Johnson will pay for his agenda. He doesn’t deliver his first budget speech until Oct. 11.The mayor has given himself a bit longer to tackle one of the most challenging parts of delivering his agenda: on his campaign promises: paying for it. them. The mayor is scheduled to deliver his first budget speech on October 11, with department hearings beginning the following week and a full council vote by November 15.
In addition to the promises to reopening closed the mental health clinics and expanding anti-homelessness services through Bring Chicago Home, services for those experiencing homelessness, Johnson pledged to reestablish an official Department of the Environment and fully fund year-round youth employment.
While he has asked constituents to imagine a budget that “creates more than enough revenue,” his team has been more sober about the city’s fiscal challenges: Challenges abound: Chicago’s current pension shortfall rose to roughly $35 billion after lower-than-expected investment returns in 2022. Federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money from the federal government is largely dedicated, if not yet spent, and Johnson pledged as a candidate not to raise property taxes on Chicago families.
The most substantive moves Johnson has made involve Chicago police. Despite running on a platform his campaign-trail criticism of law enforcement and promises to reorient the city’s approach to public safety, away from policing, Johnson hired a well-connected insider who boasted of being “old school,” Fred Waller, to be interim superintendent. The mayor then pointedly stood by Waller even amid reports from WBEZ and South Side Weekly about two separate allegations of domestic violence incidents in the police leader’s past.
For permanent superintendent, Johnson selected longtime Chicago cop Larry Snelling; and as he continued speaking on the importance of raising officer morale after four tough years. — a far cry from Johnson’s early campaign days of condemning policing and incarceration as a “wicked” system.
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Caption: Mayor Brandon Johnson listens as new Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling speaks at City Hall on Aug. 14, 2023.
Johnson has also received praise for a variety of mayoral cabinet appointments, such as his chief of staff, and City Hall veteran Rich Guidice, and deputy chief of staff, former state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas. On other top vacancies, however, the mayor has moved slower and would not indicate when they will be filled. He did not directly answer repeated questions on the delay in and timetable for appointing a new housing commissioner, for one. The Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which Guidice left in April, does not have a permanent leader.
“The move to actually see housing as a real human right, our work has not stopped,” Johnson said. before arguing, “It’s important that our focus is on actually delivering services for the people of Chicago, and we’re doing just that.”
But the absence of several department heads has concerned some in City Hall who say they’re a permanent head at the top is crucial to deliver a coherent vision.
“Yes, the day-to-day operations are being done. But you don’t have the vision or the agenda that’s being pushed from the commissioner,” Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, said. “The sooner he can get folks appointed to these positions, I think, the better. We want to have those relationships with the commissioners. We want to have those subject-matter experts that are leading these departments.”
On crime, a dominant issue of the election cycle, Johnson caught grief even before he assumed office. After an April weekend saw three teens shot as amid hundreds of youths converged downtown and along the lakefront, then mayor-elect Johnson urged people not to came out with a call to not “demonize youth” and resisted calls to walk back that statement.
He has not wavered from that message as in the wake of more rounds of large, chaotic teen gatherings took place this summer. It remains to be seen, however, what his crime-fighting philosophy will look like on the ground.
Johnson responded to a question on how to measure a mayor’s approach to crime by speaking effusively about “investing in people,” focusing on the “root causes of crime” and the city’s summer jobs program for youth that hired 24,000 teens this year. But the mayor demurred when asked when results on the city’s stubborn pace of homicide and shootings could be expected.
“Look, I’ll just say this: I know what I inherited, right? And the city of Chicago is the best city in the world, right?” Johnson said. “And we do have our challenges, and we have a lot of work to do. But again, the fact that we are committed to smart policing, constitutional policing while also getting at the root causes of crime, that is a shift.”
Chicago logged about 700 homicides last year, a modest decline from a historic spike during 2021 but still an exceptional volume.
“We have to start talking about progress today,” Johnson said without , though not elaborating on benchmarks. “The real dynamic that we’re confronted with in the city of Chicago is the fact that our Black boys have been targets. And as someone who is raising Black boys, someone who is raising a family in Austin — one of the more violent neighborhoods in the entire city — making progress as fast as possible is a commitment that the full force of government ... under my administration, or in my administration, is committed to delivering.”And as someone who was raising Black boys, someone who is raising a family in Austin, one of the more violent neighborhoods in the entire city, making progress as fast as possible is a commitment that the full force of government in my administration is committed to delivering.”
On another the other pressing salient issue since inauguration — the fate of the more than 12,000 asylum-seekers who’ve come to Chicago in the past year — Johnson too stresses the unfavorable hand he was dealt. He notes that the previous administration left him in a tough place with some choices, such as boxing him into contracts with private firms, agencies, while the pace of new arrivals from southern border states like Texas rapidly accelerated in recent months.
