Updated 4/08/2023 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and incoming mayor-elect Brandon Johnson just had their first official meeting. Johnson, 47, a former teacher and Cook County Board Commissioner, caught the nation’s attention when the somewhat unknown figure won the mayoral race.Now that the campaign is over and the transition of power has officially begun, Lightfoot likely has some words of wisdom for her progressive successor.
Winning an election is one thing, but actually governing a city like Chicago is an entirely different ball game. Lightfoot, who faced her fair share of battles as mayor, could certainly attest to that, which begs the question, is there anything Johnson could learn from his soon-to-be predecessor over these next several weeks?
Don’t: Piss Off The Teacher’s Union
As our brilliant senior writer, Candace McDuffie pointed out in her piece about why Lightfoot lost, her relationship with the teacher’s union wasn’t great:
Early into her term, Lightfoot fought over a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union, which ultimately led to an 11-day teacher’s strike. This happened a second time in the beginning of 2022, as the mayor and CTU sparred once again COVID safety protocols. This time, students couldn’t attend school for five days. The final agreement meant that all surveillance testing required parents to definitively opt their children in and that schools would have to go remote for five days if 30% of teachers were absent for two consecutive days or 40% or students were quarantined.
Going to toe-toe with one of the most critical Democratic constituents is never a great idea politically. Johnson would be wise to avoid Lightfoot’s mistakes on this issue.
Don’t: Fail to Hold Cops Accountable
Mayor-elect Johnson has been unafraid to call for a significant change in how policing is done in Chicago. Instead of putting more cops on the street, Johnson has called for public safety strategy that focuses on poverty, economic development, and increased social workers and mental health professionals on the streets. Now that he’s won on those messages, it’s worth looking at how Lightfoot failed to meet the moment we’re in with policing.
Throughout her decades-long career in public office in Chicago, Lightfoot was repeatedly criticized for failing to hold officers accountable. In 2020, after Chicago police officers under Lightfoot’s command were caught brutalizing protestors on camera, a Chicago Inspector General report found that not only was the agency in chaos but that officers were not being held accountable for their actions.
In response, Lightfoot primarily blamed protestors. In a statement to the Washington Post, Lightfoot said the protests “challenged our resources and dramatically impacted the response.” She also gave credit to Police Superintendent David Brown for promising “to do better” before adding, “there were a number of lessons learned and opportunities for improvement that were put into place over the course of the summer and fall.”
It’s not hard to see why the growing voices of people calling for police accountability, we’re not exactly thrilled with Lightfoot at this moment. It also probably didn’t help that crime was still a major concern for Chicagoans. So residents were getting the worst of both worlds in this case, an out-of-control police department, and crime at a relative high.
Don’t: Lose The Support of The City Council
Having friends on the city council is important for any mayor, but Lightfoot struggled with her relationship with the city council. The vast majority of the city council either refused to endorse the sitting mayor or backed her opponents. Her so-called combative approach to dealing with the council appeared to rub many of them the wrong way. During one council meeting about where to build a casino, Lightfoot yelled, “You are a liar,” at one of the Alderman.
Pat Dowell, a council chair, told WTTW that she was endorsing Johnson instead of Lightfoot because they could have a “dialogue.”
“I am supporting Brandon Johnson because he is someone who doesn’t just talk the talk,” Dowell told WTTW. “He is someone that you can have a dialogue with. It is not one way or the highway. It is about sitting down with other leaders and common people in this city and trying to get things right.”
Making and keeping friends like Dowell is likely a winning strategy for Johnson if he wants to stay in power. At the end of the day, Johnson is his own politician who will have to forge his own path in office. But there’s no doubt he’ll want to avoid some of these mistakes if he can help it.