Vallas: Mayor Johnson’s 1st year delivers the mayhem he promised

Vallas: Mayor Johnson’s 1st year delivers the mayhem he promised

Mayor Brandon Johnson hits the one-year mark May 15, showing voters he is exactly who he said he was. That’s turning out to be bad for Chicago. Here’s how.

While public opinion polls have shown Mayor Brandon Johnson is the least popular incoming mayor, the progressive activists who elected him should be delighted: Johnson has turned out to be exactly who he said he was.

For everyone else, it’s a lesson in being careful what you wish for.

From policies on public safety, Chicago Public Schools, migrants and handling businesses, Johnson has followed through on what he said he would do.

Unfortunately, that’s come at the expense of making citywide problems worse, especially for poor Black communities Johnson claims to represent.

Here’s what Johnson did during his first year:

On crime 

Mayor Johnson has fully embraced “soft-on-crime” policies. Johnson said in 2020 that defunding the police is not “a slogan, it’s an actual real political goal.” He later defended looting as “an outbreak of incredible frustration and anguish” tied to “a failed racist system.” At a panel for a Police Free Future, Johnson said “part of it is removing ourselves away from this state-sponsored policing.”

Johnson has continued to openly excuse crime and violence since becoming mayor. He declared the teen takeovers in summer 2023 as just kids being “silly.” He criticized those who complained of youth mobs taking over city streets, saying, “We’re not talking about mob actions… to refer to children as baby Al Capones is not appropriate.”

His rhetoric has been matched by actions he’s taken to dismantle police officer strength. He eliminated 833 police vacancies in the budget, guaranteeing the city has almost 1,700 officers fewer than when Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. This will make it difficult to improve police response times, as the percentage of “high priority” 911 calls not having a car available has grown to over 50% in 2023 from 19% in 2019. Meanwhile, arrests rates from non-fatal shootings have plummeted to less than 5%.

Chicago saw the highest number of violent crimes in six years last year. While murders were down 14% overall, the city still led the nation in murders, school age youth murders and mass shootings compared to other major cities. If Chicago were a state, it would be second only to California in mass shootings.

Yet despite the rise in violence, Johnson earlier this year canceled the ShotSpotter program that detects shots fired to appease soft-on-crime advocates who declared the program “racist.” He was later pressured to extend the contract through the Democratic National Convention this August.

While residents citywide are impacted by violent crime, the Black community suffers the most. Almost 80% of all murder victims were Black and Black women constituted 30% of all violent crime victims.

Still, Johnson has been reluctant to condemn the violence, almost excusing the violence by repeatedly blaming it on systemic racism. And there’s no sign of this trend changing.

On migrants 

Johnson continues to support Chicago’s sanctuary city policy that openly invites migrants, promising not to cooperate with the federal government on enforcing illegal migration while providing unprecedented handouts. This includes emergency shelter and housing; medical assessments and treatment; case management services; legal services; job-readiness support; benefits for victims of trafficking, torture and other serious crimes; enrollment in public schools; and protection from federal immigration authorities.

Johnson’s office continues to shift money to pay for these migrant services. Last month, he diverted $95 million in unspent federal COVID-19 funds to provide migrant housing without consultation or approval from aldermen. Then in May, he signed off on another $70 million for migrant care.

All told, the Johnson administration has committed nearly $400 million to migrant health and welfare so far while the state has provided over $800 million for housing and other services and almost $1 billion more for migrant health care.

In the absence of robust federal intervention, the city’s sanctuary city policies will continue to divert more money to migrant services. This has created outrage across the city’s Black and Latino communities, many of whom protest the city’s resources are being diverted away from their own struggling neighborhoods.

Recently, Cata Truss and neighbors from Chicago’s Austin community filed a lawsuit to block Amundsen Park from being used as a migrant shelter. Truss points out that migrants receive benefits Chicagoans have long clamored for, exposing the stark disparity in resource allocation between migrants and impoverished Chicago families.

But the mayor won’t take responsibility for his part in the migrant crisis in Chicago, instead choosing to blame the “white, racist” Texas Gov. Greg Abbot for the influx, claiming he intentionally targets Black mayors in Blue cities to bring them turmoil and disruption.

On education

Johnson staked out his vision for K-12 education long before he ran for mayor, declaring he was “against the structure” of education and decrying homework, standardized tests, school accountability and selective-enrollment schools.

His first step in enacting that vision took shape when the CPS school board issued a resolution calling for a “transition away from privatization” in Chicago’s public schools, threatening CPS’ public charter schools – which serve over 54,000 students, over 98% of whom are Black and Latino – and selective enrollment schools – which serve over 12,000 students, over 70% minority.

