Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson is pitching unity with Chicago Police officers after a divisive election focused on crime that saw many rank-and-file cops supporting Johnson’s rival, Paul Vallas.
“I’m going to have a conversation with our police officers with our lieutenants, our sergeants to come up with a plan that ultimately places police officers in a position to do their job and not place them in a position where the strain and conflict that exists in communities have pulled us apart,” Johnson said Wednesday during a brief interview with WBEZ.
Johnson is on a media blitz following his victory over Vallas, a former schools administrator in Tuesday’s runoff election. Johnson has so far won 51% of the vote, with mail-in ballots still being counted.
Johnson also talked about hiring the “best possible people” with experience in health care, transportation and more for his cabinet-level positions. Johnson has previously said he will get rid of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, and he is poised to bring in a new police superintendent after David Brown stepped down earlier this year.
Johnson did not commit on Wednesday to keeping CPS CEO Pedro Martinez.
“In order to unite this city, we’re going to need the expertise from all of the different disciplines … I mean, we’re gonna sit down with everyone — that includes Pedro Martinez,” Johnson said.
During his first 100 days in office, Johnson said he would double the number of young people the city hires in an attempt to curb violence, and that he intends to reinstitute the city’s Department of Environment and reopen public health clinics within his first budget.
Here is WBEZ’s roughly 10-minute interview with Johnson on his first day as mayor-elect, edited for length and clarity.
Of the calls you’ve gotten since last night, what’s been the most surprising one?
It’s been an outpour of people all over the city of Chicago, who really want to see a united city, bringing people together. But I really appreciate the calls from my family, friends, of course, elected officials, not just here in Illinois, but from around the country. It’s been remarkable.
Have you gotten a call from Mr. Barack Obama?
Not yet. But I’m hoping that I get a chance to talk to our dear brother, President Barack Obama.
You’ve said you’ve wanted to get rid of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, you’re going to bring in a new police superintendent, too. Are you going to keep CPS CEO Pedro Martinez?
Well, in order to unite this city, we’re going to need the expertise from all of the different disciplines. I’m looking forward to sitting down with Dr. Arwady as well. Look, we went through a 100-year pandemic — it’s going to be important to have her expertise. I’m going to sit down with the CTA president. I mean, we’re gonna sit down with everyone — that includes Pedro Martinez. Look, the bottom line is this: In order to build a better, stronger, safer Chicago, a united city, we have to have everyone’s hands on deck. And so I’m looking forward to those conversations.
Is that you saying there’s a chance you keep Arwady on?
Well what’s important is this: that in this transition, we have to take into account the expertise, again, that all of the city department leaders bring to the city of Chicago. And so, as I’ve said, I am committed to uniting the city. And having individuals who have lived through these last four years, help us with that transition, that’s going to be important to me now. At the end of the day, my administration will reflect the values of the city of Chicago, but I will be having multiple conversations with all of the city leaders in order to bring this city together.
Give me three bullet point actions for your first 100 days in office.
It’s going to be important that we double the amount of young people that we hire for the summer. Look, I’ve made this clear: Public safety is top of mind for all residents of the city of Chicago. We want to prevent violence in the city of Chicago, so making sure that youth hiring doubles, so that it’s not just for summer hiring, but it’s year-round.
Of course, we want to make sure that we are addressing the transportation system, along with our environment. I mean, these are dynamics that we have to address right away.
And then, of course, mental health care. In order for us to have a better, stronger, safer Chicago, we have to deal with the immediate crisis, but we also have to begin to look long-term in providing mental health support for the residents of the city of Chicago. And that includes our law enforcement, who walk upon trauma every single day. And I need to make sure that those who are serving to protect our city, a very dangerous job, that they have the support that they need.
It wasn’t part of your budget plan to slash the Police Department’s budget or defund the police as you were accused of intending to do throughout the campaign. But regardless, I’m sure there are many police officers who voted for Vallas who do believe that that’s in your heart of hearts. And that’s your intention. How do you build a bridge with police officers who see you as the defund candidate?
Well, look, I’ve served as a public school teacher in the city of Chicago. And when you serve in the city of Chicago, you see firsthand the type of trauma that causes tremendous turmoil.
And police officers, in many instances, like teachers, are oftentimes asked to do their job and someone else’s. I’m going to understand that better than any other person who was running for office. I’m going to have a conversation with our police officers with our lieutenants, our sergeants to come up with a plan that ultimately places police officers in a position to do their job and not place them in a position where the strain and conflict that exists in communities have pulled us apart.
My job and responsibility is to unite the city and bring people together. I’m going to do that as mayor of Chicago.
Are you going to try to hire Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates or anyone from the CTU in your cabinet-level positions?
I believe that Stacy Davis Gates has already been elected and I trust that she is comfortable with her position. We’re going to search for individuals who have expertise in violence prevention, who have expertise in health care, education, environment, transportation, all of it. I’m looking for the best possible people in the city of Chicago to help restore and unite this city.
Two of your campaign promises — one was to reopen the city’s public mental health clinics. How long is it going to take you to do that? Is that going to be in your first budget?
We’re going to work towards that, absolutely. Because here’s the thing, the entire city of Chicago wants to see that happen. And as I work to unite this city and bring people together, here’s an area that we all agree on — that mental health services are critical.
And so I’m going to be working with our Cook County Board President, President Preckwinkle, our congressional delegation, and of course, our state leadership, the governor, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, because it’s such a need throughout the city of Chicago.
All of our communities are feeling the trauma of not just a 100-year pandemic, but years and years of gross negligence. And so this is something that we have to work towards immediately. And this first budget, and I’m confident that we’re gonna unite the City Council around the values that I was elected on, and that’s addressing the public health crisis that we have in the city of Chicago.
Same question for the Department of Environment — are you going to reinstitute the Department of Environment in your first budget?
That is certainly what I’m committed to doing.
The cumulative impact study is just one example of how we can unite the city around a green New Deal, and that’s for the air and water. You know, the city of Chicago is well positioned to be a central location for the rest of the country — especially as it relates to the environment.
And so expanding and growing the Department of the Environment and making sure that there are organizers that will go out and ultimately find the grants, the resources, but also the needs of the community. I’ve mentioned this repeatedly — my family, we’re in Austin. Austin has been deemed as one of the hotspots as it relates to just environmental injustice.
And so it is certainly top of mind to make sure that the city of Chicago is united around a green New Deal.
Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ.