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Cook County commissioner, teachers union organizer announces bid for Chicago mayor

A man speaks in front of microphones.

Former teacher Brandon Johnson enters the race with the backing of the teachers union and a number of progressive political groups.

Credit: Paul Goyette

Cook County commissioner and union organizer Brandon Johnson announced early Thursday he is running for Chicago mayor, entering the race with backing from the teachers union and independent political organizations.

Johnson, a former teacher at Jenner Academy and Westinghouse College Prep, is one of at least eight people challenging  Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is seeking a second term. Three aldermen and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas are among the candidates. The union endorsement and Johnson’s union organizing background almost assures education issues will take center stage in the 2023 Chicago mayoral election. 

“As a teacher, I experienced the painful impact of disinvestment on my students and their families,” Johnson said in a press release. “And this personal experience seeing children endure inequity fuels my commitment to building a stronger, safer, and more equitable Chicago.”

Before announcing his run, Johnson’s campaign saw an influx of donations. 

Last week, the American Federation of Teachers announced a $1 million donation to Johnson’s campaign.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE donated $150,000 and the Chicago Teachers Union’s political action committee donated $60,000. At the end of September, Johnson’s campaign reported having just over $70,000 in the bank. 

The Chicago Teachers Union’s governing body last month voted to endorse Johnson for the municipal election. 

The union, which also endorsed rank-and-file educators Mueze Bawany and Leonor “Lori” Torres in their respective aldermanic races in the 50th and 36th wards, said the educators were “uniquely attuned to the needs of students and families.” 

Johnson recently received endorsements from the 30th, 33rd, 35th, and 39th ward independent political groups.

“I continue to be humbled, and honored, by the outpouring of support I have received in coming to this decision,” he said.

The union is pushing to unseat Lightfoot, with whom it has clashed several times, including during an 11-day teacher strike in 2019 and in two actions amid COVID safety concerns in 2021 and 2022.

“Each of them believes strongly in partnership, and coalition, and is committed to representing educator values of nurture and care for children and community,” the union said of Johnson, Bawany, and Torres in a series of tweets last month.

Johnson has been a Cook County commissioner serving the city’s West Side since 2018. After teaching at Jenner and Westinghouse, he became an organizer for the CTU in 2011 and helped organize the 2012 strike, according to his campaign website.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at mpena@chalkbeat.org.

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