Brandon Johnson Fatigue Sets in on Chicago

November 27, 2023

The explanations for what feeds Mayor Johnson’s poor polling numbers are simple

If you are a Democratic Socialist, progressive, or a member of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), it is distinctly possible you are incredibly disheartened with the results of a new opinion poll revealing Mayor Brandon Johnson’s approval rating sits at a dismal 28 percent.

A poll commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute and conducted by Virginia-based polling firm Echelon Insights, results of the survey send a powerful message respondents are extraordinarily dissatisfied with Mayor Johnson’s six months in office.

With numbers this low, Mayor Johnson should be scrambling.

A man who presented himself as the embodiment of "hope and change" for Chicago, while there are manifold reasons for Johnson’s unpopularity, in order to fully understand how the mayor is facing such low poll numbers so early in his term, we perhaps need to go return to one of the most significant moments prior to his taking office. Over a three-day period in mid-April, unruly mobs of teens erupted in violence, with youths vandalizing property, smashing car windshields, and clashing with Chicago Police at Millenium Park. A car was set ablaze and one motorist was attacked.

Days later, in response to the downtown rocked by unrest, Johnson, who had been meeting with state lawmakers earlier in the day, responded to the turmoil with a finger wag, demanding no judgment be passed on those involved in the disorder.

“Demonizing children is wrong. We have to keep them safe as well.”
“They're young. Sometimes they make silly decisions. They do. And so we have to make sure that we're investing so that young people know they're supported.”

A response which was viewed as making a mockery of the need for law and order on the streets and an invitation for mobs of teens to menace downtown, Johnson’s reaction gave Chicago a glimpse into how he intended to treat crime as mayor. Although the mayor’s choice of Larry Snelling was welcomed as sensible, Johnson’s policymaking continues to be prevailed up by the Chicago Teachers Union and a chorus line of far-left community groups, all of which are determined to create a détente with crime. Remarkably grotesque policymaking, complicating matters for Johnson is the powerlessness of Chicago Police: Johnson continues to struggle with surging crime because vigilant policing conflicts with the dominant political ethos of criminal justice reform favored by Chicago’s elected leadership.

Apart from the absence of effective policing and the mayor caving to opponents of police, Johnson is nearing a pivotal moment in his term as the Democratic National Convention will visit Chicago in the summer of 2024. Despite having a competent police superintendent, Johnson is in the midst of an ongoing battle with Chicago’s image as a lawless, crime-ridden urban wasteland. Though Johnson is facing an understrength CPD — the department is short 1,500 sworn officers since the end of Rahm Emanuel’s term in office — sources reveal CPD has taken no steps to formulate and apply a strategy to cope with what is expected to be a turbulent, six-day Democratic convention. Sources have also revealed Chicago is likely to appeal for assistance from suburban police departments to help manage anticipated protests.

Crime, of course, is not the single driver of Mayor Johnson’s low polling numbers. A former educator in the Chicago public school system and CTU organizer, Johnson has struggled mightily to overcome the image he is unnervingly deferential to the CTU. The perception Johnson is considered obedient to the CTU lingers for good reason: The mayor has done nothing to distance himself from the radicalized union. In one of his first actions, Johnson created a new position, deputy mayor for labor relations. A role defined as liaising with city government to enhance the standing of workers, the position does not mention any counterbalance in favor of non-unionized workers or taxpayer dollars.

While a new deputy mayor for labor was one surreptitious gesture of deference to the CTU, Johnson indulged the teacher’s union further in early June by granting up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to CPS employees. A benefit which had long been an obstacle in contract talks between the CTU and Chicago, Johnson, in an end around, decreed it in a policy change after ordering CPS CEO Pedro Martinez to search for ways to enact the plan. Unsurprisingly, the reform came at an estimated cost of $10 million to taxpayers.

Though Johnson is eager to claim he is independent of the CTU, the hire of former CTU CORE officials Jennifer Johnson as deputy mayor and Ronnie Reese as mayoral spokesman have only confirmed the close relationship the mayor keeps with the CTU. Further, though Johnson has insisted he is not chained to the CTU, it is unhelpful for CTU president Stacy Davis Gates to appear in public with Johnson as frequently as she does. Obviously, Johnson does not discourage the CTU boss from turning out to stand side by side with the mayor. Additionally, although it is expected Johnson will receive a boost from his former colleagues, Ms. Davis Gates, along with a brigade of Johnson’s CORE worshipers, leading a Brandon Johnson cheering section on social media only affirms the belief the CTU is deeply involved with managing Chicago.

