To inform voters, the Chicago Tribune politics team posed a series of questions to the candidates running for mayor of Chicago. See their answers below. See how other candidates answered here.
Name: Brandon Johnson
Personal: Married to Stacie Rencher-Johnson, raising one daughter and two sons
Education: Bachelor’s degree in human services and youth development; master’s degree in teaching, Aurora University
Current job: 1st District Cook County commissioner
Government experience: 1st District Cook County commissioner (2018-present), chief of staff to state Rep. Deborah Graham (2005-2010), constituent service director, state Sen. Don Harmon (2003-2004)
Political experience: Chicago Teachers Union organizer (2011-present)
Do you support sending more local funding to the CTA or other public transit agencies as relief funding runs out by 2025?
YES / NO
What plans would you implement to improve the Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train service as well as other avenues of transportation, including automobiles and bikes?
Let’s not sugarcoat this: Service on the CTA is abysmal. Trains and buses are late or don’t show up at all. Crime on the CTA is increasing, and riders have to endure filthy conditions. Bus drivers are painfully underpaid, creating a shortage that has sent the system into crisis. And the CTA president responds by spending $31 million on canine patrols to catch turnstile jumpers? That’s outrageous. We need to do more to make public transit a viable option for Chicagoans. As just one example, we need to create a citywide bus lane network and bus rapid transit system that gives buses priority over other traffic. We also need to install more well-designed, dedicated bike lanes, so that cyclists feel safe on our streets. By investing in viable alternatives to automobiles, we can reduce congestion and make getting around Chicago faster and more pleasant for everyone.
Do you support a ban on closing any Chicago public schools even as school populations continue to decline?
YES / NO
CPS will be transitioning to a fully elected school board in 2027. How do you see the financial entanglements between the city and CPS going forward?
The future of Chicago schools, and of our entire city, will depend on how well the next mayor leads the transition to a fully elected school board and financial independence for Chicago Public Schools. Chicago needs a mayor who understands and believes in public education, and who will invest in our youth to ensure our city’s ability to thrive going forward. Unfortunately, Lori Lightfoot is already beginning to shift expenses from the City budget to the schools; in this year’s budget, the schools are taking on more than $200 million in financial obligations that were previously paid by the City. Our public schools are already underfunded by about $1 billion a year, according to Illinois state guidelines. It’s simply immoral to pile more expenses onto the schools’ budget without a thoughtful long-term plan to make CPS financially stable. The City currently subsidizes a range of ancillary services, including security measures and personnel to keep our kids safe. It must continue to do so.
Do you support reopening all of the closed city mental health centers to help with a citywide crisis response program?
YES / NO
If you answered yes, how would you pay for reopening the health centers? If you answered no, why do you think reopening the health centers is unnecessary?
Our city, and our nation, are in the midst of a mental health crisis. As we head into a fourth year of COVID-19, people are depressed and anxious. It’s estimated that 10% of American youth are experiencing depression so severe that it affects their ability to function. The vast majority of people with substance use disorders have no access to treatment. It is absolutely vital to get more help to people who are suffering. But the need isn’t simply for more care – we also need better mental health care. I think our first step should be to reach out to Cook County, to find ways we can build and expand on Cook County Health’s mental health infrastructure and resources. Working together, I think we can provide good, accessible care while saving taxpayer money.
Do you think Chicagoans feel safer today than they felt four years ago?
YES / NO
Why do you think Chicagoans feel either less or more safe and what is the single-biggest policy change you would make as mayor dealing with crime?
Any crime is too much crime. But it is deeply offensive that Darren Bailey used scaremongering about Chicago crime to whip up support for his failing gubernatorial campaign. Frightening people is not the answer to our crime problem. Fortunately, a recent poll of Chicagoans found that, while they are concerned about crime, the majority see mental health (66%), substance abuse (63%) and housing insecurity (63%) as interconnected public health issues for our city. The people of our city understand that crime is part of a complex set of social issues. The current mayor continues to increase the funding going to CPD, without pursuing better policing or achieving results. Instead, we can better deploy officers, use civilians where higher-paid sworn officers aren’t needed, and other reforms that increase public safety and save money. We then can put those savings into investments that will better people’s lives and reduce crime.
Do you think the level of compliance for the Chicago Police Department consent decree is progressing at an appropriate pace?
YES / NO
What will you do specifically to ensure that the consent decree for the Chicago Police Department is fully implemented in a timely manner? Do you support any amendments to the consent decree?
The City has missed more than half the deadlines set under the decree, and the current mayor had to request a three-year extension. I’m tired of hearing that the City doesn’t have the technology or the staff to implement the decree. Over the past decade, the City of Chicago has spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits prompted by police misconduct. We all would be safer if Chicago had spent even a portion of that money reforming the police department. As far as amendments are concerned, I think it was appropriate to add oversight of search warrant policies and procedures to the consent decree.
Do you support amending city tax subsidies for corporations?
YES / NO
What plans do you propose for helping Chicago’s economy recover?
We need to start by getting the city’s finances in order. For too long, including under the current mayor, we’ve been kicking the can down the road. The longer we do that, the worse the eventual cost will be and the longer we’ll have to keep paying off yesterday’s mistakes instead of making needed investments in a better tomorrow. I have a detailed plan to pay down our debts while ramping up needed investments. These include not just needed infrastructure, but also investments in housing, health, mental health, and most of all, the education and training to ensure that we can attract better jobs in growth field, and that Chicagoans can hold those jobs. Finally, we need to change how economic development incentives are provided in this city: requiring and enforcing binding agreements to create specified numbers of jobs and hire local workers, focusing on revitalizing neighborhood business districts and industrial development and redevelopment, to provide good jobs for all Chicagoans, not just those in high-income jobs.
