Chicago has had some great mayors. Their names adorn street signs — Ogden Avenue — skyscrapers — the Richard J. Daley Center — and libraries — the Harold Washington Center.

Mayor Brandon Johnson is not in that pantheon, although he imagines himself there. Just last week, he promised to remain in office for “another 23 years,” which would make him Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, and earn himself the pension of all pensions once he turns 70. He’ll have enough money to finally paint his house in Austin.

But Daniel Boland, a former technology salesman from Lake View, wants to cut Johnson’s mayoralty short before he’s even served a full term. Boland is circulating a petition to give Chicagoans the power to recall their mayor — aimed at getting rid of Johnson. 

“Just the crime,” Boland told the Sun-Times. “People can’t go out and even go to the grocery store without getting mugged. People can’t sell their tamales out on the street without getting accosted by people who are armed. These armed juvenile thugs. That’s one reason that just put it over the top for me. Really, the thing that motivated me more than anything else was when the mayor had a meeting scheduled with your editorial board at the Sun-Times and then canceled it because you wouldn’t go off the record. I thought that just violated every principle of honor and integrity.”

This month, Chicago’s finest magazine — that’s us — graded Johnson’s first year in office. Overall, we gave him a C-minus. In media relations, he earned a D: “beyond incompetent,” said a political consultant. In handling migrants, a C-minus: “a disaster.” In supporting the business community, a D. 

A C-minus is not a failing grade. It simply reflects the learning curve of a man who went from union organizer to mayor in four years, and has never before held executive office. Even during those four years on the Cook County Board, Toni Preckwinkle held his hand. Johnson is not incompetent, he’s inexperienced. He deserves more than a year to learn how to do his job. He deserves the four years to which he was elected, by voters who knew that he was “owned by the CTU,” another of Boland’s complaints. Some voters appreciated the fact that he sends his children to Chicago Public Schools, a first for a modern Chicago mayor.

Boland, who describes himself as unemployed, is a gadfly, who has help from another unemployed gadfly, Pat Quinn, who was behind the referendum empowering voters to recall the governor. To get his recall measure on the November ballot, he’ll need to collect 54,464 signatures by August 5. Johnson could then be recalled in March 2026 — less than a year before he’d be up for re-election anyway.

Johnson describes Boland as “some dude from the suburbs” who doesn’t like the diversity of his administration. (Johnson, who grew up in Elgin, is also a dude from the suburbs, and is really uptight about it, which is probably why he calls out other suburban dudes.)

“The extreme right wing in this country, they are not very pleased with the fact that 60 percent of my administration are women, 43 percent of those who make up my administration are Black,” he said.

Johnson can play the race card, but this doesn’t seem to be about race. Harold Washington was 40 years ago. Chicagoans no longer squeal “eek” when they see a Black face presiding over a City Council meeting. Lori Lightfoot was Black, and a woman, and a lesbian, but there was no movement to recall her, even though she didn’t learn a damn thing about running a city in her entire four years as mayor.

Blaming the “extreme right wing” may be more accurate. The National Review, the O.G. of right-wing mags, published a post titled “Petition Seeks to Empower Chicago Voters to Recall Far-Left Mayor Brandon Johnson.” With his (failed) plan to tax million-dollar real estate sales, and his (successful) plans to pay tipped workers a full wage and increase sick leave, Johnson is a left-wing mayor. An attempt to recall Johnson would become a nationally-watched referendum on progressive governance of big cities. Bernie Sanders and AOC would visit Chicago to portray Johnson as a hero of socialist labor, like Che Guevara. President Trump would blame Johnson for turning a great city into a “shithole.” 

Boland’s petition drive may succeed. Voters like any initiative that shifts power from politicians to the electorate — especially in Illinois, which has a tradition of cutting the little guy out of the political process. Quinn’s proposal to recall the governor passed 2-1, helped by the misdeeds of his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich. 

Recalls can backfire, though. In Wisconsin, unions attempted to recall Gov. Scott Walker after he stripped public employees of bargaining rights. Walker beat the recall, became a conservative idol, and won another term two years later. Johnson could beat this recall and win another term, and then another, and another, and another, until he’s served long enough to have something really big named after him.