Over the last six weeks, The TRiiBE has been examining whether Johnson’s cabinet is the Blackest in Chicago’s history.

Click here to read part one.

Who is in Mayor Brandon Johnson’s cabinet? Who are they accountable to, and how are they working to improve the lives of Black Chicagoans?

Nearly half of Johnson’s cabinet is Black. As of June 17, Black people represented 44% of his cabinet.

Over the last six weeks, The TRiiBE contacted 22 Black cabinet members, and leads from two of the city’s five sister agencies. We received responses from 17 people. 

To learn more about their roles in city government, we sent questionnaires to them, asking how they’re working to improve the lives of Black people across Chicago. 

Previous mayoral administrations had varying ideologies around the roles of city departments and sister agencies within their cabinet. Johnson considers leaders of sister agencies — such as the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library and the City Colleges of Chicago — as members of his cabinet. 

Black CTA riders represent 38% of total ridership, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees the CTA, Metra and Pace. In addition, 84% of CHA residents are Black. The availability of affordable housing is also an issue that impacts Black Chicago residents. The mayor nominates leaders for the city’s sister agencies, boards and other commissions. 

We reached out to Chicago Police Department (CPD) Supt. Larry Snelling twice about participating in this story. His office didn’t respond to our requests. 

CTA president Dorval Carter and Johnson’s communications director, Ronnie Reese also declined to be a part of this story. 

Jason Lee, who serves as Johnson’s senior advisor, and Sydney Holman, the director of intergovernmental affairs, did not respond to our requests.

Ciere Boatright is the commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Ciere Boatright

Commissioner, Department of Planning and Development

Mayor Brandon Johnson appointed Ciere Boatright as the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) commissioner in November 2023, and the Chicago City Council unanimously approved. A Chicago native, Boatright previously served as the vice president of real estate and inclusion for Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, where she managed planning and development projects on the South and West sides, such as the $370 million Pullman Park project.

As DPD commissioner, Boatright leads the city’s community planning and economic development initiatives. In a questionnaire, she told The TRiiBE that she’s working to improve the lives of Black Chicagoans in divested communities. 

For example, she pointed to new funding through Johnson’s $1.25 billion Housing and Economic Development Bond, which includes multi-million dollar grants for small businesses, workforce training and housing construction allocated over the next five years. City Council voted 32-17 to approve the bond plan in April. 

Boatright said the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) has failed Black neighborhoods.

“The shift to bond financing is a watershed moment that will enable the City to allocate support for improvement projects located within a broader West and South Side geography and for more potential costs that were ineligible for TIF,” Boatright said. “The result will be more jobs, more services and more public amenities in Black neighborhoods.”

There are 127 active TIF districts in the city, and the tax money generated is used to help improve roads and build special projects such as the cop academy and Lincoln Yards under former mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Red Line Extension under former mayor Lori Lightfoot. 

Over 50 TIF districts will expire over the next few years, and the Johnson administration will use the funds for affordable housing and economic projects.

“Mayor Johnson is solving many systemic issues that eluded his predecessors, especially involving equitable public support for economic development and affordable housing in Black and other neighborhoods.”

Randy Conner is the Commissioner for the city's Department of Water Management. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Randy Conner

Commissioner, Chicago Department of Water Management

Mayor Brandon Johnson rehired Randy Conner to be the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management (DWM). Conner previously held the role in 2017 until he retired in 2020.

The DWM is responsible for purifying and distributing drinking water to Chicagoland residents, this includes removal and replacement of lead service lines. The department is also responsible for maintaining sewer systems to manage storm and waste waters to avoid issues like flooding.

In 2024, the focus of the DWM will be to replace water mains, sewer mains, to renovate DWM facilities and to continue to increase the number of lead service line replacements throughout the city. Chicago has the most lead service lines in the country at an estimated 406,000. Remediation work here can help establish best practices on how to address this critical infrastructure issue.

