The Policy Shop: Brandon Johnson’s sinking mayorship
This edition of The Policy Shop is by assistant editor Dylan Sharkey.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson just barely won the city election less than a year ago, with about 26,500 of the city’s nearly 1.6 million registered voters handing him the race. A lot has changed since then, and voters are much more polarized in their views of him – and not for the better.
There’s been a migrant crisis, with $156.2 million in city spending and $638 million in state dollars spent or promised to handle about 35,000 people bused from Texas so far. A new Lincoln Poll by the Illinois Policy Institute shows 69% of Chicago voters disapprove of Johnson’s handling of the migrant crisis.
More than just disapproving, some Black Chicago Democrats sued Johnson for trying to take over their park and community center for migrants who receive laundry services, mental health screenings and $15,000 each in rental support.
“There’s a humanitarian crisis in the Black community,” said Cata Truss, who sued because the local park helped keep her five sons out of trouble. “But every time we have a need in our community, we’re told that there are no funds. There’s no money for us.”
There’s a crime crisis, with voters apparently upset because Johnson is doing the opposite of what they expect. The new poll showed 2-in-3 voters disapproving to some degree, with half strongly disapproving of Johnson’s performance on crime.
In December Johnson released his public safety plan. His “People’s Plan for Community Safety” calls for curbing crime through outreach and intervention with the “highest promise” youth and adults. His 2024 budget eliminated 833 police positions, compounding the 614 positions eliminated by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. He just backed removing school resource officers from the rest of the city’s schools – a week after two students were shot and killed outside a school and the day before three students were shot, one fatally, outside another school.
A RealClear Opinion Research survey showed 77% of Black Chicagoans want to see as many or more police in their communities. Close to 80% of all Chicagoans answered the same way.
There are housing and homeless issues, and again, voters are unhappy. The poll showed 68% of voters disapproved of how Johnson was handling housing and homelessness.
But Johnson has a plan for helping homeless Chicagoans, sort of. He wants a new tax. It’s the only one of his $800 million in new taxes that remains from his failed campaign proposals. It needs voter approval March 19.
Johnson wants to fund homeless relief with a “mansion tax,” but the problem is relatively few $1 million residential properties sell in Chicago. What it really will be is a tax on businesses and apartment complexes because commercial properties worth $1 million or more sell 9 times more often than people’s big houses.
The tax would hit retiring small business owners as they try to sell what is likely their greatest asset. Johnson has no specifics about how his tax would help the homeless or how he would spend the money. Commercial real estate experts say the market is chilly so there’s no guarantee Johnson’s hike in the real estate transfer tax will get him the $400 million he projected.
Plus, where is the guarantee the money will go to homeless aid in a city famous for sucking money into the vortex that is its finances? What guarantees this won’t further damage the business reputation of a city with the nation’s second-highest commercial property taxes?
Johnson’s popularity is poor, judging by the new poll. The share of voters somewhat or strongly disapproving of Johnson’s job grew from 50% to 57% since October. Nearly half as many voters remained undecided about him, with those previously undecided moving into the “disapprove” column.
As far as solutions to the migrant crisis, good luck to Johnson. Chicagoans are seeing there’s plenty of money as long as a group has the right definition of “crisis” to face. Johnson got the city to back a cease-fire in Gaza, but where’s the political clout and resources for one in Englewood?
There’s a little more direction on addressing rising crime in Chicago. It starts with reducing the police officer shortage, providing adequate resources for judges determining whether to release or hold people ahead of trial, and ensuring witness protection so police are able to obtain vital information needed to identify and pursue criminals. Also, local school councils, not the mayor, should be deciding whether their schools need police officers.
And finally on raising taxes for selling $1 million properties? Well, how can you trust someone to spend money wisely and handle the homeless issue well when they have made such a hash of so many other issues?