As his appointed school board moves to eliminate public school choice, which will overwhelmingly impact low-income and Black and Latino families, the district is systematically abandoning standards and accountability.

Testing has been demonized as a relic of the system’s racist past and academic performance is minimized in student, teacher and school evaluations. Social promotion allows the system to boast historic graduation rates despite abysmal test scores.

Meanwhile, Johnson and his appointed school board push their “sustainable community schools” model as a so-called superior alternative to private, public charter and magnet schools. It’s part of a deliberative effort to eliminate school choice. The CTU demands this school model expand from 20 schools to 200. An Illinois Policy Institute analysis shows that on average, these schools perform far below other Chicago public schools by all measurements.

The sustainable community schools model with its so called “student needs-based” formula is a smokescreen to protect union jobs at severely under enrolled schools. One-third of CPS schools were at less than 50% of their space utilization capacity during the 2022-2023 school year. The five emptiest schools were at less than 11% of the capacity they were built for. Most students at each of these 25 schools are failing to meet grade level requirements in reading and math. There is no accountability in CPS’ traditional schools and Johnson’s agenda will only make things worse.

On tax hikes and business climate

The mayor’s economic strategies have leaned heavy on an ever-expanding public sector and public-private subsidies, not in creating a climate conducive to businesses opening and expanding.

During his first year, Johnson delivered on promises to remove the subminimum wage for tipped workers and double family leave requirements for private businesses – imposing huge unfunded mandates that will devastate small- and medium-sized businesses. He was able to pass his small business-killing Bring Chicago Home real estate transfer tax referendum onto the ballot, though he was unable to secure the votes to enact it.

Though he’s backed away from other taxes mentioned on the campaign trail – such as a hotel tax increase, jet fuel tax and restoring the head tax – the city’s economic heart is failing. Downtown Chicago is seeing record office vacancy rates, office properties mired in foreclosure and 29% growth in distressed commercial real estate, according to research firm MSCI Real Assets. Instead of focusing on helping businesses, Johnson floated an effort to transform empty Loop office buildings into apartments using tax subsidies so long as at least 30% of the units were affordable. This would amount to spending $150 million in return for 319 “affordable” $470,000 units. Hardly efficient.

The only thing resembling an economic strategy is Johnson’s plan to use revenues from expiring tax increment financing districts to borrow $1.25 billion to build affordable housing and other developments in Chicago over the next five years. But few details have been offered and there are no safeguards in place to prevent money mismanagement.

Desperate to secure a win, the mayor signed on to the Chicago Bears’ plan for a new multi-billion dollar stadium with more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies to permanently deface the lakefront, despite originally rejecting the idea of public subsidies for a stadium during his candidacy.

Johnson fails to recognize the key to a thriving city is reasonable taxes, affordable business practices, and a safe community for all. There has been no effort to offset taxes, defray the cost of mandates, reimburse security costs, or bring down crime rates. If only the administration were as aggressive about protecting city businesses and residents as they appear to be in protecting the DNC’s party elites.

On transparency and accountability

The administration and its allies have made it very clear they will be neither transparent nor accountable. Recall how the mayor’s former floor leader balked at improving transparency and the capacity for independent analysis? He said providing the Council Office of Financial Analysis and the Legislative Research Bureau with more resources and staffing “is simply not a priority from his colleagues.”

The most recent example of efforts to thwart greater transparency and to stifle analysis was Johnson’s direction to bury Ald. Bill Conway’s ordinance – requiring public discussion for COVID-19 spending exceeding $1 million – in the Rules Committee. It followed Johnson’s surprise announcement that his administration spent $95 million in unspent pandemic relief aid on migrant services without official City Council discussion or notice.

Chicago, purportedly a progressive bastion, remains under the iron grip of mayoral authority, with the City Council failing to assert its oversight role. Johnson’s agenda is amplified by the Council’s Socialist leaders, an agenda that does not address the critical needs of Chicago’s residents.

Decisions and actions taken during the mayor’s first year underscore a pattern of poor governance, characterized by fiscal irresponsibility and lack of transparency.

Ultimately, Johnson is a four-year-failed-teacher-turned-union-organizer with no management skills, who is guided by a far-left ideology he’s blindly embraced.

He blames racism for every problem and screams racism at anyone who points out his failings or opposes him. Yet he promotes policies intended to address “systemic racism” that create greater racial disparities and inequities. Sound racist?  If not by intent, then by outcome.

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