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What's next for Chicago's new Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

The country's third-largest city will soon have a new mayor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRANDON JOHNSON: My name is Brandon Johnson, and I can't wait to be sworn in as the next mayor of the greatest city in the world - Chicago.

(CHEERING)

FLORIDO: Yesterday, Chicago voters chose between two Democrats who each promised to lead the city in a different direction. In a tight election, Brandon Johnson, who was a little-known county commissioner, beat Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Mariah Woelfel, of member station WBEZ in Chicago, covered the race and joins us now. Hi.

MARIAH WOELFEL, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

FLORIDO: Brandon Johnson will succeed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lost her reelection bid during the first round of voting. And in this final round, Johnson won about 51% of the vote. How does he win over the other half of people who did not vote for him?

WOELFEL: Yeah, it's the big question today. Johnson started his speech acknowledging that very fact, saying he's going to be a mayor for everyone. He said to the people who didn't vote for him, he has a message - that I care about you; I value you; I want to hear from you; I want to work with you. He spent a fair bit of time last night offering an olive branch.

Though he didn't really name groups like the Chicago Police Union that backed his opponent, he does say he wants to meet with police. And this will be a major task ahead for Johnson after a very divisive campaign focused on crime, where he was accused repeatedly of wanting to defund the police department.

FLORIDO: Well, while he didn't get support from the police union, he did get support from other big unions, particularly the Chicago Teachers Union. What does that mean for public education in the city?

WOELFEL: Yeah. So Johnson thanked all the unions that championed him, including the Chicago Teachers Union, where he is an organizer. He said his win for the labor movement - his win was the labor movement coming together with the civil rights movement. And he brought up in his speech that it happened on the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 55 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Today, we do not just acknowledge the assassination of a dreamer. Today, the dream is alive. And so today, we celebrate the revival and the resurrection of the city of Chicago.

(CHEERING)

WOELFEL: You know, he really doubled-down on his progressive bona fides, essentially saying he'll be the working man's mayor. You know, if there's one thing that I take away from the kind of mayor Johnson's trying to be, promising to be, is that he's centering wage workers in his vision for the future of the city. And that includes teachers. I think he envisions a fully funded public school system. The cold reality, of course, is that there is not enough funding for public schools from the state or the city of Chicago, which faces a budget crunch. So Johnson really has a challenge ahead of him.

FLORIDO: Well, some of the biggest differences between Brandon Johnson and his opponent in the race, Paul Vallas, were in their ideas to address crime. How does the mayor-elect plan to tackle that?

WOELFEL: So Johnson's plan consists first of hiring 200 more detectives in the police department to solve crime, which Chicago struggles with. He also wants to expand a program that uses mental health professionals instead of police to respond to 911 calls involving a mental health crisis to take some of the burden off of officers. He also wants to raise taxes on certain businesses to fund addressing the root causes of violence.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with Mariah Woelfel. She's the government and politics reporter at WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks for joining us.

WOELFEL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mariah Woelfel
Mariah Woelfel is WBEZ’s morning news producer--up before the sun to produce newscasts for the local broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition. Prior to WBEZ, Mariah worked as a reporter, producer and All Things Considered host during her time as a fellow at WVIK, an NPR member station in western Illinois. She got her start in radio interning on WBEZ’s news desk during graduate school.