Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson: One year in, a failing grade

In Chicago, swapping Lori Lightfoot for Brandon Johnson felt less like a victory lap and more like a collective exhale — a citywide plea for respite from the chaos and downright weirdness of Lightfoot’s reign. Who could forget her “Rona Destroyer” COVID-19 costume or street dancing as city murders soared? But as Johnson settled into the mayor’s chair, the initial ray of hope gave way to a harsh reality check.

As a veteran reporter entrenched in the gritty world of Chicago politics, I had multiple viral run-ins with Lightfoot at City Hall press conferences. That’s why she had my city media credentials revoked. When Johnson stepped into the spotlight, most Chicagoans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, let alone spell out his policies. His win at the ballot box wasn’t a victory for a progressive agenda; it was more of a desperate grasp at change, fueled by exhaustion from Lightfoot’s COVID antics and her incompetence during the George Floyd race riots of 2020.

Chicagoans have been sizing up Johnson since he was sworn in as Chicago’s mayor one year ago. Many have made their decision about him, and at a 20% approval rating, it’s not good. Johnson won with only 18% of the Chicago vote in a runoff election few knew or even cared about. That’s hardly a mandate for his progressive policies.

As Johnson calls the shots, the sheen of promise is wearing thin. From bungling the migrant crisis to his disinterested response to Chicago’s violent crime epidemic and his bizarre comments at pressers, most Chicagoans see Johnson as merely an extension of Lightfoot.

The most damning indictment of Johnson’s leadership came at the end of April when the family of a fallen police officer disinvited him from the funeral. It’s a stark reminder of the deep-seated divisions and animosity that have come to define his “defund the police” tenure. Like Lightfoot, who excused teenage carjackers when I questioned her about it, Johnson condemns Chicagoans for demonizing so-called children and defended the teenage mobs that terrorized downtown neighborhoods last year, saying, “They’re young. Sometimes they make silly decisions.” They’re not just silly decisions. They’re dangerous ones.

Johnson has been throwing around taxpayer cash like it’s Monopoly money, with over $235 million funneled into Favorite Healthcare Staffing, Lightfoot’s preferred vendor for migrant shelter deals. Johnson’s foolish plan to build a winter migrant camp on toxic land in Brighton Park was one of his most visible embarrassments. Now Johnson’s backers within the Chicago Teachers Union are demanding an extra $50 billion to fund more expensive migrant services, alongside demands for fully covered abortions for its members and expanded LGBT-related initiatives.

And then there’s his new $1.25 billion affordable housing borrowing plan and the millions in interest it will cost residents. He has already begun converting office buildings on Chicago’s LaSalle Street, another Lightfoot policy plan, and building affordable housing (read: migrant housing) there.

Johnson and Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) have been quietly spending millions paying for six months of free rent for migrants and putting them up in apartments. Migrants haven’t suddenly disappeared. You see, it’s just not good politics to talk about violent crime and the migrant crisis during an election year — at least not for Democratic politicians in big cities that are failing due to Marxist policies.

As party honchos plot out the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this August and plan to renominate President Joe Biden, all this bad news on violent crime and the migrant crisis needs to be swept under the political rug. Johnson knows this.

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As Chicagoans brace for the fallout of Johnson’s rookie year in office, one thing is crystal clear: We need accountability, transparency, and a leader who’s got the guts to tackle the tough stuff head-on. Until we demand better from Chicago’s leaders, we’ll just be spinning our wheels in the same old failing Democratic Party rut.

The only question is, have Democratic voters in America’s big cities finally wised up?

William J. Kelly is a veteran Chicago reporter and Emmy award-winning TV producer. A native of Chicago’s Southside, Kelly is known for his fiery City Hall exchanges with former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

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