Union organizer and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson secured a narrow victory in Chicago’s mayoral election on Tuesday, defeating moderate Democrat Paul Vallas. Johnson was backed by the Chicago Teachers Union and a coalition of progressive activists. He emerged as the second-place finisher in the February general election, which went to a runoff because neither candidate earned a majority of the vote.
In his victory speech, Johnson vowed to take his bold, progressive movement across the United States of America.
Early Life and Career
Brandon Johnson, born in Elgin, Illinois, is one of 10 siblings. His parents were pastors and foster parents who raised him on a foundation of hard work, faith, and service. Johnson started his career as a public school social studies teacher and then went on to become an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, one of the most powerful political forces in the city. He played a vital role in organizing the 2012 Chicago teachers strike and led field campaigns for the 2015 mayoral runoff election.
Cook County Commissioner
Johnson became a Cook County commissioner in 2018, ousting an incumbent with the backing of labor unions and various progressive groups, including Our Revolution – a spinoff of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. As Cook County commissioner, Johnson advocated for and successfully enacted a “Just Housing” ordinance that limited the ability of landlords to inquire about a potential tenant’s criminal history.
He also drafted a symbolic resolution that called for diverting money away from police departments as the “defund the police” movement gained national prominence in 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd, a Black man.
Johnson’s eventual mayoral campaign was announced in October 2022, with endorsements from the Chicago Teachers Union, United Working Families, and local and national left-wing activist groups. In conversations with voters, he talked about his experience as a public school teacher, growing up in poverty, and living with gun violence in the city’s West Side.
He promised to address crises facing Chicago, ranging from crime, lack of affordable housing to the city’s $127.9 million budget shortfall, by investing more money in community programs and mental health resources.
Victory and Priorities
With crime a significant issue in the campaign, Johnson faced attacks over his support for the “defund the police” movement, particularly 2020 comments he made stating that cutting police budgets was an “actual, real political goal.” He distanced himself from those comments in the late stages of the mayoral race, insisting, “I said it was a political goal.
I never said it was mine.” Johnson has said he will not reduce the Chicago Police Department’s budget; however, he also has said hiring more police officers or increasing funding will not solve the city’s crime problems.
Johnson’s priorities as mayor, according to his campaign website, range from “public safety and police reform” and “environmental justice” to “gender equity” and “education.” He is passionate about making sure that every student in Chicago receives a fully resourced, supportive, safe, and healthy learning environment, regardless of their race, income, or zip code.
Additionally, Johnson aims to work closely with the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to hold police accountable and evaluate the goals and performance of the CPD, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and the Police Board.
Brandon Johnson will be the fourth Black mayor in Chicago history. In his victory speech, he thanked God and his wife, Stacy, and their three children for their support. He also referenced the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., describing the movement that is sending him to City Hall as a estament to the ongoing struggle for justice and equality in Chicago and beyond.
Johnson highlighted his commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive city, stating that he would work tirelessly to address issues such as racial disparities in housing, education, and employment. He emphasized the importance of community engagement and promised to listen to the voices of all Chicagoans, particularly those who have been historically marginalized. With his win, Johnson has inspired hope and optimism among many residents who believe that he has the vision and dedication needed to bring positive change to the city.
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