Related: How I Found My Power

J.B. Pritzker

Pritzker isn’t just the king of Illinois. When crises hit, he’s shown that he runs the show in Chicago, too. During the pandemic, he preempted local officials, including Mayor Lightfoot, to close restaurants and schools. More recently, when Mayor Johnson attempted to establish a refugee camp in Brighton Park, the state shut it down, saying the land was contaminated. Point, Pritzker. Meanwhile, he has consolidated his power over the state Democratic Party. In 2022, he successfully pushed to get an ally elected party chair. That same year, he gave $5.5 million to Democratic state candidates, helping maintain his party’s supermajorities in both legislative chambers — and guaranteeing their loyalty. He’s used his control over state government to make Illinois a bastion of progressivism. He has aggressively expanded abortion rights, entrenching a post-Roe haven of access. He approved an assault weapons ban that survived a legal challenge, beating back the gun lobby. He also helped attract the Democratic National Convention to Chicago by promising to raise enough money so the $80 million to $100 million event wouldn’t leave the party in debt. Can the governor go higher? His Think Big America PAC is supporting abortion-rights ballot measures around the country, and he has become a key surrogate for President Biden’s reelection campaign. And with his political influence stronger than ever and his progressive policy successes mounting, even the notion of President Pritzker doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. 

Brandon Johnson
Chicago MAYOR

After his upset victory over Paul Vallas in April, Johnson set out to build the most progressive administration Chicago has ever seen. He hasn’t hesitated to shove aside anyone who gets in the way. When Alderperson Scott Waguespack, a Lori Lightfoot supporter, tried to reorganize the City Council without the mayor’s input, Johnson dumped him from the finance committee chairmanship, replacing him with an ally. And in August, the mayor fired the popular public health commissioner Allison Arwady, because she disagreed with his plan to reopen public-run mental health clinics. His first legislative victory was a measure to pay tipped servers the full minimum wage, which passed over the initial objections of the restaurant lobby thanks to the City Council coalition of socialists and alderpersons who owe him their committee chairmanships. But Johnson didn’t get that done by brute force alone: He crafted a compromise giving restaurants five years to phase out the tipped minimum wage, a deal that got the Illinois Restaurant Association on board. He also persuaded the council to place his Bring Chicago Home ordinance, which would increase taxes on million-dollar real estate sales to raise funds to combat homelessness, on March’s ballot, despite opposition from real estate interests. Get used to Johnson. Unlike Lightfoot, he enjoys being mayor.

Toni Preckwinkle
cook county Board president

Yes, she failed as a mayoral candidate because of her lack of charisma and connections to Ed Burke, and her soda tax imploded spectacularly, but the power of Preckwinkle, who also chairs the Cook County Democratic Party, is as kingmaker. She has succeeded in placing her protégés all over local government. She helped Brandon Johnson, in his first foray into politics, win a county board seat against incumbent Richard Boykin (a bit of revenge for his voting against her tax), and she endorsed Johnson during the mayoral runoff, giving him crucial establishment support. In her own 4th Ward, she engineered the appointment of Alderperson Sophia King; when King then ran for mayor, she went around introducing King’s eventual replacement, Lamont Robinson, as her preferred candidate. She is also State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s political godmother. A longtime opponent of cash bail, she campaigned successfully for the Pretrial Fairness Act, which eliminated the practice throughout Illinois.

Stacy Davis Gates
Chicago Teachers Union president

No one else is as responsible for Brandon Johnson’s ascendancy as Davis Gates. Johnson began his mayoral campaign armed with the CTU’s endorsement, and the ground game of the union’s political arm, United Working Families, carried him into office. But Davis Gates is a force in her own right. She leads the most powerful teachers’ union in the country, and the contract she helped fight for in 2019 (when she was vice president) secured groundbreaking concessions such as smaller class sizes and a nurse and social worker in every school. Davis Gates is often by Johnson’s side at public events related to education, but the extent of her sway over him these days can be a touchy subject. “I’m the mayor of the City of Chicago,” Johnson reminded NBC-5 last summer. The true test will come with the looming teacher contract negotiations, but Davis Gates is already securing victories without bargaining: Johnson gave 12 weeks of parental leave to Chicago Public Schools employees, the same as for other city workers.