In a questionnaire, Conner told The TRiiBE the department’s efforts toward equity and environmental justice include “creating programs that provide free lead service line replacements for income-qualified residents and licensed daycares,” and “piloting flood prevention techniques in primarily Black neighborhoods where flooding has historically been a problem.” 

Conner also wrote the department has been working to make contract bids more accessible to small and medium-sized Black owned businesses.

“Mayor Johnson has assembled a team of forward thinkers that represent the Black population and understand the movement and the needs of Black people. That combination alone will be a springboard and catalyst for the Black community,” Connor said.

Melissa Conyears-Ervin is the City Treasurer for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Melissa Conyears-Ervin

Treasurer, City of Chicago

Melissa Conyears-Ervin was sworn in as treasurer for the City of Chicago in May 2019. She is the first Black woman to be elected into the position without an appointment.

The Office of the City Treasurer serves as the custodian of public funds for the City of Chicago and the four City of Chicago employee pension funds. The Treasurer’s Office oversees a $9 billion portfolio of the city’s investments.

On June 10, Conyears-Ervin announced the launch of the Chicago Star Award, an initiative that recognizes and supports small businesses that contribute to the city’s economic and cultural landscape. Winners will receive marketing and development resources and access to business workshops.

Between April and May 2024, the Board of Ethics fined Conyears-Ervin a total of $70,000. In May, Conyears-Ervin was fined $10,000 for violating Chicago’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance by firing whistleblowers and improperly using city resources. In April, the board found Conyears-Ervin committed 12 total violations of the government ethics ordinance for violating her fiduciary duty to the city, for the unauthorized use of city property and prohibited political activity by using city resources to host a prayer service. 

In a questionnaire, Conyears-Ervin told The TRiiBE that in service to Chicago’s Black communities, the Treasurer’s Office is working to “provide financial education to build sustainable wealth and a brighter future, especially for those who have faced barriers to opportunities because of discrimination while helping to build stronger, healthier communities in the process.” 

Conyears-Ervin cited several examples of the Treasurer’s Office services including launching the annual “Building Wealth Today for Tomorrow” (BWTT) Financial Empowerment Summit, along with community partners, launching the Money Matters Institute, an ongoing series of virtual and in-person financial education programs, and investing $10 million in an Albany Park community bank in 2023 to make more resources available to individuals and small business owners. 

Conyears-Ervin also highlighted that of the $11.1 billion portfolio traded in 2023, 54.7% was executed with minority businesses, including $1.75 billion with Black-owned firms.

Pastor Billy Jermale Evans serves Chief of Faith Engagement for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Billy Evans

Chief of Faith Engagement

Mayor Brandon Johnson appointed Pastor Billy Jermale Evans to serve as chief of faith engagement in September 2023.

“Born and raised in Chicago, my faith has served as the foundation of my life, and I’m proud that my faith has now called me to serve the city I know and love,” Evans said in a press release. “Churches are beacons of our communities and provide our families and neighbors with resources, nurture and care. I look forward to working in partnership with Chicago’s faith community to strengthen the Johnson Administration’s connection to our residents and help implement their priorities for the city.”  

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Evans described the role as supporting the Black community by “bringing city resources to the faith community, and making opportunities known in a more tangible way.”

He touted hosting the city’s first Faith Leaders’ Summit and Resource Fair in April. “We brought over 400 faith leaders and all city agencies together to bring their resources to the faith community,” Evans said. 

Per Evans, the city is also setting up a Faith Advisory Board.

When asked about Mayor Johnson’s key successes in supporting Chicago’s Black communities, Evans mentioned the implementation of the Paid Leave and Paid Sick Leave ordinance, more youth summer jobs, and creating an Office of Reentry on the West Side to help people returning from prison find jobs, health care and other resources.

