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Richard Guidice was selected to be the chief-of-staff of Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson. Guidice had led the city’s Office of Emergency Management & Communications and didn’t commit to some of Johnson’s top public safety promises made on the campaign trail.

Ashlee Rezin

Mayor-Elect Brandon Johnson’s new chief of staff is mum on policing proposals, but sees power staying with the mayor’s office

The City Hall veteran Mayor-Elect Brandon Johnson has chosen as his chief of staff wasn’t ready Friday to commit to some of the top public safety promises the incoming mayor made on the campaign trail.

Rich Guidice, the former head of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, was named as Johnson’s No. 2 this week, along with state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, as Johnson’s first deputy chief of staff. As right hands to the mayor, chiefs of staff play a significant role in managing the mayor’s office, helping develop policy and maintaining relationships with city agencies.

In an interview with WBEZ Friday, Guidice said he has not yet spoken with Johnson on the mayor-elect’s commitments to restore real-time access to police radio channels and end the city’s use of the gunshot detection system recently known as ShotSpotter.

Guidice oversaw emergency response and the city’s 911 call center, and his office was part of outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration’s move to encrypt the city’s police radio channels and give media and the public access to them only after a 30-minute delay. City officials have said the decision was necessary to protect first responders, victims and witnesses.

Chicago Public Media, along with a coalition of other news outlets, spoke out against the move, arguing it clouds transparency and will harm public safety. Johnson previously said he would restore real-time access “as soon as possible.”

“We need to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to make sure that we have a free, open society,” Johnson said at a WGN mayoral debate last month.

But Guidice did not give a definitive answer on where he stands on the policy, and simply reiterated “officer safety is primary.”

Guidice similarly didn’t commit to Johnson’s calls to end the city’s contract with ShotSpotter. The technology aims to use artificial intelligence to differentiate gunfire from other loud noises through hundreds of microphones installed in areas with high rates of gun violence.

But a 2021 Office of Inspector General report found that Chicago Police’s responses to the system’s alerts “rarely produce documented evidence of a gun-related crime, investigatory stop, or recovery of a firearm.” The city’s contract was quietly extended last fall for another six months until February 2024.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox for first responders and public safety,” Guidice said of the firearm detection technology. “So I look forward to having that conversation with the mayor-elect.”

A major tenant of Johnson’s pitch to tackle a rise in crime is investing in programs meant to address its root causes and providing increased access to mental health support. Strategies he’s touted for doing so include expanding the 988 mental health crisis and suicide hotline to a 24-hour model and building off a city program that sends health professionals with police to mental health calls — although Johnson wants health professionals to be able to respond without police. Guidice said it’s a program he looks forward to expanding upon.

Building executive sway

As Johnson’s top deputies in his incoming administration, Guidice and Pacione-Zayas will be tasked with helping Johnson achieve an ambitious policy agenda that will require significant executive sway in City Hall and beyond.

Guidice said he’s built relationships with aldermen over the three decades he’s served in city government that will help him be a bridge between the new administration and a City Council with a fledgling shift toward independence.

“I have friends on the council. I enjoy the conversations. I enjoy the input,” Guidice said. “And most importantly, I’m there to listen and try to help. They have a lot of good ideas. Their hearts [are] in the right place, and I look forward to continuing to work with them.”

Guidice will help Johnson navigate a legislative body that’s coming off four years of infighting with the executive branch under Lightfoot, and one that has sought more independence as a result. Guidice was careful not to show any indication the administration would relinquish the power historically held by Chicago mayors.

Last month, the City Council took a step toward staking out its independence, voting on its own rules, committee chairs and an expanded set of committees. Several aldermen have expressed their hope that the incoming mayor won’t disrupt the process.

“I’m looking forward to hearing some of the feedback from the aldermen more directly on this subject, so I can really get a sense of where they think they need to be and where they think they need to go,” Guidice said when asked if he believes Johnson will need to install his own hand-picked committee chairs to ensure his legislative priorities pass.

Determining who leads city agencies

Once he takes office next month, Johnson will have the opportunity of appointing leaders of numerous departments (if he decides to replace Lightfoot administration picks) — including those who oversee housing, planning and development, streets and sanitation, public health and more — that greatly influence the lives of residents.

A former department leader himself, Guidice said Johnson should continue to maintain power and influence over those agencies’ policies.

“I think that the policy should come from the mayor, the mayor’s office, mayor’s administration, and pushed on to the commissioners,” Guidice said.

While Guidice is a longtime fixture of City Hall, other agency leaders may be headed for the exits. Johnson previously said he would fire the city’s public health director, Dr. Allison Arwady, but was noncommittal on whether Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez would remain.

Pacione-Zayas said Friday it’s “yet to be determined” as to whether Martinez should continue to lead the school district.

“I think with Chicago Public Schools as well as the sister agencies, the commissioners, the leadership within our city — we’re still evaluating to see who is effective, how, what are the areas for support and improvement,” Pacione-Zayas said.

Paying for all of Johnson’s plans

Johnson will also have to find lines of revenue to pay for the investments he’s touted, with some of his proposed tax increases requiring state approval. Earlier this month, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker cast cold water on one of those proposed revenue streams — a tax on financial transactions.

Pacione-Zayas said her relationships in Springfield along with Johnson’s — who was an early staffer of Illinois Senate President Don Harmon — will help.

“I think we have a unique opportunity right now where we have alignment at every single level of government — from the governor’s office, both chambers of the General Assembly, the Cook County Board and now the mayor’s office,” Pacione-Zayas said. “And so I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to look at the plethora of funding streams.”

Guidice is emerging from a brief retirement to join Johnson’s administration. The chief of staff position is one that’s historically seen high turnover under previous mayors. Asked Friday how long he foresees himself staying, Guidice said: “I’m not gonna put a time limit at this point.”

Tessa Weinberg and Mariah Woelfel cover Chicago city government and politics at WBEZ.

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