Julie Vassilatos, a parent activist and blogger in Chicago, writes here about the case for Brandon Johnson. She and others have written passionately against Paul Vallas, but here she explains why Brandon Johnson is well prepared to serve as Mayor. Because of his knowledge and experience, he not only knows the city’s budgetary issues well, but he is able to address the root causes of crime and the real needs of students.

She writes:

Friends, so many of us have been carrying on about the dangers of Paul Vallas so incessantly, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s running for mayor of Chicago unopposed.

But Vallas does have an opponent—one who is talented, thoughtful, experienced, and a real true Chicagoan raising his family on the west side: Brandon Johnson.

Johnson is getting a lot of heat from Vallas and his supporters right now. No lesser a personage than Darren Bailey, defeated far-right candidate for IL governor and unofficial endorser of Vallas, has announced that if Johnson is elected, it will be a “dark day” for Chicago. Yes. A dark day indeed. Get it?

I’m pretty sure Darren Bailey fans get it.

Then there’s FOP president/disgraced cop John Catanzara, who foresees that 1000 cops will walk off the job if Johnson wins, and there will be blood in the streets.

Vallas himself, who routinely speaks of Johnson in kind of Godzilla terms, has called him and the CTU a destructive force wreaking devastation on the city.

In addition to its coded race language, this election has rather inflated rhetoric.

I’m trying to keep mine toned down, or at least backed up by evidence. While it’s hard to pin “generational” devastation on Johnson or the CTU, it’s actually possible to do this for Vallas. He has set many destructive policies in motion in urban areas globally that have left decades of harm in their wake. Also financial calamity. But I and many others have told you all this over and over again. And this post is not about that guy.

This post is about Brandon Johnson.

Truth to tell, at the outset of the race I was slow to warm up to Johnson the candidate. But then I remembered that he was at the front lines of a struggle I will never forget—the 2013 mass school closures. So many folks did all we could do to try and stop that, well, generationally damaging policy. And those who led the way in that effort? I’d probably follow them into a fire.

But what about Brandon Johnson now? What are his credentials? Haven’t you, like me, read all that stuff about how he has no experience? How he’s never managed a budget? How he seems (unfathomably) to like crime and together with CTU wants our city to be unsafe, because….because….well, because reasons?

Well, maybe we need to look a little deeper than the media/social media blah blah blah.

In a recent mayoral forum Vallas asserted that “Brandon has run nothing.” Since Vallas hasn’t really lived here much I guess he may not know that Johnson has served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners since 2018 and has managed a great deal, including the $8.75B Cook County budget. The Cook County Board has wide ranging responsibilities, and if you’ve always wondered but never known what the Board does, you should take this time to educate yourself, starting at the Cook County Board website. Here’s a basic summary:

The Cook County Board of Commissioners oversees County operations and approves the budget of elected County officials including the Assessor, Board of Review Commissioners, County Clerk, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Recorder of Deeds, Sheriff, States Attorney and Treasurer.

The Commissioners also serve as the Board of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, a special purpose taxing district. The Board also sets policy, levies taxes, passes ordinances, approves all county purchases over $10,000, and adopts the annual budget for the entire county government.

That 2023 Cook County Budget was praised by the Civic Federation:

The Civic Federation supports the Cook County FY2023 Executive Budget Recommendation of $8.75 billion because it reflects strong financial management and puts the County in a good position moving forward post-pandemic. The County’s FY2023 proposed budget includes a strong level of reserves and positive revenue projections, without any increases in taxes or fees.

The budget gap is smaller than it’s been in years, supplemental payments to the pension fund have been made for the eighth year in a row, and the County’s fiscal position is “strong…following robust revenue performance and built-up reserves.” And observe that there are in this budget, no tax increases. (Here I note we can be grateful to Board President Toni Preckwinkle who has shepherded this budget for 13 years. And I note further, she has endorsed Johnson.)

Now let’s review the budgets Vallas has overseen.