Garien Gatewood is the first Deputy Mayor of Community Safety for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Garien Gatewood

Deputy Mayor of Community Safety

Mayor Johnson appointed Garien Gatewood as the ”first-ever deputy mayor of community safety” in May 2023. The new title replaces the office of deputy mayor for public safety, previously held by Elena Gottreich, under Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The role is meant to “lead cross-government efforts to eradicate the root causes of crime and violence, and advance a comprehensive, healing-centered approach to public safety,” according to a press release.

Before joining the Johnson administration, Gatewood spent two years as the director of the Illinois Justice Project, he advocated for the SAFE-T Act, and “pushed Chicago officials to fix a broken program designed to keep teens who commit minor crimes out of jail,” WTTW reported.

“I am humbled by this opportunity to advance a holistic and comprehensive approach to community safety,” Gatewood said in the press release. “I’ve worked with the young people of Chicago for years, and I know that together we can deliver on a vision for a stronger, safer city that addresses the root causes of violence, provides support for youth and adults alike, and lifts up every neighborhood.” 

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE Gatewood wrote that the office of community safety works to improve the lives of Black people by “focusing efforts in some of the most disinvested communities in the city. We believe the layered approach to safety will help deliver resources and services in the city of Chicago that will have impacts for generations to come.

As an example, Gatewood cited the development of the People’s Plan for Community Safety which is focused on some of the areas in the city that have “the greatest need for partnership and investment.”  Gatewood also listed guaranteed basic income, which is a relaunch of the guaranteed basic income program from the Lightfoot administration, as well as the city’s lawsuit against Glock Inc., the handgun manufacturer.

“The People’s Plan for Community Safety hosts quarterly public meetings that are open to the public. We also welcome people to join us on this journey of shared accountability to deliver on policies,” he wrote.

S. Mayumi "Umi" Grigsby is the chief of policy and advocacy for the Johnson administration. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

S. Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby

Chief of Policy

As mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson announced the appointment of S. Mayumi “Umi” Grigsby, Esq. as chief of policy before inauguration in May 2023. Grigsby was chair and commissioner of the Cook County Human Rights Commission. She formerly was chief of policy for City Clerk Anna Valencia and an assistant prosecutor in Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.

Speaking to the Johnson administration’s priorities in helping Chicago’s Black communities, Grigsby wrote to The TRiiBE, “In the policy team, we believe that a better, stronger, safer future is one where our youth and our communities have access to the tools and resources they need to thrive.” 

Grigsby also wrote policies are “rooted in a desire to partner with all Chicagoans, be informed by data, correct systems and practices that have created inequities for too long, repair past harms that have contributed to purposeful disinvestment and exclusion.”

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Grigsby cited the Chicago Empowerment Fund, the relaunch of the guaranteed income pilot, as well as creating the Treatment Not Trauma working group in Oct. 2023, as specific examples of specific policies or initiatives that improve the lives of Black Chicagoans. Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez told reporters then that the working group intends to call for six of the shuttered mental health clinics to reopen over the next four years. Rodríguez Sánchez first introduced the idea of the working group in 2020, it was rejected by the Lightfoot administration.

Grigsby told The TRiiBE that the working group was created to address the lack of support systems, specifically mental health services and care, available to Black young people and students. 

“Black youth are less likely to seek support for teen dating violence or other violence from formal sources of support such as family and friends,” Grigsby wrote. “The working group is co-designing with community members an alternate response system to respond to crises calls and expands mental health clinical services to ensure that Chicagoans, particularly the most vulnerable, have access to quality and no-barrier mental healthcare.”

Grigsby highlighted that Chicago was selected to join the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund and that the administration looks forward to providing a blueprint to close the racial wealth gap in Chicago.

Annette Guzman is the budget director for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Annette Guzman

Budget Director

As mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson announced the appointment of Annette Guzman as budget director in May 2023. The Office of Budget Management (OBM) prepares and implements the City of Chicago’s annual budget.

