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POLITICO: “The DNC Is Preparing for the Worst in Chicago – Without the Help of the City’s Mayor”

As Democrats plan their convention, they’ll have to address the elephant in the room: How to mitigate the threat of disruptions and work with a rookie mayor who unabashedly sympathizes with the protesters.


May 10, 2024

There’s already a joke going around Democratic strategist circles that the main difference between 2024 and 1968 is that the Chicago mayor this year will be on the side of the protesters, not the cops.

Forty-eight-year-old Brandon Johnson, who was elected mayor last year after incumbent Lori Lightfoot failed to even make the runoff, was an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union and has yet to fully make the jump from activist to mayor of one of America’s largest cities.

It’s ironic because soon after he became mayor, he hosted DNC Chair Jaime Harrison for lunch and, according to a Democrat familiar with the conversation, immediately pronounced that “nobody else represents the city but me.” He also asked if Harrison would have his back as a fellow Black man (Harrison, I’m told, tried to delicately explain that the convention would be a partnership between the party, the city and the state of Illinois).

“If there’s any mayor that understands the value of protest and demonstration, it’s me,” Johnson told reporters earlier this week at a groundbreaking, dismissing a question about Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) concerns over unrest in the city during the convention. Johnson said, “Without protests and real demands of a government, people of color and women do not have a place in society.”

More striking was how Johnson responded to whether he thought it was appropriate for police to have been dispatched last weekend to a protest at one of Chicago’s art museums. He spoke in a detached manner – the museum “made that request and the police department reacted,” the mayor said – evading the question and leaving the impression he somehow wasn’t in charge of the city and its police department.

Johnson praised the importance of protecting free speech and initially said that was paramount to safety, which he called “second most important,” before seeming to recognize his error.

When I asked him what his vision of a successful Democratic convention looked like, Johnson repeated the same formulation – “safe, vibrant and energetic” – before saying he wanted young people to “see what democracy really looks like.”

At no point did he mention Joe Biden or the importance of the convention in helping the president’s reelection.

It was an eye-opening exchange. And it made clear why so many Democrats, in Chicago and beyond, respond to questions about Johnson with a sigh and hope that he’ll recognize the weight of this moment, both for his career, the city and the country.

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