Who is Brandon Johnson? What to Know About the Cook County Commissioner After Advancing to the Runoff Election

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Following a contentious sprint to the first round of the 2023 Chicago mayoral election, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson joined former CPS CEO Paul Vallas as the two candidates advancing to a runoff election on April 4.

Johnson, who announced his candidacy in late October on the heels of support from the Chicago Teachers Union, received over 20 percent of the citywide vote in the first-round of the mayoral election with over 98 percent of precincts reporting.

Though starting with little name recognition, Johnson rapidly ascended in polling throughout the final weeks leading into the election, and benefited from consolidating much of the city's labor union and progressive support.

After outlasting incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot and well-known Congressman Chuy Garcia in the first round of the mayoral election, Johnson will now put the strength of his backing from progressive labor unions and organizations to the test against Paul Vallas, who has made public safety the focus of his campaign and is backed from the city's Fraternal Order of Police.

With the runoff election between Johnson and Vallas just five weeks away, here's what to know about the Cook County Commissioner turned mayoral runoff candidate.

Who is Brandon Johnson?

A Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District initially elected in 2018, Johnson launched his campaign for the mayor's seat in late October, already receiving the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union prior to his announcement.

Johnson got his start as an elected official after narrowly defeating former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin in the Democratic primary in 2018, before later running unopposed in the general election that fall.

After being sworn in that December, Johnson established his first battle against the current mayor less than a year later during the 2019 Chicago Public Schools strike, when he organized alongside CTU and penned a letter in the Chicago Tribune, invoking his own background as a public school teacher.

Johnson's name was first floated as a potential mayoral candidate during the 2019 strike, though he would call the rumors "laughable" in a Politico article chronicling the strike's aftermath.

According to Johnson's website, he began his career as a public school teacher at Jenner Academy in Cabrini-Green before later teaching at Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side.

Johnson has worked as a paid organizer for CTU before, and has also been endorsed by the United Working Families and Service Employees International Union Local 73.

Johnson is an Austin resident, and lives with his wife and three children.

What Are His Positions on Pivotal Issues?

As a candidate, Johnson has positioned himself to the political left of the incumbent mayor, advocating for reduced fares on public transit, canceling the city's contract with ShotSpotter and a real estate transfer tax on the sale of multi-million dollar homes.

According to the County Commissioner's campaign website, Johnson hopes to re-open the city's mental health clinics and increase investment in year-round youth employment to address public safety.

On Johnson's campaign website, he expresses his opposition to raising property taxes while supporting an efficiency review of the city government to identify areas in which spending is higher than deemed necessary.

In addition to advocacy for a real estate transfer tax, Johnson also voices support for taxing profits of Chicago's corporations and instituting TIF reform in an effort to return property tax revenue to the city's schools and parks.

In a policy of "tax fairness", Johnson proposes a "Big Business Head Tax" on large companies who perform 50% or more of their work in Chicago, while also instituting a $98 million jet fuel tax on airlines.

Another noticeable proposal of Johnson's is a Rideshare Living Wage ordinance, aimed to protect gig workers such as rideshare and delivery app drivers.

On transportation, Johnson proposes reduced or eliminated fare for some on the CTA while expanding access and reliability to the system. To help with safety issues, Johnson proposes to have mental health professionals and housing advocates ready to provide resources to those dealing with a crisis while using public transit.

He has also advocated for a wide expansion of the city's bicycle lane and pedestrian walkway system, while showing support for reduced automobile speeds and vehicle access in certain areas.

Johnson's campaign advocates for expanded service in evening hours and greater resources from mental health professionals and housing advocates, though it's unclear what extent of financial allocation would go toward the effort.

Who Has Endorsed Brandon Johnson?

In addition to being backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, the United Working Families and SEIU Local 73, the County Commissioner has received the endorsements of the following elected officials, according to his website:

  • U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson (IL-01)
  • U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez (IL-03)
  • State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (20th)
  • State Rep. Lilian Jimenez (4th)
  • State Rep. Lakesia Collins (9th)
  • State Rep. Mary Flowers (31st)
  • State Rep. Will Guzzardi (39th)
  • Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry (3rd)
  • Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th)
  • Cook County Commissioner Anthony Quezada (8th)
  • Cook County Commissioner Josina Morita (13th)
  • 1st Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata
  • 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell
  • 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor
  • 25th Ward Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez
  • 33rd Ward Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez
  • 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
  • 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin
  • 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden

A full list of organizational endorsements for Johnson can be found here.

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