It was left to another passage, though, in which the obstacles to unifying the city and getting buy-in for what is likely to be at times a hard sell were acknowledged.
“These divisions are real. They are,” Johnson conceded. “Many people who love our city have radically different views.”
Chicago now will find out if Johnson is the person to reconcile those views. On a warm and sunny day, I want to say he can. But in Chicago, nice weather never lasts long.
In his favor, Johnson already in this transition period has shown himself to be something predecessor Lori Lightfoot never was: a politician. That’s good. Whatever else a mayor of Chicago is, he or she must be a politician who can work with other politicians to get the resources and backing that they don’t command on their own.
Johnson has not insulted City Council members in a way Lightfoot did from day one. His team includes lots of progressives, a nod to his political base, but also experienced, well-considered aides in other posts like chief of staff, acting police superintendent and budget director. He’s at least met with lots of business leaders, and while it’s too early to say whether he’ll listen to folks who mostly backed Paul Vallas rather than him in the election runoff, that’s progress.
But like both Lightfoot and her predecessor as mayor, Rahm Emanuel, Johnson’s first and hardest task will be the one he alluded to above: crime, both creating the investment and backing to provide young people options to stay out of trouble while simultaneously supporting and reforming a Chicago Police Department that needs to change. That would be hard at any time. Right now, Johnson will need all the good will and appeals to common humanity that he can summon.
Johnson clearly signaled that he wants money for summer jobs and neighborhood attractions to keep young people out of harm’s way. He’ll likely get some business funding for that. But after a weekend in which eight people were killed, something needs to change quickly or people indeed will do what Johnson fears: move out of town.
Crisis two is the influx of immigrants, in which tensions are rising between Latinos who want to help their brothers and sisters and Blacks who think their needs again are being bypassed. Johnson clearly declared today that Chicago must help both, even alluding to how Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s family fled to America to avoid persecution in Russia and went on to build the Hyatt Hotels empire. Johnson is right. But walking the line will be difficult.
Another line he’ll have to walk soon is getting the resources for the long list of social programs he mentioned today, from curbing homelessness and providing more money for public schools to revamping the city and reopening mental health clinics whose closure by Emanuel a decade ago still rankles some.
Keeping his allies from going too far with counterproductive taxes will be difficult. Stay tuned for news on that soon. Johnson seems aware of that, referring today to his desire for “a Chicago where big developments get done” and help for a downtown that still is healing from the pandemic. Still, if he needed a reminder, CME Group chief Terry Duffy provided one today, threatening to split town if unfavorable tax moves come from the new administration.
It should be an interesting few months. I wish him luck. But buckle your seatbelts, Chicago. “We get to tell a different story,” Johnson said. We’ll see what it is.
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May 15, 2023 at 05:42PM