Mayor Brandon Johnson on Monday quoted slain rapper Tupac Shakur in dancing around questions about his firing Dr. Allison Arwady, the now-former health commissioner who led Chicago through the darkest days of the pandemic.
At a news conference to showcase Larry Snelling, his choice for Chicago police superintendent, Johnson was asked about Arwady’s claim that she was shown the door without ever being given the courtesy of a single face-to-face meeting with Johnson.
Johnson didn’t answer directly, paraphrasing Tupac instead.
“You can’t always go by the things that you hear. Right? `Real eyes realize real lies,’ “ Johnson said.
(The full Tupac quote begins: “Don’t believe everything you hear.”)
Arwady could not be reached for comment, but in an interview on NBC5 Chicago on Monday, she said that Rich Guidice, Johnson’s chief of staff, called her Friday evening and in a meeting told her it was her last day on the job. She said she had no opportunity to say goodbye to the staff members who served as her loyal soldiers during the pandemic.
Johnson did that familiar political dance — the sidestep — yet again when asked whether the decision to fire Arwady was “payback” from the Chicago Teachers Union for Arwady’s push to reopen Chicago Public Schools sooner than the CTU wanted them open. Johnson is a former teacher who served as a paid organizer for the CTU.
“Every single administration has to be prepared for transition. My administration is no different in that regard,” he said. “Transition is difficult for everyone.”
CTU President Stacy Davis Gates did not respond to repeated requests to comment.
Johnson took office 12 weeks ago with only a handful of advisers of his own choosing.
Instead, he asked most of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s department heads to stay on for three months. That allowed them to audition for the new mayor and gave Johnson time to find replacements for those who didn’t measure up.
Arwady openly campaigned to keep her job, but never stood a chance. Johnson made no bones about that during the mayoral campaign, during which he also promised to reopen Chicago’s shuttered mental health clinics and create a citywide, nonpolice system to respond to mental health emergencies.
Lightfoot, as a candidate, also promised to reopen the six mental health clinics shut down by her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, but she kept them closed after becoming mayor. The City Council initially delayed confirmation of Arwady’s appointment because she did not support reopening those shuttered clinics.
After Arwady was fired, Lightfoot released a statement hailing her as a “hero” and a “national leader” in public health.
The former mayor said all Chicagoans “owe a debt” to Arwady for her “unflagging commitment to data, science and keeping all safe through one of the worst pandemics that the world has ever seen,” Lightfoot wrote.
On Monday, Johnson played down Arwady’s leadership role during the pandemic.
“COVID was a very difficult time for the entire country, and it was a very hard job for everyone. Whether you were a business owner, whether you were a child care provider, it was difficult for all of us. And it created a great deal of stress,” the mayor said.
“What I’ve committed myself to do is to making sure that we have a very collaborative approach for how we asses all of our sister agencies and our departments. And we have done just that. And so decisions that will be made ultimately by me get fully vetted.”