Brandon Johnson

Keeping campaign promises will take time, top Johnson aide says

Mayor Brandon Johnson “is not anti-business” and remains committed to talking to business leaders about “what his priorities are and the best way to fund” them, a top mayoral aide said Wednesday.

Johnson campaigned on a promise to make $1 billion in investments in people, with that money coming from $800 million in increased taxes, fines and fees. But Chief Operating Officer John Roberson said the mayor knows it’ll take years to deliver those investments, with the pace of progress depending on how much new revenue he can get, and when.

“Nothing can be done in a single year,” Roberson told the Sun-Times. “It is going to require a strategic approach in terms of what things we can get done at what pace at what time, given the resources that we have.”

The new mayor’s first budget will make a down payment on his priorities to combat homelessness, reopen shuttered mental health clinics and free Chicago police officers to focus on violent crime by creating a citywide non-police response to mental health emergencies, Roberson said.

“Contrary to some of the narratives out there, the mayor is not anti-business. And so, it’s our intent to continue to have an open dialogue with the business community and many other stakeholders about what his priorities are and what is the best way to fund those priorities,” Roberson said.

Business leaders oppose reinstating the $4-a-month-per-employee head tax. They are adamantly against raising the hotel and jet fuel tax. Imposing a tax on financial transactions, another Johnson proposal, is prohibited by state law.

A long-standing proposal to more than triple the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales to create a dedicated funding source to combat homelessness appears to be the path of least resistance.

It’s no longer a question of if but when the transfer tax will be raised, if voters approve it through a binding referendum. The question is how the referendum will be worded and what form the tax would take.

Will only that part of the sale over $1 million be taxed? Or the entire purchase price? Or will there be a higher trigger or cap on the total tax that can be applied to an individual sale?

“I can’t tell you what, if any, changes are going to be made. I can only tell you that we are committed to making sure that this is a collaborative process where everyone will have an opportunity to sit at the table and to provide their input,” Roberson said.

“We are committed to getting to a ‘yes,’ because he believes that it is absolutely important that we have that dedicated funding stream to help deal with our unhoused population.”

The same consensus-building approach will apply to Johnson implementing the “treatment not trauma” approach to mental health.

Roberson refused to say how many of the six shuttered mental health clinics Johnson would seek to reopen in his first budget or how he plans to pay for it.

“That will be his first budget. It’s not his last budget,” is all Roberson would say.

Johnson has applied the same go-slow approach to assembling his cCabinet, making only a handful of key appointments so far, while asking many from Lori Lightfoot’s team to stay on for three months, maybe longer, according to Roberson.

“Just because someone worked in a previous administration doesn’t mean that they’re a bad leader. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be in the role that I am,” said Roberson, who held seven high-ranking jobs under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

If Chicagoans have learned anything about their new mayor during his nearly three months in office, it’s that Brandon Johnson wasn’t just blowing smoke when he talked about the problem-solving philosophy he developed growing up in a family of 10 in a house with one bathroom.

He is not a dogmatic, my-way-or-the-highway leader.

He listens to all sides and is open to changing his mind — even on issues like his own unequivocal campaign promise to cancel the Chicago Police Department’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology contract.

“The mayor has indicated that he has some concerns about it. There’s gonna be continued conversations around that. There has not been any final decision,” Roberson said.

Larry Snelling, the widely viewed front-runner to become Chicago’s permanent police superintendent, is a huge proponent of ShotSpotter.

During a 2021 hearing before a City Council committee, Snelling pushed back against the inspector general’s claim that the technology rarely leads to investigatory stops or evidence of gun crimes and can change the way police officers interact with residents.

“We can say that 85 [or] 90% of the time, the shot detection system doesn’t render any information. What we need to look at is the 10% of the time that it does,” Snelling said on that day.

“That 10% of the time could be the difference between the officers arriving on the scene applying a tourniquet … to stop a victim from bleeding out or getting an ambulance there a lot quicker to get these victims to the hospital.”

Copyright CHIST - SunTimes
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