Dick Durbin
U.S. senator

Durbin, now in his fifth term, is an Illinois institution — and he’s at the apex of his power. He is Senate majority whip, the second most powerful Democrat in the body, but more important, he is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He led the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and as of the end of last year, he had shepherded through the Senate the approval of 166 of Biden’s judicial nominees. He’s not afraid to do some strong-arming, either: To advance two judges out of committee, he ignored Republican complaints that he was shutting down debate. With the House of Representatives under Republican control, making the passage of major legislation less likely, the Biden administration will prioritize continuing to reshape the federal judiciary with liberal jurists in this election year, an initiative that will have generational effects. Durbin is the person responsible for getting it done.

Dick Uihlein
Republican donor

Since Ken Griffin and Bruce Rauner left town, Uihlein has been the Republicans’ top sugar daddy in Illinois. No amount of cash is likely to turn this state red — certainly not the $50 million that the Schlitz heir and founder of shipping supplies giant Uline spent trying to get Darren Bailey elected governor. But there’s little doubt Uihlein, who lives in Lake Bluff, has helped push the party further right, and not just in Illinois: He was the largest Republican donor in the nation in 2022; he and his wife, Liz, contributed nearly $90 million to groups and candidates, many of them 2020 election deniers. Despite some high-profile defeats (like the attempt to thwart Ohio’s referendum to enshrine abortion access in its constitution), there’s no denying that Uihlein’s brand of conservatism is the dominant strain of the Republican Party. And that might be his greatest victory.

Austan Goolsbee
Federal Reserve bank of chicago president

Inflation is the primary economic concern of Americans these days, and Goolsbee is among the small group of economic policymakers responsible for stopping it. The former chair of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers was appointed to head the Chicago Fed in December 2022. He sits on the Federal Open Market Committee, which directs the nation’s monetary policy, and has made it his mission to bring inflation down to 2 percent — without triggering a recession. He also wants to see interest rates cut this year, though he’s been careful not to overpromise. “I think that he’s somebody that’s going to have some heft for a couple of years,” says a business journalist.

Lukas Walton
philanthropist and investor

Worth nearly $23 billion, the 37-year-old heir to the Walmart fortune is the richest man in Illinois now that Ken Griffin is gone. Walton’s name isn’t plastered all over Chicago like Griffin’s, but he is deploying his vast wealth for maximum impact. In 2021, he started Builders Vision, which focuses on addressing social and environmental challenges — namely by promoting healthy oceans, sustainable agriculture, and clean energy — through philanthropy and responsible investing. Builders Vision has so far invested or donated $3 billion, including in Growing Home, the only USDA-certified organic farm in Chicago, and People for Community Recovery, a local environmental justice group. A 2023 impact report bragged that Builders Vision has developed more than 170 sustainable products or technologies, installed 15,685 megawatts of renewable energy capacity, and poured funds into nearly 450 startups, portfolio companies, and fund managers.

Jason Lee
mayoral adviser

Lee has been described as “the mastermind” behind his boss. “Nothing happens without Jason Lee being in on it,” a political observer says. His voice is the mayor’s voice: If reporters want to know what Johnson is thinking, they call Lee. The 38-year-old isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty: He tried twisting Alderperson Bill Conway’s arm by offering to remove homeless encampments in the West Loop in exchange for votes for Johnson’s projects (Conway didn’t bite). The son of Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, he graduated from Harvard and worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Then he attended a labor conference in Chicago and begged Johnson for a job as a CTU organizer. Now their offices are down the hall from each other on the fifth floor.

Anne Caprara
governor’s chief of staff

She was chief of staff for two members of Congress before she even turned 30. Then, after heading Priorities USA, the largest Democratic Party super PAC during the 2016 election, she took over J.B. Pritzker’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Now she has gone from running Pritzker’s campaign to running Pritzker himself. “She’s the one who decides his political thinking,” says one political insider. “I think she probably directs on what he should be doing for any progressive cause out there. She’s very smart. She should be running a national campaign.” And she very well might — if Pritkzer one day runs for president.