Guzman is co-lead, along with John Roberson, chief operating officer, on the City’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) spending plan, tasked with distributing COVID-19 relief funds through Chicago communities. Prior to Guzman’s appointment, the OBM had come under scrutiny for its delay in distributing COVID relief funds, an issue which Guzman is working to remedy. 

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Guzman wrote that her office will be producing monthly status reports on each ARPA program’s spending and impact; and they will also publish a regularly updated new ARPA website so that the public can keep abreast of its work.

“I think [Mayor Johnson] is doing a great job of assembling subject matter experts to serve the City,” Guzman wrote The TRiiBE.  “He has put through consequential legislation to support key constituencies (including tipped workers) and passed his first budget with overwhelming support. He has also taken very difficult legislation to City Council to support the expiration of TIF districts, to promote more equitable economic development and affordable housing projects through bond issuances, and to support the orderly administration of services for migrants flooding our city from the border.”

During the 2024 budget hearings, the OMB fielded several questions regarding the city’s budgeting and spending on migrant care

Guzman highlighted some vital programs centered around Black Chicagoans, including Rapid Re-housing to address homelessness, Family Connects, a family maternal care program meant to address pregnancy-related deaths in Illinois, Re-entry Housing to help those returning to Chicago from jail or prison find jobs or other assistance, Violence Intervention Programs, and and Youth Justice Diversion Programs.

Annette Nance-Holt is the Fire Commissioner for Chicago Fire Department. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Annette Nance-Holt

Commissioner, Chicago Fire Department

Mayor Lori Lightfoot nominated Annette Nance-Holt to lead the Chicago Fire Department in May 2021. Nance-Holt is the first Black woman to lead the department. In the 1980s, former mayor Harold Washington created a firefighter pilot program for women to incorporate more women into the department. Nance-Holt was a part of that program.

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE  Nance-Holt highlighted the ways in which she works to improve the lives of Chicagoans, “I have worked my entire career to improve the lives in every neighborhood across Chicago,” Nance-Holt wrote.  “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and my administration, and I have worked to increase the number of underrepresented communities through outreach community events. I actively participate in programs to engage with our youth. My hope is to spark their interest in public service and encourage them to consider a career with the fire department. Fires and EMS emergencies don’t distinguish between the North, South, East, or West sides of Chicago.”

At the time of her nomination, the department had more than 5,000 members, 90% male and 66% white.

Speaking of the department’s service to Chicago’s Black communities, Nance-Holt highlighted the city’s involvement in the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement, or CARE program. (The pilot was led by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, approved by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and created through the 2021 budget process with an initial $3.5 million investment). Nance-Holt also listed the city’s Mobile Integrated Health program as targeting the medical needs of residents dealing with chronic illnesses in underserved, underrepresented communities. She also highlighted active recruitment efforts around the city to generate interest in career opportunities in public service throughout local high schools.

Marlene Hopkins serves as the Commissioner of the Department of Buildings for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Marlene Hopkins

Commissioner, Chicago Department of Buildings

Mayor Brandon Johnson announced the appointment of Marlene Hopkins as the new commissioner of the Chicago Department of Buildings (DOB) in March 2024. Hopkins has worked with the City of Chicago for more than 25 years, including 18 years in leadership roles within the DOB.

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Hopkins describes her role as being responsible for the issuance of building permits, conducting inspections and code enforcement to ensure compliance with the Chicago Construction Codes and safety standards, and enforcing regulations related to construction and development.

Following the 2020 botched demolition in Little Village, which harmed a predominantly-Latinx community, the city’s inspector general recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Hopkins, Jorge Herrera who also worked in the buildings department and Dave Graham, an assistant commissioner in the city Department of Public Health. At the time Hopkins was the. managing deputy commissioner for the department of buildings at the time, Johnson tapped Hopkins for his cabinet role in April.

