Updated May 15, 2023 - Politics

Brandon Johnson preaches equity in first speech as Chicago mayor

Brandon Johnson mayor

Screenshot from City of Chicago live stream.

In a rousing 40-minute inaugural speech, Chicago's new Mayor Brandon Johnson promised to usher in an era of equity and healing that honors "the soul of Chicago."

Why it matters: In a city already riven by deep racial segregation, this election season drove more divisions between teachers and police, downtown backers and advocates of neighborhood issues, and crime fighters vs. crime preventers.

  • But Johnson's inauguration brought state and local public servants together for a peaceful transition of power full of joy and hope for better days ahead.

What he's saying: "We can create a prosperous city, where no one is too poor to live in one of the richest cities in one of the wealthiest countries at the richest time in the history of the world," Johnson said in cadences that reflected his lineage as a pastor's son in a program punctuated by gospel music and scripture reading.

  • "We must reject a zero-sum formulation between investing in those who have been here for decades and supporting those who have been sent here on a bus even this morning. We can do both, Chicago, and we can all thrive together."

State of play: Johnson has pushed to end these dichotomies before but on Monday he laid out his strategy to do so.

  • "We'll do it together by investing in people. We'll invest in housing, mental health and youth jobs and higher wages and real economic development in every community. We'll do it by supporting law enforcement, especially those who are serving on the front lines. That means providing them with direct lines of supervision, clear expectations for their work, and equal opportunities for advancement and stronger accountability and support for every stakeholder in this city."

The intrigue: Johnson turned his humble beginnings and even an election controversy over his unpaid city fines into a success narrative.

  • "You can't stop somebody with a payment plan from becoming mayor of the city of Chicago," he said.
  • "The very fact that the mayor of Chicago lives in one of the most disinvested and violent communities in the city, it shows us what's possible."

Between the lines: The inauguration crowd was unsurprisingly dominated by progressives.

  • Between speeches the crowd burst into chants of "C-T-U" and "S-E-I-U."
  • And the biggest applause went, not to big name Democratic power players, but instead to CTU president Stacy Davis Gates, U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez and Ald. Jeanette Taylor.

Magic moments: Gospel artist Karen Clark Sheard's powerful performance brought the house down, making the inauguration feel more like a church service, complete with Mayor Johnson and council members raising hands in prayer.

  • When City Clerk Anna Valencia's young daughter cried after leaving the stage and Valencia assured the audience, "she'll be OK, she has M&Ms."
  • When former Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered Johnson a handshake and it turned into a hug. The audience stood and cheered.

What's ahead: Three days before the inauguration, Lightfoot passed a flurry of executive orders left for Johnson to implement.

  • These include establishing an Office of New Americans and a group to help oversee her LaSalle Street redevelopment plan.

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