Tom Ricketts
chicago cubs CHAIRMAN

After buying the Cubs in 2009, the Ricketts family set out, under Tom’s leadership, to modernize a team best known as lovable losers who played in a quaint old ballpark. The family has spent nearly $1 billion to renovate Wrigley Field, build an outdoor entertainment plaza and a hotel, and install a sportsbook. Tom oversaw the launch of Marquee Sports Network and, most recently, poached manager Craig Counsell from the Brewers, more than doubling his salary and sending World Series hero David Ross on the first Red Line train out of town. The message: Respectable isn’t good enough.

Penny Pritzker
former Secretary of Commerce

As J.B.’s big sister, Penny is the matriarch of the family that is Illinois’s equivalent to the Kennedys. Four years as commerce secretary under Barack Obama did not end her involvement with the federal government: President Biden appointed her special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery, tasking her with increasing public and private investment in the embattled nation. Pritzker also remains active on the local philanthropic scene. Her Pritzker Traubert Foundation, which she runs with her husband, Bryan Traubert, gave $10 million to help build Sankofa Wellness Village, a walkable neighborhood in West Garfield Park.

Emanuel “Chris” Welch
Illinois House speaker

Welch, the first Black speaker of the Illinois House, succeeded Michael Madigan, the longest-serving legislative leader in American history. In some ways, he has already outperformed his predecessor, as with the congressional remap that produced a 14–3 Democratic majority (and earned an F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project) and with a record 78-member supermajority (whose competing moderate and progressive wings can be harder to manage than a narrow majority). He even stood up to J.B. Pritzker. The governor asked for $1.1 billion in health coverage for undocumented residents. Welch gave him half.

Kennedy Bartley
United Working Families executive director

Bartley was an organizer for the influential political campaign group that helped get Brandon Johnson elected. Now, after taking its helm last summer, she is working to get his agenda enacted. Though not officially part of his administration, Bartley, 29, meets regularly with his chief of staff, Jason Lee, and was deeply engaged in the 2024 budget process. Even before her current post, Bartley was a force at City Hall, laying the groundwork for progressive governance. During the Lightfoot administration, she would prepare questions for City Council allies to use during hearings, and a policy zine she cocreated was full of ideas that ended up in Johnson’s platform.

Read about the roots of Kennedy Bartley’s power, in her words.

Bob Reiter
Chicago Federation of Labor president

It’s no accident that when Jill Biden visited Chicago last year to tout the administration’s support of organized labor, Reiter was standing behind her. He heads a group that represents more than 300 local unions, many of which don’t see eye to eye. Despite those differences, Reiter has racked up wins: He successfully lobbied the city to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2021 — four years ahead of the state — and pass an ordinance requiring employers to provide lower-wage workers with predictable schedules. He also negotiated with Bally’s to ensure casino workers would receive living wages, which helped sell the project to the City Council.

Emma Tai
activist and organizer

Paul Vallas’s supporters may have written big checks, but United Working Families volunteers knocked on doors past dusk for its mayoral candidate, Brandon Johnson. His upset victory, which marked the transition of Chicago politics from a ward machine model to one based on community organizing, was a triumph for Tai, who served as UWF’s executive director. Her next mission? Passing March’s Bring Chicago Home ballot initiative, one of the most important items on Johnson’s agenda. Tai, 39, tells Chicago she was recruited as campaign director by “a number of folks close to that effort in labor, community, and on the mayor’s team. Several people told me I was ‘the only one who could do it.’ ”

Valerie Jarrett
Obama Foundation CEO

Few people are closer to the Obamas than Jarrett, who spent the eight years of Barack’s presidency as a senior adviser. Head of the foundation since then, Jarrett is now overseeing construction of the Obama Presidential Center, scheduled to open in 2025. The job has involved defending the center against preservationists who objected to the Jackson Park location and community organizers concerned about gentrification. (The foundation incorporated community feedback into its plans to win neighborhood support.) No one is better informed on day-to-day operations than Jarrett, which keeps her at the center of Barack’s inner circle. “She speaks for Obama,” says a political journalist.

