Brandon Johnson, a longtime organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union and an Austin resident, took an important step Monday to run in the March Democratic Primary against Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin for the 1st District seat.
Johnson filed more than 2,100 petition signatures at the Cook County Clerk’s office in hopes of securing a spot on the March 20 ballot.
“I am thrilled for this big-suit, broad coalition of support that we have,” Johnson said Monday morning at 69 W. Washington St., where dozens of political hopefuls and incumbents turned up on the first day to submit nomination petitions for next year’s primary race.
“There’s obviously a lot of room in the district for a teacher and an organizer to represent the interest of the working-class families,” said Johnson, who arrived at the county clerk’s office with a couple campaign staffers Monday at 8 a.m., an hour before the office opened.
Johnson, who used to teach social studies at Westinghouse College Prep High School before working as a political organizer for the CTU, criticized Boykin for failing his Democratic role during his first term on the board, saying the incumbent commissioner has “aligned himself with the Republican ideology.”
“Richard is committed to cutting services and jobs, protecting the interest of big corporations and the wealthy,” Johnson said, referring to the approximate 330 layoffs and the elimination of over 1,000 open positions in Cook County, mostly in the county sheriff’s and judicial offices.
The cuts, which was included in the 2018 county budget proposed by Board President Toni Preckwinkle and unanimously passed by the board last week, is intended to fill a $200 million revenue shortfall caused by the successful repeal of the controversial sweetened beverage tax led by Boykin.
“This is the part that is the most disappointing about the current commissioner,” Johnson said, adding the budget “is committed to laying off black women who are overwhelmingly heads of the households.”
Johnson said his priorities as the 1st District commissioner would be health care, criminal justice reform and job creation.
“As someone who has grown up with asthma, I had to rely upon the Cook County Hospital . . . for my healthcare services,” he said. “And as a teacher who has served families throughout this district, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, reforming our juvenile justice system (has become) a personal venture of mine.”
Bokyin, who arrived later Monday at the clerk’s office to file more than 5,600 signatures, said during a phone interview that Johnson is “misinformed.”
“We’ve been standing up for working families for the last three years since I’ve been here,” he said, citing his sponsorship of the minimum wage increase and paid sick leave, on top of leading the efforts to repeal the regressive soda tax.
“I’m sure they’ll overwhelmingly endorse me for reelection,” he said. “Because quite frankly, we’ve done an excellent job.”
Boykin noted he has not missed one vote or board meeting since he took office in 2014, while saying Johnson has been absent from the county affairs.
“I’ve been actively engaged with … these issues,” he said. “And to my knowledge, here is a guy who’s never attended any board meeting and never offered one idea.”
In terms of downsizing county government to balance the budget, Boykin said “absolutely it was a difficult thing to do, but you have to make minor adjustments in your workforce to actually correspond with the success that you had.”
The county workforce totals about 22,000, and criminal justice reforms have reduced the jail population from 10,000 to 6,500 a day, he noted; he said eliminating 1,ooo vacant positions will save taxpayers $52 million a year.
“We were able to close the shortfall without cutting public health or public safety services that residents have become accustomed to,” Boykin said. “We did what people said was impossible because we rolled up our sleeves and went line by line with the budget.”
Johnson said he is going through the endorsement process with the CTU and has gained support from the United Working Families.
UWF has helped organize his campaign, Johnson said, adding he is also on track to seek support from other labor leaders.
“My hope is that once I secure endorsement, I’m going to seek for financial support as well,” he said, but stressing he sees the bulk of his campaign fund coming from “the broad-based working families from the 1st District.”
“We’ve already secured some financial commitments from families who live in the district,” he said.
Johnson, who worked as director of constituent services for state Sen. Don Harmon from 2003 to 2004, said his experience as an educator, public servant and organizer would help him take on county issues, noting he has worked on closing corporate loopholes, statewide fundraising and promoting Democratic causes.
“Brandon is a well-known community organizer, fighting for education issues for years,” Stephanie Gadlin, communications director for Johnson’s campaign, said.
“He’s a great teacher, a father, he’s very active on the West Side and throughout the district,” said Gadlin, who served as chief spokesperson for the CTU and its president, Karen Lewis, until last year.
Gadlin said she decided to join Johnson’s campaign because “he has the right type of leadership and vision for what we need.”
“This is going to be a very competitive race,” she added. “We are fighting against corporate interests … for those who have been shut out of the services and jobs in Cook County.”
In late September, Boykin announced his re-election bid and the endorsement of several West Side ministers and elected officials, including Congressman Danny Davis, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), AustinTalks reported.
“CTU didn’t come and invite me to present my credentials,” Boykin said, adding he’s going to take his record to the people of the 1st District whose endorsement is what he is “most concerned about.”
“He works for the CTU,” Boykin said. “It’s like an inside game.”