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History, humility, hope — and a few hugs — mark swearing in of younger, more diverse City Council

Members of the Chicago City Council are sworn in during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin
Chicago Sun-Times
Members of the Chicago City Council are sworn in during the city’s inauguration ceremony at Credit Union 1 Arena on Monday.

Some were nervous, a few stumbling over their oaths of office because it was, as Mayor Brandon Johnson acknowledged, “your day, too.”

Other seasoned alderpersons, well used to the pomp and circumstance of Chicago’s inaugural festivities, said they were content to go through the motions and head back to work.

But regardless of experience level, freshly sworn-in City Council members who talked to the Sun-Times after a lively ceremony at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Credit Union 1 Arena generally said they were encouraged by the tone Johnson struck in his first address as mayor, and excited to be part of what’s arguably the most diverse chamber in Chicago history.

Unlike four years ago, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot shamed Council members into standing and applauding for reform in their ranks, Johnson turned to face the alderpersons, telling them: “You deserve recognition,” leading the crowd in applause. “This is your day, too. … The people of Chicago are counting on us to work together.”

“I was really moved today by the difference between Mayor Brandon Johnson’s address and [Mayor] Lori Lightfoot’s,” Ald. Rossana Rodríguez-Sánchez (33rd) told the Sun-Times after she was sworn in for her second term.

“I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I think it’s very clear that Johnson has a willingness to collaborate and that he will make space for disagreements. That’s something we didn’t have with Mayor Lightfoot,” Rodríguez-Sánchez, 44, said.

Freshman Ald. Lamont Robinson (4th) said Johnson’s comments helped ground him on a whirlwind day of pageantry, as did the frequent outbursts of applause for progressive elected officials.

“It was a lot of anxiety, going up onstage and wanting to make your people proud,” Bronzeville’s new alderperson said. “It’s a big responsibility, but it just brought back that incredible feeling to be able to serve the folks in my neighborhood.

“I think that my progressive friends are also organizers, and we know how to cheer, and we know how to have very big, boisterous voices,” said Robinson, the chamber’s first openly gay Black man, among a record-high nine Council members who identify as LGBTQ.

That’s just two in a series of milestones set by a Council class that includes 16 newly elected members, an all-time high 14 Latino alderpersons and a record-tying 18 women, while the average age of 47 is nearly four years younger than the chamber’s previous iteration.

“It’s a new day in the city of Chicago,” said Robinson, 41. “Folks are excited, and we need a fresh start. And to be with my new colleagues that are coming in from all different backgrounds, from all areas of the city — I’m just super excited for the opportunity.”

‘A servant to those near and far’

Ald. William Hall (6th) said he felt back pain sitting onstage in anticipation of taking the oath, and had to slow himself down while City Clerk Anna Valencia swore in the body.

“I wanted to make sure that I did it right. You could feel there was a different level of responsibility, a higher standard, a higher expectation — people looking at you to hold you accountable for that. So it was a moment of accountability, which was very humbling,” said Hall, 38, who was thinking of his late father throughout the ceremony.

“He raised me for the moment, not to be a politician or to be an elected official, but just to be a servant to those near and far,” an emotional Hall said. “And he had the best seat in heaven.”

It was a family affair for many, including Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd), who took his second oath in about eight months following his appointment by Lightfoot in September.

“My grandparents and my whole family — you really just don’t get to see them as much when you’re campaigning,” Knudsen said. “But we got here together for inauguration, just a special moment for everybody.”

Knudsen, 32, who didn’t pick sides in the mayoral runoff campaign, called Johnson’s story “absolutely incredible.”

“It resonates that he and [other] Austin residents can rise to the top very quickly. I’m excited. I’m really excited for all the work I think we’ll get done pretty fast,” Knudsen said.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) called Johnson’s speech “inclusive,” commending him for connecting shared sorrow in the deaths of Chicago Police Officer Aréanah Preston, who was killed in a robbery attempt last week, and Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old fatally shot by police in a foot pursuit in 2021.

“These issues are very nuanced and we need to handle them in that way, and I’m glad he’s leading in that way,” Rodriguez, 43, said.

“I look forward to having an inclusive mayor who’s looking to work with the City Council, and I think as a former elected official, Brandon understands what that means,” Rodriguez said, strongly implying Johnson’s predecessor didn’t share in the collaborative spirit.

‘The future is bright!’

Asked how it compared to Lightfoot’s contentious 2019 inaugural address, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) complimented Johnson for “trying to bring people together. That’s the bottom line of what we have to do in the city. I think overall it was a good speech, good points and talked about a lot of different parts of Chicago that are oftentimes overlooked.

“The reality is that we spend a lot of time on the West Side and we joke all the time — I’ve known Brandon now for years, and I believe that he’s gonna bring that same type of energy that he brought to the West Side and bring that across the city,” Ervin, 49, said.

Newly sworn in Ald. Ruth Cruz (30th) shared that optimism.

“The inauguration today was a beautiful testament to our city,” Cruz, 39, said. “I was excited to hear Mayor Johnson’s vision for Chicago and am excited to begin working with Mayor Johnson and to move the city forward to include all people across Chicago.

‘You just serve and you just keep serving’

Ald. David Moore (17th) said he appreciated Johnson’s calls for development on the South and West sides, but that the new mayor’s call for inclusivity rang hollow a week after announcing new Council committee leadership.

“You’ve got to be inclusive of everyone, including the City Council. So he needs to go back and tear down what they did in terms of going behind closed doors and setting up these new City Council committees, because not all City Council people were involved in it,” said Moore, 57, who was left out of Johnson’s leadership plan.

“If we’re talking about democracy, everybody should have a voice in it, and a vote in it, and how it’s done should be public. And until we do that, I think we start off on the wrong track.”

As for how he felt being sworn in for a third time, Moore said: “I didn’t even get emotional the first time. This is when you’re serving: you just serve and you just keep serving.”

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