Scott Kirby

Recruited from American Airlines in 2016, Kirby took over as CEO in 2020. Unlike rival airlines, United chose not to reduce its fleet during the pandemic, betting that demand would return. Kirby’s bet paid off, and he now plans to purchase 110 new planes from Airbus and Boeing, allowing United to replace its aging fleet and shuttle more passengers with larger planes. Not shy about using his sway, he has publicly pressured Boeing to fix problems with its Max 9 jets, threatening to pull his order. United employs 5,000 at its Willis Tower headquarters, but a recent 113-acre land acquisition has sparked rumors that it might move them to Denver. O’Hare’s No. 1 carrier says it remains committed to Chicago, but Kirby is almost certainly angling for a better deal here.

Mellody Hobson
Ariel Investments co-CEO

Running Ariel, which manages $15 billion, is merely Hobson’s day job. Among other roles, she is chair of Starbucks (making her the first Black woman to lead the board of an S&P 500 company) and owns a stake in the Denver Broncos. She has stepped down, though, as vice chair of World Business Chicago, a move that (perhaps purposefully) raised alarms about the mayor’s relationship with the business community. These days Hobson spends part of her time at the California ranch of her filmmaker husband, George Lucas, but still has star power here. “When you say Mellody Hobson’s going to be at an event, everybody’s like, ‘Whoa,’ ” says one observer.

Kevin Warren

In addition to leading one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, Warren is in charge of a highly consequential decision: choosing the site for the Bears’ new $5 billion stadium, the most coveted development in the Chicago area. (After buying and demolishing the Arlington Park racetrack as a potential site, the team is now talking about building on the lakefront, south of Soldier Field.) Warren got the Bears job because of his success as the Big Ten commissioner: He enticed USC and UCLA to join, making it the first coast-to-coast conference and reshaping college sports, and negotiated a $1.2 billion TV deal with NBC, CBS, and Fox. 

Laura Ricketts

Already a co-owner of the Cubs, Ricketts expanded her sports portfolio last year by buying a 10 percent stake in the WNBA’s Chicago Sky and leading a group of female business leaders who bought the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars. The new ownership is already making waves: In January, the Red Stars re-signed star Mallory Swanson to a $2 million contract, making her the league’s highest-paid player. The token Democrat in the Ricketts family, she donated $250,000 to the Joe Biden inaugural committee and $1.8 million to LPAC, which she founded to support LGBTQ+ candidates.

Tammy Duckworth
U.S. senator

The campaign to bring the 2024 Democratic National Convention to Chicago began with Duckworth. The Democratic National Committee vice chair convinced top Democrats that the city’s hotel capacity and its location in the middle of the “blue wall” of Midwestern swing states made it ideal. On Capitol Hill, she has been a reliable vote for Biden’s agenda while not mincing words: The former Black Hawk pilot warned that lawmakers would have “blood on their hands” if they passed a proposal to reduce training requirements for commercial airline pilots.

Michael Sacks
Grosvenor Capital Management chairman and CEO

When Rahm Emanuel was in office, Sacks was known as the “Rahm whisperer” for his influence over the mayor. Rahm is gone, but Sacks still holds sway, albeit not as much these days. Last year, Sacks, who manages a $75 billion hedge fund, contributed $1 million to the Get Stuff Done PAC, which supported moderate City Council candidates against the rising socialist tide. Among his winners: Lamont Robinson, Bill Conway, Marty Quinn, and Brendan Reilly. And where Sacks donates, others follow. An ally of J.B. Pritzker’s, he is leading the DNC’s host committee, with responsibility for making the convention profitable for the party.

Raja Krishnamoorthi
U.S. representative

Krishnamoorthi, who represents the northwest suburbs and used his former perch as chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee to investigate everything from the Washington Commanders to the baby formula shortage, has $14.4 million in his campaign coffers — more than three times as much as any other congressional representative from Illinois, and the third-highest total in the entire Congress. “Raja is a huge player across the country,” says a political consultant. In 2022, Krishnamoorthi donated $460,000 to Democratic candidates and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but he is said to be stockpiling his campaign cash to run for the Senate in 2026 if Dick Durbin retires.

Blase Cupich
archbishop of CHICAGO

Appointed by Pope Francis in 2014, then elevated to cardinal in 2016, Cupich was tasked with implementing Francis’s vision of a more open, welcoming church. (The Archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties.) He led a reorganization that saw the early retirement of 50 staffers and added a Hispanic council. Last year, during Pride Fest, Cupich celebrated an LGBTQ+ Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Lake View, ignoring anti-gay protesters outside. That isn’t to say Cupich is entirely progressive: He called Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s investigation into the church’s mishandling of priest sexual abuse in Illinois “misleading,” drawing a sharp rebuke from Raoul.

