Photo caption: Mayor Brandon Johnson with his family (Photos by Parthenia Luke)
Amid ethnic pageantry and fanfare, Brandon Johnson began his first week as mayor of Chicago after being sworn into office on Monday, May 15, capping his stunning ascension to City Hall, the pinnacle of Chicago politics.
Five weeks after Chicago’s 17 Black wards helped Johnson defeat Paul Vallas in the mayoral runoff, Chicago’s 57th mayor took the oath during a soulful inauguration at the Credit Union 1 Arena on the Near West Side. Mayor Johnson later held an open house at his office on the fifth floor at City Hall. Later that evening Mayor Johnson’s inaugural ball was held at the UIC Forum with reportedly 15,000 guests.
At the inauguration ceremony, Chicago’s 50 elected aldermen were also sworn into office. Later, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans administered Johnson’s oath before nearly 10,000 people who filled the arena on a cool morning where long lines stretched along Harrison Street hours before the service began.
Inside, the arena was abuzz with excitement as Governor JB Pritzker, Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx joined members of a changed City Council that includes 16 new aldermen. Four are Black, including Lamont Robinson (4th), Desmon Yancy (5th), William Hall (6th) and Ronnie Mosley (21st).
But the biggest star was Mayor Johnson who, along with his wife Stacie, the city’s first Black First Lady, took center stage in a ceremony that reflected his love for the West Side, his passion for people and his desire to unify Chicago after a toxic election where anti-crime campaign promises stirred racial tensions in the city’s Black neighborhoods.
Soul was a major theme in Johnson’s inauguration.
A dance performance by the Muntu Dance theatre, a powerful prayer by prominent clergyman Reverend Otis Moss III, the singing of Lift Every Voice and Sing by Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, and a soul-stirring gospel performance by Karen Clark Sheard of the famed Clark Sisters, were highlights of the inauguration, drawing loud cheers and applause.
But as part of Johnson’s agenda to unify Chicago, the program also included readings and performances by other races. Rabbi Shoshanah Conover gave a special blessing, and Imam Hassan Aly delivered a prayer for peace for guidance.
During his inauguration speech, Mayor Johnson promised to improve public safety and transportation as crime across the city and the CTA remain a problem. He talked about Chicago’s violent crime problem, the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and the recent fatal shooting of 24-year-old Officer Aréanah Preston, who was scheduled to be buried later in the week after a funeral at Trinity United Church of Christ.
“Too many Chicagoans, though, fear for their safety,” Mayor Johnson said. “And when they walk down the streets to get groceries or drive to the gas station, because our city’s homicide and violent crime rates have consistently outpaced our peer cities, our public transit is unreliable and unsafe. So much so, that many parents refuse to let their children ride, even when the CTA could be the pathway to opportunity and enrichment.”
He also reaffirmed his promise to reopen the mental health clinics Rahm Emanuel closed in 2012.
“And how about we also create a Chicago where the hundreds of thousands suffering from episodic mental health receive treatment in that trauma?” Mayor Johnson said. Mental health services are needed, he said, “Because [there are] people like my late brother Leon, who died addicted and unhoused. If only there was treatment. I want to make sure that no one ever has to suffer because they do not have access to mental health services. And people have told us no for too long. It’s a matter of life and death. So, let’s bring together the private sector, the public sector, the county, the state and the federal government to find the best solutions for delivering these services, including reopening our mental health care centers across the city of Chicago.”
Lingering economic inequities in Chicago was another important topic Mayor Johnson spoke about during his first speech as mayor.
“We can create a prosperous city which no one is too poor to live in,” Mayor Johnson said, calling Chicago “one of the richest cities in one of the wealthiest countries, at the richest time in the history of the world. And so that means I’m talking about a Chicago where 65,000 people don’t wake up on the streets or in a shelter where public housing and affordable housing and a pathway to homeownership exists for everyone.
“I’m talking about a city where it will no longer be the case where every network dollar belonging to a white family, where only $0.08 belongs to a brown family and only $0.01 belongs to a Black family. We can do it, Chicago. We can bring Chicago home. My family is living proof of the type of transformation that can happen with real investments.
“Our schools call out for more resources to fulfill their mandate of providing every single child in our city with a world class education that meets their specific needs. And despite the trauma, these challenges produce, too few can rely on the consistent access to mental health care that they desperately need. But as we debate and discuss the solutions to these crises, I want to remind us that we must have the real conversation.”
Mayor Johnson thanked his predecessor Lori Lightfoot, who drew cheers after saying, “We welcome you to the peaceful transfer of power.” Lightfoot lost her re-election bid following a tough first term in office.
Mayor Johnson spoke about Chicago’s affordable housing crisis, the homeless population and difficulty many families face of owning a home.
“All of us in this room today, all of us in this room today are the product of our own stories,” Mayor Johnson said. “And each and every one of us has a story to not only tell, but lift up, and all of us in this room have the ability to take action to be the courageous men and women who came before us.”
Photos by Parthenia Luke