Mayoralty of Big Cities: Standing Up to City Unions

Image credit: Bloomberg Business

Big-city mayors across the United States must stand up to the powerful unions that represent the workers in their city. No one understands this better than newly elected Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who faces the difficult task of keeping the finances of the city intact while struggling with an unprecedented budget deficit of over $373 million. Not only did he come out on top in a closely fought race, he was also backed by the teachers’ union, throwing a spotlight on the need for him to balance the interests of the unions and the need to bring in funds through effective fiscal policies.

This election can be regarded as a warning to other cities with similar issues; candidates may make promises that are geared towards their respective unions, but the mayor ultimately needs to make decisions that are best for a city as a whole. With people leaving cold-weather cities to seek warmer climes, a new zoning plan may not be enough to boost the population back up. Mayor Johnson needs to ensure that losses are allocated judiciously and efficiently and that rent hikes are kept to a minimum.

Furthermore, as both teachers and police officers are held in high esteem by the public, they hold a powerful influence over the politics of the city. This can lead to special interests being defended by the unions, with Johnson needing to make sure that this doesn’t get in the way of improving public services and the general quality of life for those living in the city.

Previous Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot did her best to stand up to the unions, holding both police and teachers accountable, and ultimately had to face the judgment of the city’s electors. Her replacements locked horns on the issues of policing and education, showing that a superficially polarized choice can have disastrous effects on the true issues at hand. It will be up to Johnson to fill the gap and point the city in the right direction.

The challenge for Johnson will be to find a balance between appeasing the unions and providing practical solutions that will benefit the city. Without any big policy changes in place, or new taxes that could make businesses flee the city, he will need to find productive ways to increase funds while considering the long-term impacts. Chicago students are currently far behind their peers in terms of reading and math proficiency, while its teachers have been known to go on strikes even as other cities were opening up their schools. All these issues need to be addressed to ensure the successful running of Chicago.

It will be up to Mayor Johnson to step up to the plate and show that he can effectively rise to the immense challenge posed by this intricate balancing act. Through a combination of strategic decision-making and fiscal responsibility, Johnson has the opportunity to build a more successful, thriving city for his constituents.