Jerry Reinsdorf
Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox OWNER

At 88, Reinsdorf is in the twilight of his career. Still, he controls two beloved civic assets, and with the White Sox’s lease at Guaranteed Rate Field expiring in 2029, he has dangled the threat of relocation to another city unless Chicago gives him what he wants. In December, Reinsdorf even met with the mayor of Nashville, MLB’s top market for a new team. A few weeks later, the White Sox were reportedly in serious discussions with a developer about building a ballpark in the South Loop. 

Kwame Raoul
Illinois attorney general

Raoul, who was a state senator for 14 years, hasn’t shied away from hot-button issues in his role as Illinois’s top law enforcement official, using his power to solidify the state’s leftward lurch. In the past year, he successfully defended the state’s elimination of cash bail and convinced the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold Illinois’s assault weapons ban. His office also initiated bills preventing electrical shutoffs during heat waves and making it easier to collect child support from independent contractors. (He’s had some losses, too, like having to back down from the state’s attempt to muzzle antiabortion centers.) If J.B. Pritzker decides not to run for reelection in 2026, Raoul would be an obvious successor.

Jeanne Gang

Gang has become as associated with Chicago architecture in the 21st century as Wright and Mies were in the 20th. When she completed her 82-story Aqua Tower, with its flowing façade, it was the tallest building ever designed by a woman — and it has inspired a flock of imitators around the world. (Look no farther than the undulating verandas of the Regalia in Miami.) She more than anyone is defining the look of contemporary Chicago, reaching even higher with the 101-story St. Regis in Lakeshore East and even farther out with the planned Y-shaped O’Hare Global Terminal. Her contributions aren’t limited to the city: She designed the new wing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. 

Pat Dowell
3rd Ward Alderperson

As an early supporter of Mayor Johnson, the five-term alderperson was rewarded with the chairmanship of the finance committee, the City Council’s most powerful one. Dowell has a reputation as the best-prepared member of the council, someone who knows the details of every legal settlement the city pays out. Her influence may grow if she gains an ally on the county level: She has endorsed moderate Eileen O’Neill Burke for Cook County state’s attorney over progressive Clayton Harris III, who is backed by Toni Preckwinkle. And if Jerry Reinsdorf wants a South Loop stadium to be built, he’ll have to get Dowell on board — that’s her ward.

Danny Wirtz
CHICAGO Blackhawks chairman and ceo

Wirtz has served as CEO of the Blackhawks since 2020 but assumed the chairman spot after his father, Rocky, died in July. That’s also when he took the reins of the rest of the family’s business interests, including Breakthru Beverage, the liquor distributor that is the source of the Wirtz fortune. Wirtz has backed general manager Kyle Davidson’s plan to rebuild the team, including the decision to part ways with longtime favorites Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. That plan got a boost when the Blackhawks won the draft lottery, allowing them to draft Connor Bedard, the most coveted prospect since Sidney Crosby. After an investigation revealed the organization’s mishandling of former player Kyle Beach’s sexual assault allegations against a coach, Wirtz resolved to change the Hawks’ internal culture, too.

Read about the roots of Danny Wirtz’s power, in his words.

Joe Mansueto
Morningstar executive Chairman

The financial services company he founded in 1984 manages $295 billion and is an investment bellwether: What Morningstar recommends or buys, so do others. Mansueto, whose real estate portfolio includes the Wrigley Building and the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, also owns the Chicago Fire, and his decision to move the team back to Soldier Field from Bridgeview underscored his ambition for it. The Fire haven’t had much success of late, but he did earn a win at City Hall: In 2022, Mayor Lightfoot pushed through a controversial zoning change allowing the Fire to build a training center on 23 acres of Chicago Housing Authority land — after Mansueto donated $25,000 to her reelection. “He is a guy whose power is in reserve,” says a business journalist. “If he decides to use it, then he becomes a force.” 

