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Chicago mayor-elect hails Illinois as ‘vanguard for progressive policy’ in speech to lawmakers

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson (center) delivers an address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday in the Illinois House chamber. He is pictured with Senate President Don Harmon, (left) D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.

SPRINGFIELD – Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said Wednesday his goal was to unify the state while calling Illinois a “vanguard for progressive policy all over this country” in an address to a joint session of the General Assembly.

Johnson, a former middle school teacher and one-time staffer for Senate President Don Harmon, said he came to Springfield to “establish a productive, collaborative and energetic partnership to invest in the people of Chicago and the engine of this economy here in Illinois.”

Some of Johnson’s agenda for the city, such as increasing the city’s real estate transfer tax on properties exceeding $1 million, would require action from the General Assembly. In his speech to lawmakers, he also supported a “revised school funding formula,” with unspecified changes that would “help ensure there is a nurse and a social worker in every single school in Chicago.”

“I stand ready to continue to make those strong investments and to deliver on the promise of fully funded neighborhood schools,” he said. “Public education at the expense of the state, after all, is a Negro idea.”

One major ask for state funding was an increase to the Local Government Distributive Fund, a share of the state’s income tax that is directed to local municipalities across Illinois. It was originally earmarked for 10 percent of those revenues to go to municipalities in 1969, but that number has decreased over the years to 6.16 percent of personal income tax collections and 6.85 percent of corporate income taxes.

Mayors from across the state were in Springfield Tuesday night to request that funding be increased to 10 percent once again over the next four fiscal years. That would cost about $250 million for each percentage point the rate is increased.

“By increasing funding, this body can help provide Chicago and cities and towns across the state with the resources that are needed to build from the ground up,” Johnson said. “And when we build a better, stronger, safer Chicago we are building a better, stronger safer Illinois.”

He praised recent state budgets that included hundreds of millions of dollars aimed at addressing gun violence with youth intervention programs, and increasing spending on public schools, domestic violence prevention and trauma recovery centers.

Johnson’s speech aimed to weave a staunchly liberal agenda with a conciliatory tone.

“For years, they’ve told us that this is a zero-sum game, that if something’s good for Chicago, well, that means we’re taking something away from Peoria,” Johnson said. “They tell us that the challenges that we face in the city of Chicago and families like mine, on the West Side of Chicago, aren’t the same challenges shared by families from Rockford to Carbondale from East St. Louis to Champaign, and everywhere in between.”

It’s an approach that didn’t land with House Republican Leader Tony McCombie, of Savanna.

“House Republicans were open to hearing the mayor-elect’s vision for Chicago, but what we heard today was a partisan political speech unheard of in our legislative chamber,” she said in a statement. “Where Mayor Johnson says he wants to collaborate on job growth, support law enforcement, and increase education funding, Republicans will be good partners. However, we won’t stand for rhetoric that divides our state, burdens Illinois families, or support bailouts for ineffective programming.”

The strongest pushback from Republicans came regarding the mayor-elect’s stance on public safety.

His recent election win over the more conservative challengercandidate, Paul Vallas, was an electoral mandate for his response to crime in the city, he said.

“Public safety is a prerequisite to the prosperity of Chicago,” he said. “And the voters have sent a clear message that they want to get smart, not just tough on crime. We have a mandate to make bold, necessary investments that address the root causes of violence.”

His plan includes adding 200 detectives in the city and expanding mental health services for police officers, who are asked to do too much, he said.

His agenda would also aim to decrease the city’ unemployment rates of 19 percent for those 16 to 19 years old and 12 percent for those 20 to 24 years old.

“As a result, too many young Chicagoans feel there is nowhere to turn,” he said. “Instead of lagging behind other major cities on youth summer jobs, Chicago will look to aggressively expand the number of jobs for young people. We’ll do it by bringing government, philanthropy, the private enterprises together around our common interests to invest in people, particularly young people.”

The mayor-elect’s visit to Springfield comes after a weekend of widely publicized reports of property damage and assault in downtown Chicago. Videos circulated on social media showing large gatherings in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood and at a beach on the city’s South Side, with at least one showing a group of young people assaulting a woman. 

Johnson issued a statement on Sunday calling for the creation of “spaces for youth to gather safely and responsibly, under adult guidance and supervision.” 

“In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend,” Johnson said in the statement. “It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.” 

The violence — and Jonson’s statement — have attracted criticism. 

Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez, a Democrat who ran for mayor earlier this year, in an appearance on Fox News, said that the city needs to deal with “the here and now,” not just the “root causes” of crime. 

“We absolutely need to demonize this kind of behavior because this is unacceptable,” Lopez said on Fox. “We know not all of our youth are bad, but we do know there are organized efforts to bring them downtown and other neighborhoods to cause chaos and pandemonium.” 

Some conservative downstate lawmakers called a news conference following Johnson’s address to criticize his plans for addressing violence in the city.

While Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said downstate lawmakers respect the city’s role as an economic engine, they believe the violence in Chicago poses a threat to business and tourism. The Republicans sought a tougher approach to policing with more accountability for those committing crimes.

“Imagine being a Missouri resident contemplating visiting Chicago and seeing what has happened on Michigan Avenue,” Halbrook said. “People do not want to visit places where they may get mugged or beaten.” 

Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, spoke directly to the camera in addressing potential attendees of the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which Johnson celebrated in his speech.

“What you saw last weekend is just the tip of the iceberg,” Caulkins said. “It’s just the beginning. Be very aware of the environment that you’re being invited to.”

Johnson defended his statement on the violence in the city at a news conference on Wednesday following the address. 

“You can make sure that we eradicate the root causes that lead to violence,” Johnson said. “And we also can make sure that there’s support on the front line to make sure that we’re preventing violence.” 

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Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. It is funded by donations from the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government. Capitol News Illinois provides year-round, daily coverage of the Legislature, including committee hearings; state agencies and issues; state office holders; and the Illinois Supreme Court and legal matters.

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