Mayor Johnson: ‘There is much more of the game to be played’

Mayor Brandon Johnson talks to students on the first day of school last year at Brighton Park Elementary.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

I was sworn in as the 57th mayor of the city of Chicago on May 15, 2023, coming into leadership of a city beset by numerous challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest and the din of both local and national discord. Add to that, 40 years of disinvestment through the loss of affordable housing, and the closing of schools and mental health clinics, and it was clear Chicago was suffering from deep trauma.

Treatment, not trauma, was among the signature pieces of my mayoral campaign, and one we are well underway to actualizing for Chicagoans in need of alternative responses to mental health crises. But a year ago today, our city itself needed treatment — treatment from the trauma experienced through a lack of hope and faith in institutions entrusted to protect and provide.

Chicago needed treatment, not trauma.

That treatment would come by investing in people and in systems of care. Two administrations ago, city leaders closed mental health clinics in vulnerable communities, but my administration is taking a different path because Chicagoans have suffered for far too long.

We have committed to addressing our city’s homelessness crisis with $250 million in support for Chicago’s unhoused and constructed more than 100 affordable housing units, with 700 more under construction across the South and West sides. Half of our $1.25 billion neighborhood investment plan, $625 million, will go toward affordable housing to fund construction, preservation or repair of more than 5,400 housing units across the city. Because when neighborhoods are strong, Chicago is strong.

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That strength, however, has been tested, as one year ago, we inherited a migrant crisis entering a reckless and wicked phase.

Just prior to my administration, between Jan. 1, 2023, and May 12, 2023, there were 11 buses of new arrivals sent to the Chicagoland area.

Since May 12, 2023 — the Friday before my inauguration — there have been 800 buses sent to the Chicago area.

Ninety-nine percent of the buses sent to our area since Jan.1, 2023, came after I took office. This is by design. You become a target when you commit to investing in people.

Chicago ‘does not lose’

But Chicago does not duck, nor will we flinch. As my late brother Leon often said, if you are ducking in a fight, you are losing. Chicago does not lose.

We have cleared women and children from sleeping on airport and police district floors, returned Chicago Park District facilities to communities and cut our shelter population by 50%. Prior to taking office, we were told the city of Chicago cannot accept any more new arrivals. We responded by taking in more than 30,000.

We did so while still making critical investments in affordable housing, mental health and public safety. We are investing more than $100 million into crime prevention and intervention, launching a comprehensive plan to address the root causes of violence in four of the most disinvested communities in our city.

We are reopening mental health clinics and increasing resources for victims and survivors of crime. We are expanding our Chicago Department of Housing’s Home Repair Program to support homeowners and turning outdated Loop office space into affordable housing.

Google and JPMorgan Chase are making long-term commitments to our city because they are businesses that believe in Chicago — a city that now has the most expansive paid leave statute anywhere in the country, impacting an estimated 1.38 million workers.

We passed the One Fair Wage ordinance, eliminating the subminimum wage for more than 100,000 tipped workers, improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans and helping small businesses by bringing workers back into the restaurant and hospitality industry.

We reopened the Department of the Environment and have a Cabinet that is 43% Black and 60% women — demographics that are radically different from previous administrations.

I thank my team — every worker, leader, department and agency that has responded to this moment while bringing the full force of government in tackling other issues.

We reduced homicides and shootings citywide, created a plan to streamline approval processes to build more housing and support commercial development, and led an unprecedented response to a measles outbreak in a congregate setting that created a blueprint for other cities and jurisdictions to follow.

So, thank you, Chicago police rank-and-file and Supt. Larry Snelling, Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Ciere Boatright, Housing Commissioner Lisette Castaneda and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Simbo Ige. The list of points these dedicated servants and my entire administration have put on the board has been substantial.

I am deeply proud of the incredible strides we have made this past year, and it is just the end of the first quarter. There is still much more of the game to be played and much more work to do.

I will continue to fight for the soul of Chicago, fight for those still suffering from decades of neglect and invest in every community.

I look forward to another year of working with everyone to create safety, unity and prosperity in the greatest freaking city in the world.

Let us go forward, Chicago. Together.

Brandon Johnson is mayor of Chicago.

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