Brandon Johnson has reached the 100-day mark as mayor of Chicago. His actions and statements in that time suggest that the city will face continued decline. He remains beholden to the group most responsible for his election: the Chicago Teachers Union. And when it comes to the twin dangers shadowing Chicago’s future—crime and fiscal irresponsibility—he has set the stage to make them even worse.
Johnson was a former member of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), and the union provided him with crucial support that enabled him to vault past better-known candidates into the mayoral runoff. He has wasted no time in repaying his benefactor. He named Jen Johnson (no relation), the CTU’s former chief of staff, to be his deputy mayor of Education, Youth, and Human Services—a position that has traditionally taken part in negotiations with the union. But even before union negotiations for the next contract began, the mayor unilaterally gave the union a gratuity, extending parental leave to 12 weeks. That’s one less arrow in the city’s quiver for negotiations.
Mayor Johnson also fired Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner. Arwady was unpopular with the teachers’ union because she aided Lori Lightfoot in executing one of her best policies—reopening public schools during Covid. School closures have caused widespread learning loss in children, particularly ones in the most vulnerable communities that Johnson purports to serve. Nothing better illustrates Johnson’s likely course on education policy: he will serve special interests at the expense of Chicago’s children. When asked why he fired Arwady without having even met with her, Johnson gave no answer other than to quote a cryptic rap lyric. Chicagoans should expect no transparency when it comes to the mayor’s relations with the union, which has essentially taken over city government.
Shortly before Johnson became mayor, a large group of teenagers came downtown on a weekend evening, vandalized stores, and harassed and beat up passersby. Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned the violence. Johnson, in contrast, labeled the behavior unacceptable but also sought to excuse it, saying that it was not constructive to “demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.” Asked after he had become mayor when crime would come down, Johnson responded that one could not expect results until poverty and the trauma of communities were addressed. This claim flies in the face of all that we know about crime control. Many communities poorer than Chicago’s have nothing like the city’s levels of crime. Moreover, proven strategies are available for reducing crime, like simply filling the many vacant positions in the Chicago police force. But Johnson is more interested in making crime a prop for his progressive talking points about inequality.
While murder and carjacking in Chicago are slightly down, as they are nationwide, other crimes such as robbery are on the rise. Thieves have brought street crime to Chicago’s wealthier neighborhoods by riding in cars, stopping, and taking valuables from pedestrians at gunpoint. These reverse highwaymen (using vehicles to rob people, rather than vice versa) are a direct result of a Chicago policy that discourages cops from pursuing criminals. Johnson has not even commented on this newly popular method of robbery, let alone reconsidered the policy on police pursuit. The crime wave makes once-safe neighborhoods feel generally unsafe and will lead more people to leave Chicago. Last week, Johnson showed the reductio ad absurdum of his progressive position: blame the victim rather than the criminal. He brought a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai on the grounds that the companies’ cars are too easy to steal.
Johnson campaigned on raising various taxes, and on this he has proved true to his word. He has spent his first few months formulating a “mansion tax” that will more than double taxes on properties worth over $1.5 million and quadruple taxes on properties worth more than $2 million. This will further reduce the value of commercial property already distressed by crime and the pandemic.
Will the mayor use this new revenue to pay down government-worker pension shortfalls, already so large that Moody’s has given Chicago’s bonds junk status? No. Instead, he will pay for programs that he claims will end homelessness but will much more likely enrich politically favored nonprofits at taxpayer expense. Johnson shows no interest in generating greater economic growth or imposing fiscal restraint—the two policies that could help pay off the city’s debts.
The one short-term hope for Chicago may be, of all people, Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker, who has presidential hopes for 2028 and must know that they would be dashed if Chicago were to fall into chaos and insolvency. Pritzker has already blocked Johnson’s idea of a transaction tax on finance—one of Chicago’s most mobile industries. Look for the governor to try to rein in Johnson where he can while pretending to support him. Still, when left to his own devices, Johnson is on course to be the most damaging Chicago mayor in living memory.
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