Tim Wentworth
Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO

Wentworth took over Walgreens, the largest publicly traded company in Chicago and employer of about 10,000 locally, last October, having previously helmed Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business, and pharmacy benefit giant Express Scripts. He arrived at a time when the drugstore chain was losing money and struggling with whether its corporate identity was as a retailer or a health care company. Wentworth came in blazing, replacing top executives, including the chief medical officer, and instituting a round of layoffs (and the planned closure of 60 VillageMD clinics) as part of a $1 billion cost reduction plan.

Jesús “Chuy” García
U.S. representative

Though he started last year’s mayoral race as the front-runner, García didn’t even make the runoff, finishing a disappointing fourth. (“His personality isn’t as big as he thinks it is,” says one political reporter.) But he’s still the boss of the Southwest Side. He dismantled the political machine of his nemesis, Ed Burke, and replaced it with a machine of his own. State representative Aarón Ortíz, county commissioner Alma Anaya, and Alderperson Jeylú Gutiérrez — Burke’s successor — all owe their offices to García. His support is a big deal among Latino Chicagoans: He endorsed Delia Ramirez in her successful 2022 run for Congress.

John Rogers Jr.
Ariel Investments co-CEO

A Hyde Parker and old basketball buddy of Barack Obama’s (he captained the Princeton team), Rogers founded Ariel, the country’s first Black-owned mutual fund firm, in 1983. He’s also vice chair of the University of Chicago’s board of trustees. “John’s a perennial,” says a business insider. “He’s always had a presence.” Beyond his strong track record as a value investor, Rogers has been at the forefront of the push to diversify boardrooms, arguing that diverse companies aren’t just better for society — they’re better for business.

John Palfrey
MacArthur Foundation president

The philanthropic foundation he leads, which has $7 billion in assets, gave out a difference-making $321 million in 2022 (including the celebrated “genius” grants). Beyond that, Palfrey is leading a coalition of foundations on an initiative to invest $500 million over the next five years to support local news, no longer a viable business model in many small communities. MacArthur’s program aims to bring the facts to the one-fifth of Americans who live in news deserts. “Reliable, high-quality news,” Palfrey has said, “is an essential building block of our democracy.” 

Tony Petitti
Big Ten commissioner

Petitti took over the conference last May and immediately picked up where Kevin Warren left off, adding Oregon and Washington to its nascent West Coast presence — and making the Big Ten bigger than ever. His first power test came after he suspended the conference’s highest-profile coach, Jim Harbaugh, for Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal. (He stood his ground even after the school threatened legal action, but Harbaugh got the last laugh by winning the Big Ten and national titles.) A former executive at ABC, CBS, and NBC, Petitti completed the $1.2 billion deal begun by Warren that will put 45 of the new-look conference’s football games on broadcast TV every season.

Alexi Giannoulias
illinois secretary of state

Giannoulias is ambitious — observers say he ran for secretary of state in 2022 to lay the groundwork for another U.S. Senate run. Since winning office, he has waded into the culture wars, positioning himself as a champion of progressive causes. At Giannoulias’s urging, Illinois became the first state in the nation to prohibit book banning; he raised his profile by testifying before the U.S. Senate on the law. And responding to crackdowns by red states, he backed new legislation limiting access to license plate reader data in an attempt to protect women traveling to Illinois for abortions.

Morgan Elise Johnson and Tiffany Walden
The Triibe cofounders

The Northwestern alums and sorority sisters started the Triibe website in 2017 with the goal of “reshaping the narrative of Black Chicago.” The result has been a sort of Chicago Defender for the digital age. “They reach the Black Chicago populace,” says one observer. “Everybody follows what they’re reporting.” But the Triibe is just as influential for its unapologetic point of view. Its favorable coverage of Brandon Johnson helped spur the youth vote that put him over the top in the mayoral election. The two mid-30s founders (Johnson serves as publisher, Walden as editor in chief) aren’t afraid to thumb their noses at mainstream power brokers and media either. During WGN’s election night coverage, Johnson clashed with other pundits, challenging conventions about crime in the city. “One thing I wanted to make sure to communicate to WGN-TV’s audience was that a youth-led movement has risen into political power,” Johnson later wrote. Meanwhile, Walden is busy spreading her influence beyond Chicago. She’s on a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University, where she wants to create a blueprint for other Black journalists to duplicate what the Triibe has done.

