AUG 25, 2023
Johnson: City leadership that listens to residents, alderpersons fosters ‘entire collaborative spirit’ across departments
Mayor Brandon Johnson during his first City Council meeting. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]
With more than three months of experience leading the city and working with Chicago’s 50 alderpersons under his belt, Mayor Brandon Johnson told The Daily Line he is confident his leadership style of listening to and collaborating with the City Council is permeating to other level of city government and its sister agencies.
Johnson was sworn in as mayor on May 15, taking over for former Mayor Lori Lightfoot whose relationship with members of the City Council grew increasingly strained as her term came to a close. Lightfoot during her last year in office used tactics to keep legislation she opposed from seeing the light of a committee hearing and regularly argued with alderpersons who she disagreed with on the council floor.
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Johnson during a February interview with The Daily Line vowed to head the city and oversee council meetings with a more collaborative approach.
“Having really distinguished branches of government is a very powerful demonstration of what democracy can be,” but “for too long the dictatorial reign of the office of the mayor has left us in turmoil,” Johnson said in February. The then county commissioner said he was looking forward to working with aldermen, though that “doesn’t mean it won’t be contentious at times.”
“Who doesn’t want to be part of a historical transformative moment?” Johnson said at the time. “That’s the energy I’m going to bring.”
Johnson has hit the 100-day mark of his time as mayor, and while there have been contentious moments on the council floor and behind the scenes, legislation he has backed and plans to support has largely seen success with few roadblocks. During City Council meetings when public commenters yell about their opposition to actions that council members and the mayor have taken, Johnson appears visibly calm at the dais and is slow to interject.
- Bring Chicago Home proposal expected to be introduced next month would raise real estate transfer tax for some properties, lower it for sales under $1M
- City Council approves ‘Plow the Sidewalks’ working group, denies $2M police-related settlement
- City Council approves $51M in migrant funding, ordinance making expanded outdoor dining permanent
During his time so far as mayor, Johnson told The Daily Line on Thursday he is “really grateful to have City Council members that that also see the benefit of collaboration” and that the “respective expertise that City Council members bring to city government is absolutely remarkable.”
The group of alderpersons sworn in in May is the most diverse City Council the city has seen, which is “a remarkable testament to who we are as a city,” Johnson said. “The benefit of that has put us in a position as an administration to do something that we haven't ever done before.”
One example of where the city has seen “the full force of government on display” was in response to the flooding that occurred during the weekend leading up to July 4.
“We had the full force of government respond to that crisis — Streets and Sanitation, Department of Transportation, the city workers going into basements of residents harmed by the flooding to help clear out their basements,” Johnson said. “We put together a concerted effort that has led to the disaster relief that FEMA just announced through the Biden administration just last week.”
Johnson said his approach to working with and listening to members of the City Council permeates out to other aspects of city work. During council meetings, Johnson has listened to alderpersons who disagree with legislation under consideration and often snaps back with a humorous or complimentary remark, seemingly diffusing the situation.
“This approach towards bringing people together to build a better, stronger, safer Chicago…as that manifests with City Council members, you're seeing an entire collaborative spirit breakout in all of our sister agencies, as well as our city departments,” Johnson said. “It's a remarkable testament to how people respond to leadership that believes in listening to people and bringing people together.”
Despite Johnson’s self-proclaimed collaborative style of leadership, the mayor and his allies on the City Council during the first council meeting of the term pushed through changes to a revamped council committee structure built and approved by alderpersons just months earlier. The original council committee reorganization was heralded as one that set up the council to act more independently from the mayor’s office and expanded the breadth of committee topic areas.
While the committee structure from Johnson and his top allies that was approved in May gives some leadership roles to alderpersons who supported his opponents in this year’s mayoral election, leadership of the most powerful council committees rests with some of his top allies.
“What the people of Chicago elected me to do was to bring people together and to build a better, stronger, safer Chicago,” Johnson said in responding to why he ushered in a new committee organization. “There are a number of individuals that have committee chairs that did not support my candidacy…and, for me, it was more about making sure that we have people in position to help bring about a better, stronger, safer city.”
Johnson reiterated that the current City Council is more diverse than ever, and its committee chairs include a Black woman, Ald. Pat Dowell (3), leading the finance committee “for the first time in the history of the city of Chicago.”
“It was important that our committee chairs reflect that diversity because again, that is who we are as a city,” Johnson said.
The mayor also pointed to the fact that more Latino members of City Council are chairing committees than ever before. “That was important to me,” he said.
Still, the initial committee reorganization approved before Johnson took office included two Latina alderwomen as committee chairs, while Johnson’s plan included one.
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