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Chicago mayor’s own neighbors send a big message on city’s future

OpinionChicago mayor’s own neighbors send a big message on city’s future

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After the chaos of the 2020 election, the Democratic Party has taken a different approach to this year’s national campaign, claiming trust, democracy and election integrity as foundational party principles. 

These themes will likely be on display at the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, but progressive Mayor Brandon Johnson, the host city’s leader, seems to betray these principles — and it’s costing him.  

Johnson has made headlines for undemocratic practices and a general lack of transparency in his administration, which has dodged multiple FOIA requests. Johnson has been criticized for avoiding the press, he’s shifted $95 million in COVID-19 relief money to the migrant fund without City Council approval, and he’s redacted the full cost of his trip at taxpayer expense to the Grammy Awards.  


It all came to a head when Johnson strategically placed his “Bring Chicago Home” referendum to raise the real estate transfer tax on an uncompetitive primary ballot in a historically low-turnout cycle.  

Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson got a wake-up call from voters who rejected his new tax plans. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Even Los Angeles, who’s already voting on revoking the tax this November, passed their “mansion tax” on a general election. It’s no surprise the political leaders in the No. 1, most-corrupt city in the nation tried a low-turnout primary to implement his policies.  

Still, Johnson couldn’t mobilize enough of his base to pass the tax he campaigned on: Chicago voters rejected “Bring Chicago Home” 54%-46%, with even his neighbors turning on him.  

The millennials who voted Johnson into office have all but abandoned him. Primary voters aged 25-44 dropped roughly 45% from the mayoral election, the largest decrease of any age group. Perhaps they’re disillusioned with Johnson because of his flip-flopping on the migrant crisis or his apathy toward the CTA problems — critical issues for younger voters.  

Johnson refused to release his plan for how the “Bring Chicago Home” tax revenue would relieve homelessness, saying the City Council would work out the details once the referendum passed. Tax first, figure it out later? Evidently, that wasn’t good enough for the south and west sides that supported Johnson for mayor and could have stood to benefit. They ultimately rejected the tax hike. 

The mayor lacks trust, and it’s not hard to see why.  

While the rest of the Democrats are focused on “upholding democracy,” Johnson shows in Chicago the political machine always comes first. Today, what’s driving that machine is the Chicago Teachers Union.  

The CTU, where Johnson worked as an activist before it funded his campaign for mayor, damaged the campaign with scandals weeks before the vote.  

The union contributed $400,000 to Bring Chicago Home, and their motives became clear when leaked CTU contract demands outlined their ideas for the referendum’s revenue. The tax hike was estimated by Johnson to yield $100 million a year for “homelessness,” but the CTU wanted that to include housing stipends for teachers … who are not homeless.  

To mobilize voters, the CTU hosted an unprecedented political rally, taking students out of class on a school day to go vote in the election, which resulted in ethics complaints being filed. Students reported they were encouraged to “vote yes” on the referendum.  

One of the fears with the referendum was it wouldn’t address Chicago homelessness. Johnson’s proximity to the CTU and their contract demands revealed that to voters.  


As the leader of the city hosting Biden’s DNC, Johnson failing to uphold the party’s values is a bad look.  

Johnson blames former President Donald Trump voters for the failure of Bring Chicago Home, but the opposite is true. The referendum lost because Biden voters didn’t vote for it. Bring Chicago Home underperformed Biden’s vote share from the 2020 election in every single precinct.  

While the rest of the Democrats are focused on “upholding democracy,” Johnson shows in Chicago the political machine always comes first. Today, what’s driving that machine is the Chicago Teachers Union.  

Johnson delivered on none of his nine proposals to raise $800 million in taxes to fund his progressive platform. Instead of shifting blame for “Bring Chicago Home’s” failure and amplifying his unpopular agenda, Johnson needs to listen to Chicagoans who made their concerns clear at the polls.  


Chicagoans rejected a tax that would have primarily hit commercial property and thus jobs. If Johnson really wants to promote affordable housing, he should reduce obstacles to development, like restrictive zoning and building regulations. In addition, he could decrease the real estate transfer tax for properties under $1 million, which was the one good part of his failed referendum.  

If Johnson wants to be showcased as a party leader at the DNC, he needs to turn the city and his reputation around — now. Chicagoans have pointed a path forward for the mayor. It’s up to him to take it.  


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