No Hope for Chicago with Brandon Johnson’s Change
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson's reckless plan to asphyxiate Chicago
Chicago is a beautiful city full of history, world-class museums, great shopping, architectural wonders, and tourist attractions. Though visitors are drawn to its lakefront, entertainment, and dining, they are only seeing a shadow of what Chicago once was.
The first non-Native American to live in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point DuSable who established a trading post on the Chicago River in the latter 1700s. DuSable was a multilingual Haitian-African, fluent in several European languages, but, most importantly, also spoke some Native American dialects. DuSable did, after all, marry a woman of Potawatomi dissent. And, thus, begins the story of Chicago’s development.
The opposition to western migration of non-Native Americans into present-day Chicago ended with the Black Hawk War in 1832. By 1837, Chicago became a full-fledged city boasting around 4,000 residents. Over time, Chicago has experienced challenges and adventure, with highs and the occasional ebb. The Board of Trade was created and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow burnt the city down. Rebuilt, Chicago later came to be known as the White City during the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Railways grew, and entrepreneurs like Marshall Field and Richard Sears built their business empires here.
There was, of course, an unseemly underbelly to Chicago’s expansion. Unions protested low wages, which triggered the bloody Haymarket Affair. The incident eventually led to a series of labor related strikes over the next two decades. Later, organized crime became entrenched in Chicago and Al Capone amassed an illicit fortune by distributing illegal liquor, and operating gambling and prostitution rings. All the while, crooked politicians ruled City Hall. The "Chicago Way" of you scratch my back or I’ll break yours became a feature of the political landscape.
That Chicago has long been associated with nepotism and political corruption is in large part owed to Chicago's voters dismissing the opportunity to hold most of our modern politicians to account. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, after all, shuttered an entire city over COVID and maintained pandemic mandates long after they were demanded. Lightfoot’s intentions to keep people and businesses in her grip extended as far as the schooling system. This coercive approach denied students two years of education from which our children may never recover.
This brings us to rampant crime. There is only so much pressure that can be built up in pipes or valves before an explosion. In place of COVID, we are now facing an epidemic of murder and theft. Consequently, people do what they must when an ineffectual mayor cannot or will not maintain peace in her city: Leave. Businesses left. Chicagoans left. Big money left. And the response to this exodus from the mayor and some of our elected officials has been: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”
Cities cannot function without safe streets, well-paying jobs, and a first-rate education system. As Chicago became preoccupied with the 2023 mayoral race, the prevalent expectation among was former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas was a shoo-in to replace Mayor Lightfoot. To those who keenly listened to the debates, Vallas had the answers to stop Chicago from sliding into oblivion. To Vallas’ supporters, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson only had progressive platitudes and a social media following. However, on April 4, a horribly low voter turnout combined with a larger number of young voters propelled Johnson into office.
Since Johnson’s election, Mayor Lightfoot has washed her hands of Chicagoans. Despite having weeks left in her term, Lightfoot has lost the faux community spirit she displayed when running for reelection. Incredibly, Lightfoot no longer feels the sense of duty to the citizens she still leads.
Though Brandon Johnson will not officially become mayor until May 15, the mayor-elect is still acting like he’s running for office rather than behaving like a soon-to-be-leader. In a tweet sent out on the morning of April 15, in spite of the previous night’s 31st Street Beach ruckus, Johnson still felt the need to emphasize his brand of hope and change messaging:
By nightfall, Johnson got what he wished. Neighbors of all ages were, indeed, connecting with one another on a glorious Friday evening while hundreds of less-neighborly youths arrived downtown because of invitations circulated on social media encouraging them to gather in Millennium Park.
However, Millennium Park is supposed to be off limits at night to those under the age of 21 unless accompanied by a parent. Despite a range of desirable amenities Chicago offers — movie theaters, parks, beaches, the 606 Trail, etc. — hundreds of teens traveled downtown and, instead, took part in blocking traffic, jumping on cars, assaulting drivers, damaging businesses and private property. Perhaps it is difficult to understand the aims of Gen-Zers, but this behavior is not wholesome fun. It is criminal behavior.
Thankfully, Chicago Police were on hand, but they were completely overwhelmed. Many found themselves escorting visitors to their cars in the Grant Park parking garage, making sure they were safe. Others were trying to determine the location of random gunfire and searching for victims. Local news reporters hoping to broadcast live were running to safety; other reporters were trapped in their news vehicles by the unruly crowd.
In a welcome, if belated, statement, Mayor Lightfoot’s office said that while many were out just to enjoy the evening, some were involved in criminal behavior. Lightfoot then rightly called out parents and stated:
“Most importantly, parents and guardians must know where their children are and be responsible for their actions. Instilling the important values of respect for people and property must begin at home.”
It is rare when Lightfoot is right, but on this we can agree. Teenagers must have parental influence to teach and care for them and reinforce boundaries. It is a fundamental responsibility that parents know where their children are and with whom they befriend; it is equally important parents instruct children to respect others and both public and private property.
However, judging by the behavior from April 13-15, it does not appear as if any lines have been drawn with these overactive, juvenile delinquents. This reveals something is grossly amiss and a problem that will continue to grow after mayor-elect Johnson assumes office.
In a troubling statement addressing the mayhem downtown, Johnson initially struck the right tone, but segued into the “however.”
“In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend. It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities. Our city must work together to create spaces for youth to gather safely and responsibly, under adult guidance and supervision, to ensure that every part of our city remains welcome for both residents and visitors. This is one aspect of my comprehensive approach to improve public safety and make Chicago livable for everyone.”
Mr. Johnson has yet to be inaugurated, but if he is intent on casting himself as a serious leader, statements chastising the law abiding for criticizing what was obviously criminal behavior is not a way to instill confidence in the city's rank-and-file. Residents of Chicago have every right to “demonize youth” who run wild, batter pedestrians, or destroy property, regardless of where they live or where they commit these crimes.
What is most unsettling about the mayor-elect’s statement is Johnson's claim on one hand not to condone “destructive activity,” yet on the other make excuses for the youths who caused massive disruptions downtown as victims of the failure of city government to provide for them. In view of this contradictory statement, there is every reason to believe Johnson’s default position in response to any future gathering of teens going on a rampage downtown will be “systemic racism.” If this behavior continues without swift condemnation and prosecution, potential visitors and investors will bypass Chicago and the city will decline further.
Like parents having a fundamental obligation to raise children with strong boundaries, it is also a foundational duty of a mayor (or incoming mayor) to build respect for the law. Johnson’s response to the chaotic weekend gave an exemption to an uncontrollable, sometimes violent group of youths under the guise Chicago has somehow deprived them of “opportunities.” We should be even more fearful as Johnson called for fewer police and less prosecution of crime when campaigning for mayor. Given the situation in Chicago, that is insanity.
Therefore, it is fair to ask the incoming mayor: In light of last weekend and your tepid statement, how do you plan to attract visitors to Chicago if they see that teens are running wild all over downtown? What is the plan to incentivize companies like Walmart to invest in the South and West sides when crime causes profits to erode? What is the plan to get people to move (back) to Chicago besides rising taxes, job losses, and a subpar education system?
As Chicago stands at the brink of total disaster, pitiful excuses from the mayor-elect will only encourage more criminal activity and drive residents, tourists, and businesses from the Windy City.