To that end, Johnson has said his team has done its best to meet the acute need of observed within the migrant families sleeping on the floors of Chicago police stations or huddled in makeshift shelters throughout the city. Some of the loudest critics of regarding the city’s response to the migrants under during the Lightfoot era have also refrained from immediately taking the new mayor to task, on their frustrations, but that honeymoon period is beginning to wear off. //Demands from aldermen continue to build for a long-term plan and a better accounting of public funds the city has spent for migrants — more than $100 million by the end of June.//
Johnson’s team has also kept him more isolated from the media than Lightfoot was in the first 100 days and generally tried to limit his time with reporters. The mayor’s office offered the Tribune 20 minutes with Johnson, for instance, but changed it to 10 at the start of the interview. By contrast, Lightfoot gave the Tribune a half-hour for her 100-day interview. Shorter interviews give politicians more ability to control the narrative and stick to by limiting the amount of time reporters can spend following up on often canned answers and catchphrases.
With few exceptions, Johnson’s weekdays all begin the same: a 30-minute briefing at 8 a.m. with top staff, followed by a one-on-one call with his chief of staff, Guidice. Other standing staff meetings on his schedule include those with deputy chief of staff, Pacione-Zayas, corporation counsel Mary Richardson-Lowry, and later, what was dubbed and the “Core 4″: the mayor, Guidice, chief operating officer John Roberson, and senior adviser Jason Lee.
Johnson also held weekly briefings with the Chicago Police Department and those managing the asylum-seeker crisis. But his the calendars, which are typically prepared last minute and don’t necessarily reflect the mayor’s full day — do not show many sit-down meetings with commissioners or heads of the CTA, parks or airports, nor those who recently departed: housing commissioner Novara, public health commissioner Arwady, transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi or planning Commissioner Maurice Cox.
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Caption: Mayor Brandon Johnson takes a selfie before a City Council meeting on May 24, 2023.
Johnson is quite different stylistically than his predecessor., Lightfoot. During his first City Council meeting, he faced a parliamentary maneuver from Aldermen Anthony Beale and David Moore to delay a bill’s consideration. Johnson stepped off the floor, entered a backroom with them, and negotiated a cease-fire. The bill passed. Lightfoot may have moved on to other business then spent the next few days blasting the aldermen publicly and privately.
Ald. Nick Sposato, 38th, said Johnson’s deftness at running council meetings has already been an improvement from previous mayors he’s served under, including Rahm Emanuel, another Chicago politician who was infamous for his temper.
“He’s a very charismatic, likable individual, and he runs a great meeting,” Sposato, one of the more conservative City Council members, said about Johnson. But the Far Northwest Side alderman cautioned, “He can’t let — and I’m not saying he is letting them but I’m worried about it — he can’t let the hard left run the city. You got the Nick Sposatos of the world and ... (41st Ward Ald. Anthony) Napolitanos, and you got the (33rd Ward Ald.) Rosanna Rodriguez and (the 35th Ward Ald.) Carlos Rosas of the world. We’re so opposite in what we believe in that how do you please everybody?”
The differences between Johnson and Lightfoot also relate to their management personal styles. managing relationships.
While Lightfoot was a prolific emailer, sending staff long notes with detailed instructions on everything from policy issues to how she wants her “office time” to be scheduled, Johnson’s office said he sent no emails during the month of June. But his daily schedule and social media posts show he has still been occupied off-screen, even enjoying his share of celebrity meetings with Chicago natives such as rapper Lil Durk and NBA great Dwyane Wade, on top of regular usual meetings with aldermen, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, local members of Congress and Chicago Bears CEO Kevin Warren.
In some sense, Johnson’s calendar does show him sticking with the familiar: faith leaders, union heads, and county officials.
He had three scheduled meetings with his former colleague at the Chicago Teachers Union, President Stacy Davis Gates. Mayor Lori Lightfoot notably did not have a scheduled sit-down during her first 100 days with teachers union leaders, //who led a strike soon after.//leadership during her first 100 days.
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Caption: Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates mingles during pre-inauguration festivities for Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson outside Michele Clark Magnet High School on May 15, 2023.
Other organized labor entries on Johnson’s calendar: a dinner with the President of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, Jim Sweeney; back-to-back calls with leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police //Local 7// and //Fire Fighters Union// Local 2; a meeting with SEIU Healthcare political director Candis Castillo; and a picnic with Teamsters Local 743, which represents health care, mail order, technical and warehouse employees.
The mayor held brief, but standing meetings every two weeks with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and also made time for the county’s finance chairman, John Daley; former county Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr.; and Forest Preserve District Superintendent Arnold Randall, and held two meetings with his replacement on the county board, Tara Stamps, also a CTU leader.
Asked twice if he is a delegator, Johnson did not directly answer.
“I see myself as someone who appreciates the expertise that people bring to the conversation,” Johnson said. “And there are a lot of experts in the city of Chicago around a variety of issues and again, collaborating and bringing people together is what the city of Chicago wants.”