Do you support reforming or abolishing some city fines or fees?
YES / NO
If yes, name three fees or fines issued by the city of Chicago you would alter or abolish, including red light or speed cameras? If no, why do you feel that the current status of taxes and fees issued by the city of Chicago is fair?
The red light and speed cameras have not been shown to make our streets any safer. They’re just an easy revenue grab by the city, and they’re horribly unfair. Every year, these tickets help to push thousands of people into bankruptcy, and eight of the 10 ZIP codes with the most accumulated ticket debt per adult are majority Black. After five unpaid traffic camera tickets, the city can suspend a person’s driver’s license. That’s disastrous for a working person. We also need to take a new approach to parking fines, by ending compounding fees, allowing waivers of some fees, and creating a sliding scale for low-income people. It is profoundly unfair that people who live in low-resource neighborhoods that are underserved by public transportation face these confiscatory fines when they have no real alternative to driving. In addition, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business projects that a sliding scale would actually increase the amount the city collects on these fines.
Do you think the city has kept its promises to residents as it has redeveloped public housing over the past 22 years?
YES / NO
How will you address housing issues and people without homes in Chicago and what is your vision for the Chicago Housing Authority?
Two decades ago, the CHA published its Plan for Transformation, which called for the agency to demolish most of Chicago’s public housing developments, and to replace them by building or renovating 25,000 units of housing across Chicago. The developments were knocked down, but those 25,000 new units never happened. Instead, CHA now has fewer than half the family units it once owned. At a time when people are desperate for housing, we need to create new public housing units, and we need to move quickly. It is heartbreaking to see people, even children, living in encampments because our city has failed in its duty to invest in affordable housing. Right now, there are more than 44,000 people on the CHA’s waiting list, and that doesn’t include the thousands more who have just given up. That’s disgraceful. Every human being deserves a roof. I also will work to reverse Mayor Lightfoot’s decision to lease 23 acres of CHA land to the Chicago Fire soccer team instead of using it to build family housing.
Do you support reinstating a city Department of Environment?
YES / NO
If not, why not? If so, how will you make sure it functions better than the previous DOE that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel disbanded?
You know, it’s great that City Hall has a green roof. But that commitment to environmental sustainability needs dedication, and for that to filter down through the entire building. We will find new and better ways to support economic growth that is environmentally sustainable. We also need to address the legacy of environmental racism that has made some of our neighborhoods “sacrifice zones,” where polluters are allowed to foul the air and water in ways that undermine the health of the entire community.
Do you support banning mayors and aldermen from receiving campaign contributions from city contractors or their executives?
YES / NO
How would you improve the city’s ethics laws, including whether you would tighten restrictions on individuals tied to city contractors not being allowed to contribute to the campaigns of mayors or aldermen?
It definitely raises ethical concerns when city contractors and their employees are allowed to make campaign contributions to the people who are in charge of giving those contracts. I also support a number of measures that were stripped from the ethics bill passed by the City Council last summer. These include a new rule that alderpersons who are recusing themselves from a vote also must step out during any discussion of the matter. I also believe that the campaign finance rules should be extended to cover subcontractors on city contracts, and that the city should create a database of those subcontractors.
Do you think enough has been done about aldermanic privilege in which aldermen have final say over projects in their wards?
YES / NO
If not, what specific changes would you make to ensure aldermen and alderwomen don’t abuse their zoning authority as many have in the past?
We need to reform and streamline government, and encourage development where needed, but limiting aldermanic privilege is not the right way to get that done. Local neighborhoods, residents and community groups deserve a say in how their neighborhoods are developed and transformed. Aldermanic involvement facilitates that.
Do you think city government is appropriately transparent?
YES / NO
How would you improve transparency in city government, including responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and responding to decisions made by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
The people of this city have the right to know what our government is doing with our money. That’s why we have the Freedom of Information Act. It’s the law of the land. So it is stunning to me that the Mayor’s Office refuses to comply with FOIA requests, and it’s doubly stunning that its refusal continues despite the Illinois Attorney General’s clear direction to follow the law. It is a waste of time and taxpayer money to keep on fighting lawsuit after lawsuit over stubborn non-compliance with FOIA requests. As mayor, I will expect everyone in city government to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and to provide timely, complete responses to requests. That’s what the law requires, and that’s what we’ll do.
Do you support additional city building code enforcement policies, including toughening the building scofflaw list?
YES / NO
The Tribune and Better Government Association won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in local reporting by showing that more than 60 Chicagoans, many of them Black, died in fires where the city knew of fire safety issues in the building but failed to act in time. We found tenants cannot rely on the city to effectively enforce safety codes designed to protect them from fire. How will you address these issues?
The first step is to enforce the laws we already have in place. Landlords who violate smoke detector laws should be fined, and we need to revive the public list of problem landlords. We also need to invest in building inspections and get serious about enforcing safety codes proactively instead of putting the responsibility on tenants to spot violations and make complaints.
Do you support ending the city’s policy of providing security detail for former Chicago mayors?
YES / NO
More than a decade since he left office, former Mayor Richard M. Daley still has a police detail. Chicago is the only city that still does that for former mayors. How long should former Chicago mayors receive police security and a driver from the city?
I can understand that a former mayor may require additional security in the first year after leaving office. However, I think the police detail should end after the first year unless there are unusual circumstances that would require extended security.