On June 17, following the release of this story, Hopkins reached out to The TRiiBE and shared her side of the story. The responsibility of dust mitigation following the implosion fell under the role of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), she said, adding that CDPH is required by law under the Environmental Protection Agency Act to develop dust mitigation strategies when demolitions occur. 

“Our role was to ensure that the implosion occurred, that the debris landed in the landing zone and did not leave the construction site and that is exactly what happened,” Hopkins said. “If the building department had any involvement or any role to play with dust mitigation, things would have been done from a different perspective.”  

In April, a federal judge approved a $12.25 million settlement in a class action suit against Hilco brought by Little Village residents. 

Speaking to accountability, Hopkins wrote to The TRiiBE that Black Chicagoans can hold her accountable through monitoring the enforcement action taken against building owners and/or property management companies and by attending the scheduled court hearings to monitor the status of the case. 

Hopkins wrote that the department serves Chicago’s Black communities “by working to improve the conditions of rental housing units across the city through the aggressive enforcement of the minimum health and safety standards set forth in the Chicago Construction Codes to hold landlords that fail to provide quality housing accountable.”

When asked about Mayor Johnson’s successes in this department, Hopkins highlighted “his investment in building and preserving affordable housing.” The city has 571 units of affordable housing that [have] been completed, an additional 488 units are under construction and 271 units are currently being rehabbed, Hopkins wrote.

Dr. Olusimbo Ige serves as Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Dr. Olusimbo (Simbo) Ige

Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health

Mayor Brandon Johnson appointed Dr. Olusimbo Ige as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) in November 2023. Dr Ige is the first Black female commissioner to permanently head the organization. She replaced Dr. Allison Arwady.

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Dr. Ige wrote, “[Mayor Brandon Johnson] has been working consistently to fulfill his promises to the people of Chicago. He genuinely cares about improving the lives of Black Chicagoans. There are however many needs and city resources are limited. The pace of progress may be slower than promised and that is not always clear to the people.” 

When asked how the health department is working to serve Black communities, Dr. Ige highlighted Healthy Chicago 2025.

“Chicago’s five-year community health improvement plan, for focusing on racial and health equity to reduce the Black-Nonblack life expectancy gap,” she wrote. “This includes addressing the primary drivers of premature mortality in the Black Community including heart disease, firearm related mortality, opioid overdose, maternal and infant mortality and infectious diseases.”

Critics say the Johnson administration’s budget maintains a pattern of keeping the department of health underfunded and over reliant on grants that are set to expire.

The previous acting commissioner, Fikirte Wagaw, told alderpeople during an October budget hearing that there are 493 vacant jobs in the department, approximately 42% of all of its positions. 

Johnson’s 2024 spending plan proposed increasing the mental health budget by $4.8 million from the previous budget. Johnson’s plan also called for the city to double the number of social workers, addiction specialists and counselors working to respond to 911 calls for help from people experiencing mental health crises and to open two new mental health clinics in facilities already operated by CDPH. 

In May, Johnson announced the reopening of the Roseland Mental Health Clinic on the far South Side by the end of 2024.

Jen Johnson serves Deputy Mayor of Education, Youth, and Human Services in the Johnson administration. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Jennifer “Jen” Johnson

Deputy Mayor of Education, Youth, and Human Services

As mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson appointed Jen Johnson (no relation) as deputy mayor of education, youth, and human services in May 2023. She has two decades of experience as an educator, manager and organizer. 

Before joining the Johnson administration, she was the chief of staff for the Chicago Teachers Union. Her duties included supporting the alignment of staff, programming and budget with the union’s 30,000 members and elected leadership.

In her role, Johnson works with the following city departments and city agencies:

  • The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities 
  • The Department of Family & Support Services
  • The Chicago Department of Public Health, 
  • The Chicago Public Schools
  • The City Colleges of Chicago 
  • The Chicago Public Library, 
  • The Chicago Park District 
  • The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. 

