Apr 10, 2023 - News

Chicago health chief Allison Arwady's future uncertain after election

Woman with green jacket at a podium

Allison Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks about COVID-19 on Nov. 22, 2022. Photo: Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Brandon Johnson declared during a WBEZ mayoral debate last month that he would replace health commissioner Allison Arwady if he became mayor.

  • "We have different views of public health, so no, she will not stay on in my administration," he said.

Why it matters: Johnson is now the mayor-elect and will soon start choosing his commissioners.

What she's saying: "It has been an incredible privilege to serve as the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, and I am so proud of our work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many other CDPH initiatives designed to support health and racial equity," Arwady told us in a statement.

  • "We have a tremendous public health team in Chicago and have accomplished so much with our many dedicated community partners."

Backstory: Arwady has worked at CDPH since 2015. She was tapped to be interim commissioner in 2019 and got the permanent role in January 2020, just before the pandemic.

  • Though her COVID-era decisions angered some on the right and the left, that was pretty typical for public health officials across the nation.
  • For some she has offered a steady, calm presence during turbulent times.

What's the beef: We asked Johnson's staff to comment on which of Arwady's policies he objected to, but we didn't hear back by press time.

Between the lines: The Chicago Teachers Union, which helped catapult Johnson to the mayor's office, engaged in a bitter battle with CPS leaders, Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to finally secure a COVID safety agreement in early 2022.

  • That could be driving some of Johnson's opposition to Arwady.

Yes, but: Crain's reporter Jon Asplund conjectures that their big rift is over mental health clinics closed by the Emanuel administration.

Of note: Last week, in an interview with WBEZ reporter Mariah Woelfel, Johnson modified his tune somewhat on Arwady.

  • "I'm looking forward to sitting down with Dr. Arwady," he said. "We went through a 100-year pandemic — it's going to be important to have her expertise."

What's ahead: Arwardy tells Axios she intends "to continue working in public health."

  • "I look forward to meeting with the mayor-elect and his team and having that conversation at the appropriate time," she said.

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