Although Johnson has done himself few favors in disassociating himself from the CTU, in what is perhaps the most obvious example of the CTU exercising control over Johnson is found in the firing of Dr. Allison Arwady. In a cold, calculated move, Arwady was dismissed without ever holding a meeting with Johnson. The former commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, Arwady had enraged the CTU over her stance on the reopening of schools for the fall term in 2020. Though Johnson had stated his views on public health differed widely from Arwady’s, the move to cast Arwady at the top of the ash heap was broadly understood as the mayor complying with the CTU’s wishes and it did nothing to dismantle the public perception the CTU hovers menacingly over City Hall.

Though the reasons for Johnson’s tanking poll numbers are endless, the mayor making a hash of the crisis of illegals in Chicago has been a disaster. Since August 2022, some 20,000 illegal migrants have arrived in Chicago, mainly from Texas. Though Chicago’s “Welcoming City” and “Sanctuary City” policies have propelled the catastrophe, Johnson seems unconcerned the flood of illegals have overwhelmed emergency and social services and undermined public safety. Predictably, Johnson has found fault for the crisis in a malevolent U.S. foreign policy, and his solution to the crisis is not ending bad city policy but to implore for aid from Springfield and Washington, D.C.

Since they first arrived, some illegals have been known to engage in drug dealing, prostitution, theft of city property, aggravated battery, and "Unlawful Use of a Weapon". Migrants in Chicago have also been accused of attempted murder and are reputed to have established links to area gangs.  

While Johnson and his allies are aware of the criminality illegals have brought to Chicago, City Hall has engaged in non-stop performative moral preening and shaming critics of Sanctuary City or Welcoming City policy as guilty of a terrible moral failing. Johnson and his allies have also responded by reciting stories of migrants' torturous journey to make illegals appear more sympathetic and have called for the removal of almost all obstacles for illegals to obtain jobs.

An “illegals first, residents second” policy, Johnson entered office with no apparent plan to address daunting issue of migrants in the city. While thousands were sheltered at O’Hare and scattered among CPD stations across the city, as the number of illegals swelled, it ignited a paroxysm of anger from residents in Woodlawn and South Shore.

Despite residents’ fury, Johnson responded with a proposal to create “tent cities” in several Chicago neighborhoods. A plan which drew the ire of residents in Brighton Park, community meetings to sell even the basics of the plan often became contentious and touched off impassioned protests. A continuing embarrassment for City Hall, despite Johnson’s continued claim he works “collaboratively” with aldermen, several faced with the prospect of having a tent city erected in their wards claimed neither they nor their constituents were consulted over the locations for the proposed migrant tent camps. Oddly, some of Johnson’s strongest supporters in the City Council have been spared from having to shelter illegals in their wards.

Under Brandon Johnson, Chicago is no closer to solving any of its most serious problems

Mayor Johnson has been in office only six months. If there one resonant message for City Hall to hear from the Illinois Policy poll it is fewer and fewer Chicagoans are buying what Johnson is selling these days, and with good reason. A poll chock-full of valuable insights into the public’s view of the mayor’s performance, if Johnson is listening, he should recognize Chicago has grown tired of his placing a racial frame around every issue he addresses. The public prefers competence among his advisers rather than hires who “tick the right boxes,” and is growing deeply distrustful of the mayor for consistently underreacting to violent crime enveloping the city.

Moreover, Chicago residents are uneasy with the growing influence of the CTU over City Hall and distraught with the union’s appetite for power, domination, and control. Unlike Johnson, residents in Chicago also grasp the fact, whether you like the law, no one has a “right” to break it or remain here illegally. Most important, the public is growing weary of Johnson reflexively claiming he “inherited” one problem or another. Voters want direction, leadership, and answers, not excuses.

Though Johnson’s partisans are unable to see his faults, or are untroubled to simply excuse them away, six months into Johnson’s term, the public sees Johnson for who he is: A gifted politician, but an incompetent mayor. A man whose great strength is campaigning, it is Johnson’s governing weaknesses which are pronounced. Johnson was not ready to be mayor and after six months in office it is clear he has learned little on the job.

Upon his election, most were not expecting Johnson to be the next messiah. While Chicago residents would have settled for less than a savior, the current mayor has demonstrated he has fallen short of mediocrity and so the words he uttered about building a better, stronger, safer Chicago — words which once had a hypnotic effect on voters — today just elicit a roll of the eyes. For the sake of Chicago, Johnson should have remained a CTU organizer.

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