“I’m really proud that a lot of our initiatives directly, especially, and disproportionately benefit Black folks, honestly, because the history of our city has been one of disinvestment in Black communities and Black spaces,” she said during a phone interview with The TRiiBE

Johnson said many of the initiatives introduced in the administration’s first year benefit Black Chicagoans, such as creating more jobs for youth and its education agenda, which is centered on investing in neighborhood public schools that have experienced decades of disinvestment. 

She added that 60% of summer jobs went to Black youth last summer; the mayor also echoed this in an April interview with The TRiiBE. Mayor Johnson’s 2024 budget appropriated $76 million to youth jobs and programming, an increase of $11 million from 2022. The increase would create 4,000 additional jobs for youth in 2024.

Commissioner Brandie Knazze serves as the Commissioner for the Department of Family and Support Services for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Brandie Knazze

Commissioner, Chicago Department of Family and Support Services

Brandie Knazze has served as commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) since June 2021. 

The department works across eight areas of programming and services, including: early learning, youth services, homelessness, gender-based violence, human services, workforce development, new arrivals and senior services.

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Knazze gave examples of how the administration works to improve the lives of Black people. She included the Chicago Empowerment Fund, which relaunched and extended guaranteed basic income, as well as the Emergency Financial Assistance Program for Survivors of Gender Based Violence.

“The preliminary results are showing that cash assistance can have a lasting impact on the recipients in ways that can’t be achieved with other sources of public aid,”  Knazze wrote. “Recipients indicated that they spent their money paying bills, paying down medical debt, purchasing groceries, and that the cash assistance had a positive impact on their mental health. Almost 70% of the applicants to the pilot program were Black, and the majority identified as female. These trends carried into the recipient group and show the need is great.”   

The Emergency Financial Assistance Program for Survivors of Gender Based Violence is a $5 million fund to provide cash assistance to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. The program provides one-time, $1,000 payments to domestic violence survivors.  Knazze told The TRiiBE, to date, over 5,482 survivors have received $1,000 one-time payments, and 57% of those survivors were Black. 

Assessing Mayor Johnson’s first year, Knazze wrote, “ Mayor Johnson is leading on his values and making sure that we are doing everything we can to get services to residents quickly. There is a sense of urgency with this work as we seek to move vulnerable people from crisis to stability and help them thrive.”

Mary Richardson-Lowry serves as Corporation Counsel for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Mary Richardson-Lowry

Corporation Counsel

Mayor Brandon Johnson appointed Mary Richardson-Lowry as the city’s corporation counsel in June 2023. As the lead attorney for the city, Richardson-Lowry’s role is to provide legal counsel and representation for the city’s departments, boards, and the city council. She is the first African American female to serve in the role.

She wrote to The TRiiBE that it is not lost on her “the responsibility that comes with both the role and first-in-time representation.”

Richardson-Lowry served as Chicago building commissioner, then school board president under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. The city’s law department controls a  $33.6 million budget, according to the city’s website, and millions of dollars in outside legal fees.

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Richardson-Lowry described how the department works to improve the lives of Black people across Chicago, writing “the department has pursued litigation that ensures protections for Chicagoans from unfair and deceptive business practices, strengthened laws that promote public safety, worked to reduce social inequalities that have harmed Black and Brown communities, and supported policies that bolster environmental justice throughout the City.”

Giving examples, Richardson-Lowry listed the department’s lawsuit against Vision Property Management, its successor, and their affiliates “for committing unfair and deceptive practices in the course of luring predominantly low-income Chicagoans into exploitative “rent-to-own” agreements for dilapidated properties,” a pre-suit settlement with Karavites Restaurants Inc., the owner of multiple Chicago McDonald’s franchises, for violations of the City’s Fair Workweek (“FWW”) Ordinance that resulted in “a total of $185,517 in penalties and restitution to 485 current and former employees and another lawsuit against automakers Hyundai and Kia. “Because of their negligence, Chicago saw a steep rise in vehicle thefts, reckless driving, property damage, and a wide array of related violent crimes,” she added.

