Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, long floated as a potential mayoral candidate, has launched his bid for City Hall.
Johnson, a middle school teacher and Chicago Teachers Union organizer, announced his candidacy for mayor at a kickoff event Thursday morning at Seward Park, 375 W. Elm St.
More than 100 supporters representing unions, political groups and neighborhoods joined Johnson on Thursday near the former Cabrini-Green homes, including Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and state Rep. Delia Ramirez, who is running for a Congressional seat in November’s election.
“I continue to be humbled, and honored, by the outpouring of support I have received in coming to this decision,” Johnson said in a statement. “Throughout my conversations with people from all areas of the city, it has become increasingly clear to me that Chicagoans are ready for change, and most important, ready to see their own vision and priorities reflected on the 5th floor of City Hall.”
Johnson represents the 1st District on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. His area includes parts of the Near West Side, Garfield Park, Austin, Galewood and Monteclare, as well as parts of suburban Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood, Broadview and Bellwood.
Johnson was elected to his county board seat in 2018 and was seeking reelection in the Nov. 8 general election against Libertarian James Humay.
Should Johnson win his county board bid, he will continue in that role, campaign spokesperson Ronnie Reese said. If he is elected mayor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle would appoint a replacement and there would a special election for the 1st District seat.
“Chicago has to live up to this amazing promise and this idea of being a world-class city. But in order for Chicago to be a world class city, it has to include all of our young people in its beauty, its wealth and its power,” Johnson said Thursday. “We are going to bring a revival to this city.”
Johnson, 46, lives in Austin. One of 10 children of a pastor, he has taught social studies at Jenner Academy serving students in Cabrini-Green and Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park, according to a news release.
Johnson was an active CTU organizer under former union President Karen Lewis. He was elected to the county board on a platform of expanding public services and safeguarding workers’ rights, according to his campaign.
Johnson’s experience as an educator will greatly influence his work on the 5th floor if he is elected, he said.
“As a teacher, I experienced the painful impact of disinvestment on my students and their families, and this personal experience — seeing children endure inequity — is what fuels my commitment to building a stronger, safer and more equitable Chicago,” Johnson said in a statement.
Some of Johnson’s supporters invoked the names and work of the late Mayor Harold Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. while speaking on Johnson’s mayoral campaign.
“I am so inspired today to join Brandon Johnson’s campaign and to continue the struggle to unify the dispossessed of all colors, creeds and circumstances to create a new and unsettling force which Dr. King envisioned, and for which he gave his life,” Southeast Side organizer Olga Bautista said.
Tara Stamps of the Chicago Teachers Union recalled Johnson’s sacrifice and dedication in shaping Jenner Elementary students.
“It was at that time that he opened the minds of our young people and showed them what was possible,” Stamps said. “It was at that time that he took a little ragtag team of boys who just said, ‘I just want to play ball,’ and gave up all of his after school so that they could have a team.
“I’m so happy to say that right now, today, those young people are thriving, because teachers are the front line of defense for our country.”
Johnson also has supported efforts to scale back funding for policing.
In the height of 2020 protests after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, Johnson introduced the Justice for Black Lives resolution to the county board in support of demands to defund Cook County Jail. The board overwhelmingly approved the non-binding resolution, committing to direct its multibillion-dollar budget more toward initiatives such as health care, restorative justice and job creation to reduce crime.
Johnson said the effort was “not about laying people off, consolidations or closures,” but rather “calling for an expansion of government services” in other sectors. The board had a “responsibility in this moment to address the failures of systems,” he said.
“We are tired of being policed and surveilled, and that the only way our people can receive treatment is if we’re brought into captivity,” Johnson said at the time. “That is a failed system, and I will reject that system until the day that I die.”
Johnson also brought up how Chicago’s public safety issues are portrayed in recent political ads, saying it’s important to address the root of violent crime to reduce it.
“Is there violence? Yes. Is carjacking wrong? Yes, of course it is. But let me tell you what else is wrong: when you have 700 families who live in Parkway Gardens, but the community center can only hold 100. That’s wrong,” Johnson said. “In order to make Chicago not only a safe, but a just city, we need to be a healthy thriving city for everyone.”
Johnson also is among a growing list of elected officials who have pushed the Cook County Board to approve his resolution to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The resolution stalled in committee in 2021.
Johnson is married with three children.
Johnson joins a field of mayoral challengers that includes three sitting City Council members.
Alds. Raymond Lopez (15th), Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Sophia King (4th) all are vying to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is seeking reelection.
The group of candidates also include former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas, state Rep. Kam Buckner and businessman Willie Wilson.
Longtime Lightfoot ally Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who is stepping down from City Council next year, also is rumored as a potential challenger but has not announced a bid.
“Families need change, Chicago needs change, and if we are truly going to transform our city, we need a collective, collaborative approach that reflects the values of the people,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am the candidate who will build a coalition from Ravenswood to Englewood, and all communities beyond and in between.
“As a teacher and organizer, I have seen what is possible when we work together. I will lead with ‘we,’ revive Chicago, and restore the resources, the hope and the possibilities that all of our families and residents deserve.”