Chicago’s incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her re-election bid on Tuesday, with vote totals showing that two of her rivals will face each other in a runoff ballot on April 4.
The tough on crime candidate, Paul Vallas, 69, a former public schools chief in the Windy City and Philadelphia who ran unsuccessfully for Chicago mayor in 2019, secured the top spot, taking 34.9 percent of the vote.
Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, secured the other spot in the runoff race, taking 20.2 percent of votes. Lightfoot clocked in around 17 percent of the vote, eliminating her from the running.
The Chicago race is technically non-partisan, but every candidate identifies as a Democrat in the heavily left-leaning city.
Polls showed public safety is by far the top concern among residents of the third-largest US city.
The tough on crime candidate, Paul Vallas, 69, a former public schools chief in the Windy City and Philadelphia who ran unsuccessfully for Chicago mayor in 2019
Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, secured the other spot in the runoff race, taking 20.2 percent of votes
Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her re-election bid over criticisms of her soft-on-crime approach amid a steady spike in violence. Pictured: Lightfoot at her election night rally on February 28
The city’s police union is backing Vallas while the teacher’s union is behind Johnson.
Former President Barack Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod described the race between Vallas and Johnson as the battle between the ‘candidate of the Fraternal Order of Police’ and the ‘candidate of the Chicago Teachers Union,’ reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
Axelrod described Vallas’ campaign as ‘brilliant’ and ‘disciplined’ thanks his being ‘monomaniacal’ on the issue of violent crime.
‘[Johnson] is the candidate of the Chicago Teachers Union and, if he is elected, he will owe it to the Chicago Teachers Union. … The question is, do you want a mayor who is entirely beholden to the union,’ Axelrod added in his interview.
Vallas’ rivals sought to paint him as a Republican thanks to his endorsement from the city’s confrontational police union.
Just last week the same union hosted likely GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis at an event in Illinois, reports ABC Chicago.
‘I wholeheartedly agree with Governor Pritzker that there is simply no place in Chicago for a right-wing extremist like Ron DeSantis, and I am disappointed in FOP leadership for inviting him to speak to officers,’ Vallas said in distancing himself from the Florida governor.
Lightfoot had blasted him for welcoming support from the police union’s controversial leader, who defended the Jan. 6 insurrectionists at the Capitol and equated Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate for city workers to the Holocaust.
The 2023 campaign has tested Democratic messaging on policing in the U.S., three years after widespread protests following the police murder of George Floyd and months after Republicans sought to bludgeon Democrats over the issue in the 2022 midterm elections.
There were more than 800 murders in Chicago in 2021, the most in a quarter-century. The homicide rate dropped 14 percent in 2022 but remained nearly 40 percent higher than in 2019.
Vallas’ campaign website asserts the city has been ‘surrendered’ to criminals, and he has vowed to hire more officers and increase community patrols, as part of a 14-point plan to defeat crime that’s listed on his website.
In a TV ad targeting Lightfoot titled ‘Out of Control’ saw the candidate call the incumbent’s leadership style ‘combative.’
‘Paul Vallas. Crime and your safety is his top priority,’ the narrator says in the TV spot.
In a recent interview, Vallas attributed Chicago’s spiraling crime to ‘the abandonment of a community based policing strategy.’
Brandon Johnson, right, listens to homeless advocate Aleta “Englewood Barbie”Clark at a homeless encampment under a major interstate freeway on the eve of the mayoral election
A recent Chicago Tribune story also found Vallas’ Twitter account had liked racist tweets and tweets that mocked Lightfoot’s appearance and referred to her as masculine
While Johnson’s first ad was titled ‘Better.’
‘Brandon Johnson has a plan to make Chicago safer, grow Chicago businesses and create jobs. Brandon’s plan will improve public schools for all of our kids. For mayor, Brandon Johnson is better for Chicago,’ the narrator says.
Vallas’ focus on safety put him at the top of most polls, though Lightfoot has attacked him for telling an interviewer in 2009 that he was ‘more of a Republican than a Democrat.’
A recent Chicago Tribune story also found Vallas’ Twitter account had liked racist tweets and tweets that mocked Lightfoot’s appearance and referred to her as masculine.
Vallas denied his comments were related to race and says his police union endorsement is from rank-and-file officers.
He also said he wasn’t responsible for the liked tweets, which he called ‘abhorrent,’ and suggested someone had improperly accessed his account.
At a mayoral forum in January, Vallas said that all of the problems caused on Chicago’s train system was due to ‘crime, crime, crime.’ He also said that the system was ‘facing a catastrophic financial crisis.’
At the same forum, Johnson attributed the problems on the train system on reliability and that a ‘more collaborative’ effort was needed to fix the problems on the transit network.
In a recent advertisement, Lightfoot accused Johnson of wanting to ‘defund the police.’ The ad cited a 2020 appearance in which he described the slogan as a ‘real political goal’ in the wake of the Floyd protests.
As a mayoral candidate, Johnson has responded by saying he wants to spend more resources on programs such as mental health treatment but does not intend to cut the police budget.
Rita DiPietro, who lives downtown, said she supported Lightfoot in 2019. But she voted for Vallas on Tuesday, saying she was impressed by his detailed strategy to address public safety.
‘The candidates all talk about what they’d like to do,’ she told the Associated Press. ‘This guy actually has a plan. He knows how he’s going to do it.’
Lindsey Hegarty, a 30-year-old paralegal who lives on Chicago’s North Side, said she backed Johnson because ‘he seemed like the most progressive candidate on issues like policing, mental health’ and public transit.
At his victory party, Vallas noted that Lightfoot had called to congratulate him and asked the crowd to give her a round of applause.
In a nod to his campaign promise to combat crime, he said that, if elected, he would work to address public safety issues.
‘We will have a safe Chicago. We will make Chicago the safest city in America,’ Vallas said.
Johnson on Tuesday night noted the improbability that he would make the runoff, considering his low name recognition at the start of the race.
‘A few months ago they said they didn’t know who I was. Well, if you didn’t know, now you know,’ Johnson said.
He thanked the unions that supported him and gave a special shout-out to his wife, telling the crowd, ‘Chicago, a Black woman will still be in charge.’
The other candidates were businessman Willie Wilson, Chicago City Council members Sophia King and Roderick Sawyer, activist Ja’Mal Green and state Rep. Kambium ‘Kam’ Buckner.
Far from being an outlier, the nation’s third-largest city is just the latest Democratic stronghold where public safety has become a top election issue.
In San Francisco, progressive District Attorney Chelsea Boudin was ousted in a recall election last year that was fueled by frustration over public safety.
In Los Angeles, two Democrats running for mayor debated how to deal with rising crime rates and an out-of-control homelessness crisis.
In New York City, voters elected Eric Adams as mayor, elevating a former city police captain who pledged to fix the department and invest more in crime prevention.
And in Philadelphia, candidates running for mayor this year are debating how to curb gun violence.