Richardson-Lowry highlighted some successes of Mayor Johnson’s administration including passing the Chicago Paid Time Off ordinance, reaching an agreement with Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union to provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave, and spearheading the One Fair Wage ordinance where wages for tipped workers will rise each year until meeting the city’s full minimum wage in 2028, with any tips paid out on top.

Kenya Merritt serves as the Deputy Mayor of Business and Neighborhood Development for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Kenya Merritt

Deputy Mayor of Business and Neighborhood Development

As mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson appointed Kenya K. Merritt as deputy mayor of business and neighborhood development in May 2023. The office is tasked with promoting wage growth, entrepreneurship, and investment for all Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, as well as making sure the city’s neighborhood investment programs deliver “real results and transformation.”  

Alongside eight city departments and agencies, the department focuses on policy and programs in the areas of housing, business, innovation and job growth, as well as cultural and community assets.

“Throughout this inaugural year, the mayor has assembled a remarkable leadership team focused on economic development,” Merritt wrote to The TRiiBE. “He has made excellent choices in appointing Ciere Boatright to lead the Department of Planning and Development, Lissette Castaneda to lead the Department of Housing, and Clinee Hedspeth to oversee the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), as well as appointing leaders at sister agencies like World Business Chicago. These individuals possess deep expertise in their respective fields and have swiftly taken action to drive meaningful impact.”

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Merritt highlighted several successes from Johnson’s first year including passing the Housing and Economic Development Bond plan. The $1.25 billion plan will invest millions in affordable housing, developments and small businesses while overhauling the city’s tax increment financing (TIF)s. 

Merritt also discussed the Johnson administration’s plans to invest in vacant lots on the South and West Sides. Merritt did not specifically refer to the INVEST South/West projects from the Lightfoot administration.  

In April, Johnson’s administration released the “Cut the Tape” report. The report makes more than 100 recommendations on how to streamline licensing, permitting and development plans. In collaboration with the Food Equity Council, and the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Johnson launched the Good Food Fund and the Early-Stage Food Business Incubator Program in February. The Good Food Fund aims to support small food businesses and food entrepreneurs in communities with inequitable food access while the Food Business Incubator will provide kitchen space and technical assistance to early-stage food entrepreneurs.

John Roberson is the chief operating officer for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

John Roberson

Chief Operating Officer

As mayor-elect, Brandon Johnson named John Roberson as chief operating officer in May 2023. Roberson oversees the day to day operations for city government, coordinates all capital improvement projects for the city and sister agencies. Roberson is also responsible for overseeing the city’s preparations for the Democratic National Convention. 

Prior to working with the Johnson administration, Roberson held a series of top jobs under County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and held several positions under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Asked who he’s accountable to, Roberson wrote to The TRiiBE, “Mayor Brandon Johnson and the chief of staff.”

In a questionnaire for The TRiiBE, Roberson listed Mayor Johnson’s $1.25 billion bond plan for affordable housing, and plans for a $6 billion Terminal Area Program to modernize O’Hare, as examples of policies and initiatives improving the lives of Black Chicagoans.

When asked how Black Chicagoans can keep him accountable, Roberson wrote “I meet regularly with various members of the Black Caucus. I also attend meetings with members of the Black business community. Finally, as funny as it may sound, I get stopped quite a bit when I’m shopping or socializing. Black Chicago is never shy about sharing how they feel about government or the work of the Johnson Administration.”

Roberson cited One Fair Wage, saying many tip workers are Black women, and the Community Safety Strategy, as key successes from Johnson’s platform that benefit Black Chicagoans. 

“The Community Safety Strategy that focuses on the 35 beats with the highest incidents of crime is a game changer. By focusing on the root causes of violence we will be able to change the trajectory of the lives of young people in those communities,” Roberson wrote.

