Brandon Johnson

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson evades questions on CTU, police staffing, Arwady firing as he marks first 100 days in office

NBC Universal, Inc.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson on Friday called his first 100 days in office “an incredible opportunity and journey” – but evaded specific questions on his inner circle, looming negotiations over a new teachers contract, his firing of the city’s public health commissioner, his campaign promise on police staffing and more.

“The excitement and energy that you’re feeling in the city of Chicago is just unprecedented. What I’m most grateful for is that no matter where I go in the city, people are asking me one question: what can we do or what can I do to help?” Johnson said in a one-on-one interview marking his first 100 days. “That collaborative spirit that I’m leading with, people are fully embracing that.”

A former organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, Johnson deflected when asked what he says to those who may question his objectivity, particularly as the city prepares to negotiate a new contract with the union.

“The people of Chicago voted for me, and so I’m serving the people of Chicago,” Johnson said, pivoting to highlight his support for initiatives to address housing insecurity and mental health. “What does that look like? Bringing Chicago Home. For years that legislation has been stalled. We are now moving towards Treatment Not Trauma, for years that legislation has been stalled.”

He demurred again when asked if CTU President Stacy Davis Gates was part of his inner circle.

“We have a full team that works directly with me, but we also have business partners, we have philanthropy, we have faith-based leaders, we have the full force of government that continues to be on display,” Johnson said, refusing to answer what her role is in his decision-making process or how often the two communicate.

Johnson also declined to share his stance on a possible raise for teachers during upcoming contract negotiations. Shortly after he took office, the city announced Chicago teachers would receive paid parental leave of 12 weeks. When asked if he believed Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police deserved the same leave policy, Johnson again evaded the question, instead pointing to his selection this week of the Chicago Police Department’s Counterterrorism Chief Larry Snelling as the new superintendent.

“Making sure that we have a police force that is fully supported, building the morale - I’m confident that the new superintendent, that I’m looking forward to his confirmation, Chief Snelling, is going to continue to boost that morale,” Johnson said. “But we also have to make sure that we are providing support for our police officers. What I’ve said repeatedly - and law enforcement agrees with me - we’re asking way too much from police officers.”

As for his campaign promise to promote 200 new detectives, Johnson would not give a timeline on that effort.

“We’re working towards it,” Johnson said. “Listen, we have a confirmation that is coming in soon with a new police superintendent so we’re bringing all of our stakeholders together to make sure that we have real, smart constitutional policing, leading towards the type of investments that are going to be needed to ensure that public safety is fully reached using the full force of government.”

When pressed for specifics, Johnson replied: “I know there are people, some people that are accustomed to a dictatorial style. That is not my style.”

His style in firing Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady was to have his chief of staff inform her of her termination last Friday at 5 p.m. He said during his campaign that he would replace her, but would meet with her prior. Arwady said earlier this week that the two “never exchanged three words.”

Johnson declined to discuss the firing, or any specific plans to address rising COVID-19 cases without a health commissioner.

“I’ve been reluctant to talk about this in public because I don’t believe it’s right to discuss personnel or decisions to terminate someone publicly. I believe that’s morally not right,” Johnson said when asked what Arwady’s firing accomplished.

When pressed, he added, “The health department is being fully run by the person who has now assumed the role. And we’re going to continue to make sure we’re putting forth all of the practices, as well as the strategic necessary interventions to make sure that we are mitigating the expansion or proliferation of COVID.”

When asked if he was pleased with the leadership at the Chicago Transit Authority, plagued with complaints over safety and service, Johnson said his administration was assessing all city agencies.

“All of our departments, our sister agencies are being fully assessed and evaluated, and as my team - my senior advisor, my deputy chief of staff, my chief of staff, my chief operation officer - these are the individuals that will bring a full assessment and analysis of all these departments and then we’ll make decisions accordingly,” he said.

The full interview can be watched in the video player below:

NBC Chicago’s Mary Ann Ahern sits down with Mayor Brandon Johnson for an interview on his first 100 days in office.
Contact Us