Susana Mendoza
illinois comptroller

She was elected in 2016, when Bruce Rauner was governor, and spent years paying off the backlog of bills caused by his budget stalemate, cutting those IOUs from $17 billion to under $3 billion. “She turned the comptroller’s office into something legitimate,” says a Springfield observer. “She inherited a fiscal mess and worked to stabilize the department.” Despite losing a race for mayor in 2019, and despite her ties to Ed Burke, Mendoza won more than 2.3 million votes in her 2022 reelection, the most of any statewide candidate. No one wants to be comptroller forever: Mendoza could run for governor if J. B. Pritzker moves on.

Dan “Big Cat” Katz
Barstool Sports personality

Katz, 39, hosts Barstool’s three-times-a-week Pardon My Take podcast, which averages 1.5 million listeners, making him one of the most popular and influential sports media personalities in the country. He can get almost any athlete to come on the show — and celebrities, too. (Recent interviewees include Rob Gronkowski and Arnold Schwarzenegger.) The show’s atmosphere is jokey and relaxed — though that can get guests in trouble, like when Charissa Thompson of Fox Sports admitted she made up sideline reports during games. Big Cat, a diehard Bears fan, moved here from New York last year, bringing dozens of other employees with him, after Barstool opened an office in Fulton Market.

Lisa Duarte

A well-connected lawyer and lobbyist at Croke Fairchild Duarte & Beres — “she just knows everything going on in government,” says a Springfield observer — Duarte was named in 2022 to the board of Latino Victory, a national organization focused on building progressive Latino political power across the country. (Among the group’s 2022 endorsees: Catherine Cortez Masto, whose narrow win in Nevada helped Democrats keep the U.S. Senate.) Duarte gained her political chops as legislative counsel to former mayor Rahm Emanuel and assistant deputy governor to J.B. Pritzker. Now the largest minority group in Chicago and Illinois, Latinos are fighting for more representation on the City Council and in the state legislature — and Duarte will play a key role.

Read about the roots of Lisa Duarte’s power, in her words.

Pat Ryan
businessman and philanthropist

There’s a reason both Northwestern’s football stadium and its basketball arena carry the name of this insurance billionaire. Over the years, the founder of Aon Corporation and his wife have given $700 million to their alma mater, where he is chairman of the board of trustees. Their latest gift, $480 million, was earmarked for various research initiatives and the controversial plan to renovate the football stadium. Ryan’s influence goes beyond his beloved Wildcats. He’s also a minority owner of the Bears and has donated big bucks to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a rehabilitation research hospital on Northwestern’s Streeterville campus.

Shams Charania
NBA reporter

Information is power. And when it comes to the NBA, few people know more about what’s happening than Charania, a reporter for the New York Times–owned website the Athletic and Chicago–based Stadium and a panelist on Run It Back, FanDuel’s weekday NBA show. The New Trier and Loyola University grad, 29, is one of the two most connected NBA reporters, along with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He’s on the phone 18 hours a day chatting with agents, GMs, and players. He’s so clued in that Warriors coach Steve Kerr even accused him of having a mole in the locker room.

Read about the roots of Shams Charania’s power, in his words.

Theaster Gates

The internationally renowned installation artist rose to fame as a neighborhood builder, bringing culture to neglected corners of Chicago. He had his first major American museum survey at New York City’s New Museum in 2022, and his installation A Monument to Listening was unveiled last year in Memphis. His Stony Island Arts Bank, in Grand Crossing, contains the archives of Jet and Ebony magazines and the vinyl collection of house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles. His most recent project in the neighborhood is Kenwood Gardens, where he hopes to attract sculptures from around the world. Where Gates has the most impact, though, is in lifting up other Black artists. He collaborated with Prada to conceive a three-year incubator program for creatives of color.

Jianan Shi
Chicago Board of Education president

A former teacher who served as executive director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, a parent empowerment organization, Shi is now the progressive movement’s man on the Chicago Public Schools board — and he’s in a position to radically reshape the district. Appointed by Mayor Johnson in July, Shi — at 33, the youngest person to serve as board president — rolled out the controversial plan to move away from school choice (namely, selective enrollment schools) in favor of strengthening neighborhood schools. Shi has stood firm despite the backlash, calling the resolution “a new chapter” to address “long-standing structural racism and socioeconomic inequality.”