In his assessment of Johnson’s strengths and weaknesses, Roberson wrote, “He views our effectiveness through the lens of how the lives of working families are improved. His ability to articulate and connect our current-day challenges to the historical context of institutional and [systemic] racism. Our challenge to create affordable housing is connected to past discriminatory practices of redlining. In terms of areas of improvement, we have to continue improving our communication of how the work that we do everyday positively impacts their families.”

Tracey Scott serves as the CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority for the city of Chicago. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Tracey Scott

CEO, Chicago Housing Authority

In March 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot nominated Tracey Scott to serve as CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and the CHA Board approved the nomination that same month. 

Scott previously served as the interim executive director/CEO of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and has also had senior leadership roles within the Atlanta Housing Authority. The CHA is the nation’s third-largest public housing authority, and serves more than 65,000 households and 135,000 individual residents through various housing programs. 

As CEO of CHA, Scott reports to the Board of Commissioners, which is appointed by the mayor. The remaining seats are filled by CHA public housing residents and voucher holders. In a questionnaire to The TRiiBE, Scott wrote that she and her team are accountable to CHA residents and people who need subsidized housing. 

Scott told The TRiiBE that she’s working to improve the lives of Black people city-wide by providing new housing opportunities.

“Since 2020, we have delivered nearly 3,000 new mixed-income apartments, and more than 1,100 are currently under construction. This represents $1.4 billion of public-private investments in new housing in communities throughout Chicago,” she explained. 

Scott said more than 80% of CHA residents are Black, and on average, CHA-assisted households have an income of under $15,000. In addition to providing housing, Scott added that the agency is also working to empower residents through mentoring, technical support, and training through its Workforce Opportunity Resource Center. 

The agency came under scrutiny last November after an investigation by Block Club Chicago and the Illinois Answers Program found that it has nearly 500 vacant homes as part of its scattered-site program. Shortly after, CHA revealed a new $50 million initiative called “Restoring Home” to rehabilitate and renovate vacant buildings included within its scattered sites program. Three dozen small and medium-sized vacant apartment buildings around the city have been targeted for renovation, according to a written release

“Our support programs empower families to take charge of their lives. We offer college scholarships through our non-profit partner Springboard to Success. Our LevelUp self-sufficiency program provides an average payout of $6,500 to residents who meet their life goals,” Scott wrote to The TRiiBE.

Annastasia Walker is the executive director of the city's Office of Public Safety Administration. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Annastasia M. Walker

Executive Director, Office of Public Safety Administration

In 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the formation of a new public safety department, the Office of Public Safety Administration (PSA), to realign the administrative functions of the CFD, CPD and the Office of Emergency Management (OEMC). Lightfoot tapped Annastasia M. Walker as the first executive director to lead the office in 2020. 

Walker has more than two decades of experience in emergency management and public safety administrative operations in Chicago, having held various roles in the OEMC and CFD. 

As executive director, Walker told The TRiiBE, the PSA is tasked with managing administrative responsibilities on behalf of CPD, CFD and OEMC, as well as new initiatives such as supervising and managing daily operations at the new public safety training facility (a.k.a. cop academy) in West Garfield Park. 

Walker said that the PSA is not a front-facing department but is committed to providing opportunities to support Black-owned businesses through initiatives that promote entrepreneurship. For example, Walker pointed to a vendor fair in March, which invited local businesses to learn more about the city’s procurement process and contracting opportunities for CPD, CFD and OEMC. 

“PSA continuously tracks its MBE/WBE (minority business enterprise/women business enterprise) numbers to ensure we are doing everything we can do to provide information about contracting and subcontracting opportunities to African-American businesses,” Walker said. 

As a cabinet member, Walker said she has witnessed Johnson’s “commitment to Chicago and the people who live, work and visit in the city. One of his strengths is his commitment to equity by prioritizing policies and initiatives aimed at addressing systemic inequalities, particularly those affecting Black Chicagoans.”

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.
is a contributing editor for The TRiiBE.