On Monday, May 15 at the UIC Pavilion, Chicago installed its 57th mayor, Brandon Johnson. In his inauguration speech, Johnson expressed gratitude and emphasized his goal to unify and repair the “soul of Chicago.”
Firstly, he started with gratitude. His first words spoken were “thank you.” He thanked his constituents. He too thanked his predecessor Lori Lightfoot for leading the city through turbulent times. Finally, he thanked his family and noted they were instrumental in his success.
When praising his wife, he had a humble brag about her being Chicago’s first Black first Lady. This elicited cheers across the room. After expressing gratitude, he switched to laying out his plan for the city.
Chicago’s First Family
Two themes of his plan were togetherness and repair, which were consistent with his campaign platform. After speaking, Johnson met these words with immediate action. On his first day in office, he signed four executive orders promoting campaign objectives. Firstly, he called for a budget analysis that would assess the budget for youth programming.
Along the campaign trail, this was one of Johnson’s main goals. He promised, “I will create an Office of Community Safety, reopen the city’s mental health clinics, fully fund year-round youth employment, and foster partnerships between communities and law enforcement to make critical investments preventing crime before it happens.”
This is not the only time Johnson has shown an early commitment to youth enrichment. On Twitter, he talked about initiatives that would invest in youth, such as the Peacebook. The Peacebook ordinance was proposed by youth-led organization GoodKidsMadCity, and it is an alternative safety plan that would delegate neighborhood peacekeepers to promote restorative justice. This ordinance was introduced to the City Council in June 2022.
Since then, it has been an uphill battle to get it passed, GKMC noted in a tweet.
In Johnson’s other three executive orders, he called for deputy mayors to be established for immigrant rights, labor relations, and community safety. These are aligned with his platform for issues such as immigration, safety, and the workforce. By signing these executive orders early on, Johnson demonstrates an early commitment to following through on his campaign promises.
His predecessor, former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, was frequently in the news for abandoning her promises. Really, Johnson energized his audience with talk of repair and unity, to which one audience member said: “You’re a true leader, Mr. Johnson.”
Despite the hurdles and the dog whistles and the doubts placed on him, Johnson stepped up to the plate and proved himself to be the best candidate on the ticket.
Johnson accepted the praise and constantly thanked his new constituents for their support during his speech. Additionally, he reflected on some of the issues plaguing the city. Early in the speech, Johnson states plainly that the CTA is dangerous, and changes need to be made. Since 2022, violence has spiked on trains and buses, and Johnson addressed that.
Although he has not rolled out a formal plan to curb some of the violence, he ambitiously pledged to transform commuters’ experiences. This is not the only transformation that Johnson envisioned. He also discussed economic transformation.
You can’t make people feel bad because they had a payment plan. You can’t stop someone with a payment plan from becoming mayor of the city of Chicago.Brandon Johnson
In one part of the speech, Johnson referred to a Tribune article that talked about his debt and likened it to a “failure.” In response to this article, Johnson said, “You can’t make people feel bad because they had a payment plan. You can’t stop someone with a payment plan from becoming mayor of the city of Chicago.”
While speaking, Johnson was candid about his background. He was 1 of 10 children in a working-class family, and he and his wife Stacie forged a path to homeownership. This is a path he wishes to see for all poor Chicagoans. Regarding the economy, Johnson said, “Let’s build a Chicago that is the economic marvel of our state, the Midwest, and this nation.”
He admitted that his goals are “deeply optimistic” but noted that he is committed to making them happen. Another goal of his was personal for him. During the contentious election, Johnson shared an anecdote about his brother who died unhoused and addicted.
Democrats can take a lesson from Chicago.
To prevent this tragedy from afflicting other families, Johnson pledged to reopen the mental health clinics that former mayor Rahm Emanuel closed during his tenure. Johnson asked the audience, “How about we also create a Chicago where the hundreds of thousands suffering from episodic mental health receive treatment and not trauma?”
For this goal, he would build off the work of his immediate predecessor. One accomplishment that Lightfoot had was launching a mental health first responder program. During her tenure, Lightfoot noted the challenges of addressing the city’s mental health needs.
“The fact of the matter is that we inherited a mental health system with significant gaps, particularly in communities of color,” Lightfoot said. However, during his speech, Johnson embraced the idea of a challenge.
He said, “The only way that we can truly confront and address those challenges, is by working together and coming together. We can’t do it in a phony way; in an artificial way that pretends that those differences don’t exist. But I’m talking about in a deeper way that acknowledges the strength of what makes this city so strong and great.”
When speaking of challenges, he spoke about Aréanah Preston, a young, Black police officer who was killed in an armed robbery. With Black women being three times more likely to experience domestic violence, Preston’s death falls into a larger epidemic of Black femicide. This was one part of the repairs he plans to make.
To Johnson, these repairs only happen when we work together. “There is no limit, Chicago, to what we can achieve when we do it together,” he said at the end of his speech.