Erick Williams
Virtue Hospitality Group owner

Winner of the James Beard Award for best chef in the Great Lakes region and named by Nation’s Restaurant News as its innovator of the year in 2023, Williams has quickly become one of the city’s most respected chefs and perhaps the public face of its food scene. Operating four popular South Side restaurants (Virtue, Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern, Mustard Seed Kitchen, and Top This Mac N’ Cheese), with another celebrating Mexican culture in the works, Williams is celebrated not just for bringing exceptional Southern cooking to town but for mentoring young Black culinary talent, notably Damarr Brown, his chef de cuisine at Virtue. 

Richard Gonzalez
AbbVie CEO

Gonzalez has helmed the biopharmaceutical firm since it was spun off from Abbott Laboratories in 2013, tripling its annual revenues to more than $50 billion, largely on the back of the blockbuster arthritis drug Humira. He now oversees 50,000 employees worldwide from the North Chicago headquarters. At 70, Gonzalez has hinted at retiring, but not until he leaves the company on solid footing. Late last year, he greenlighted two significant acquisitions in a bid to make up expected revenue loss from the expiration of the Humira patent: Cerevel Therapeutics, which specializes in drugs for schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s (Gonzalez reportedly personally handled most of the negotiation), and ImmunoGen, maker of an ovarian cancer medication.

Curt Bailey
Related Midwest president

There are plenty of bigtime developers in Chicago, but only one controls a 62-acre tract that can hold an MLB stadium. Bailey, who is also developing the former Spire site, managed to get approval in 2019 to develop the South Loop property, which he’s calling the 78, a significant achievement that had eluded other developers. Now he’s in talks with Jerry Reinsdorf and Mayor Johnson about building a new White Sox stadium there — a potential game-changer for the franchise and the entire Near South Side. Baseball stadium or not, there’s little doubt that Bailey is sitting on a diamond. 

Cole Bennett
Lyrical Lemonade Founder

The music video guru, 27, started Lyrical Lemonade as a blog when he was a student at suburban Plano High School. He’s since built it into a multimedia conglomerate with 22 million YouTube subscribers and its own music festival, Summer Smash. A Bennett video can massively boost a rapper’s reach. Exhibit A: Juice WRLD’s 2018 “Lucid Dreams” video, which has 957 million views. Now Bennett is so big that established stars — think Justin Bieber — want to work with him. His star-studded debut studio album, released in January, united Lil Durk and Kid Cudi on a track for the first time.

Photography: (Pritzker, Johnson, Preckwinkle) Tribune; (Gates) Saverio Truglia; (Durbin) Getty Images; (Uihlein) Stephen J. Serio/Crain’s Chicago Business; (Walton) Builders Vision; (Caprara) Oscar Garza; (Lee, Goolsbee, Ricketts) Tribune; (Pritzker) Getty; (Welch) Welch’s office; (Tai) Alex Garcia; (Bartley) Alexander Gouletas; (Jarrett) Getty; (Kirby) United Airlines; (Reiter) Chicago Federation of Labor; (Hobson, Warren, Ricketts, Krishnamoorthi, Duckworth) Tribune; (Sacks) Ramzi Dreessen/Chicago Sun-Times; (Cupich) Archdiocese of Chicago; (Reinsdorf, Raoul) Tribune; (Gang) Marc Olivier Le Blanc; (Dowell) Victor Dowell; (Wirtz) Alexander Gouletas; (Mansueto, GarcÍa, Rogers) Tribune; (Wentworth) Walgreens; (Palfrey) Andrew Collings; (Petitti) Big Ten Conference; (Giannoulias) Nathan Mandell; (Walden, Johnson) Sandro; (Mendoza, Ryan) Tribune; (Duarte) Alexander Gouletas; (Charania) Alexander Gouletas; (Katz) Getty; (Gates) Lyndon French; (Shi) Chicago Board of Education; (Gonzalez) AbbVie; (Williams) Galdones Photography; (Bailey) Tribune; (Bennett) Getty