In Philadelphia, Vallas managed a $2B budget and left a surprise $73M deficit on his way out the door. In the Louisiana Recovery District his budget was $176M. He got an extra $1.8B to work with from FEMA, and before he was done with the NOLA job he wandered repeatedly over to Haiti, missing weeks at a time of work in New Orleans (that’s beside the point, but I just thought you should know). And in Bridgeport CT, his budget was $232M. Of course he was pushed out of that job before he could really do much financial damage there.

For those of you keeping score, Vallas hasn’t ever drafted, managed, or implemented a budget even close to the size that Brandon Johnson has worked with as a member of the Cook County Board.

Before his County Board days, Johnson was a teacher. He taught middle school social studies at Jenner from 2007 to 2010 (years when most of his students were able to watch, right from school windows, wrecking balls demolishing their homes as the city brought down public housing), and then at Westinghouse for a year. He then became a CTU organizer and the leader of its Black Caucus. In those years he had a front row view on lots of turmoil in the district: school closures and turnarounds via the failed Renaissance 2010 initiative, the loss of Black teachers in the classroom as a result of closures and CPS policy choices, the 2012 teacher strike, the 2013 mass school closures, a churn of district CEOs, some of whom ended up in prison, illegal special education cuts, and rapid charter expansion.

While Johnson was organizing teachers and collaborating with parents in response to district policies that were crushing schools and services (and I do mean that literally, with at least one occasion of bulldozers bringing down a school library on a day when parents were instead expecting a meeting), he lived the experience of the folks who’ve been at the mercy of “education reform” for decades. He saw first hand what disinvestment has done to CPS students—resulting in teacher cuts, special ed cuts, after-school cuts, nursing cuts, and the whittling away of libraries, down to only 90 remaining in a total of 513 schools. He’s seen the violent legacy of closing the community anchor that is a public school. He’s watched, along with all of us, poor choices at the top—everything from grifting, self-dealing, and bribery, to no-bid contracts and cronyism—and how those things bust budgets and destroy trust. He stood with community members on a hunger strike to save a school, then joined in it himself. He’s seen the negative academic and social impacts of excessive testing, privatization, and vouchers. He’s seen these things from the perspective of 25,000 teachers and hundreds of thousands of public school families.

Vallas, meanwhile, has been the man who set those policies. He set them in motion right here in Chicago in 1995, and traveled the country and globe continuing to implement them from then until now.

He may talk a good game about Doing It All For The Children, but the fact of the matter is, Vallas has never had to stick around and watch the long term impacts of his policy decisions on The Children. Those impacts have caused years of student protests in Chile. Have kept special ed kids struggling for spots in schools in New Orleans. Have left Philadelphia in “constant crisis mode.” Led directly to our own CPS budget crisis.

Brandon Johnson has large scale urban management experience with a Board that’s closing budget gaps and overseeing a vast array of county services. He manages a bigger budget right now than Vallas ever has. And Johnson has face-to-face, personal experience with the folks who live and work and raise their children in Chicago. His years as a teacher and with CTU have given him the perspective of individuals and families on a hyper-local basis. His work has encompassed both the broad span of countywide planning and management, and the particular lens on particular people and particular struggles.

Brandon Johnson is obviously qualified for the job.

You can check out how his qualifications and vision work themselves into a platform on his website. It’s practical and passionate and outlines a vision for the city that benefits everyone, even those struggling folks who never seem to catch a break from city leaders.

Johnson understands we cannot solve violence without dealing with its root causes; more policing, surveilling, and arresting alone won’t do the trick. We can’t fix the schools without listening to communities, parents, and educators; we must reject the failed status quo of Vallas’s “education reform.” And we can’t expect our teachers and police to solve poverty and homelessness all on their own.

The choice we have before us, it seems to me, is whether we’re going to listen to the incessant hype about a “fix-it man”—who has never fixed anything. Or dig a little deeper ourselves and see that the mayor we need has been here all along, working to make our city better for his entire career, with poise and passion.

Are we going to listen to voices that allude to “dark days” and blood baths in the streets? Or are we going to listen to a man who has a vision for his city rooted in love and practical experience?

You pick, Chicago.