DemDaily: Chicago Chooses Change

March 1, 2023

Voters yesterday rejected Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's bid for a second term, while sending rivals Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson to an April 4 runoff.

At 94% of the vote reporting, Vallas had secured 33.8%, followed by Johnson with 20.3%, Lightfoot with 17.1% and Congressman "Chuy" Garcia with 13.7%. Five other candidates came in under 10%. Although the election is officially nonpartisan, all nine contenders were Democrats.

Lightfoot made history four years ago as Chicago's first openly gay and first Black woman mayor, winning all 50 of the city's wards. A former US Assistant Attorney, she served as President of the Chicago Police Board and Chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force and ran on sweeping reforms to schools and police departments.

Her popularity plunged, however, during the coronavirus crisis, as violent crime spiked and Chicago led the country in mass shootings. It is the first time in 40 years that an incumbent Chicago mayor has lost reelection.

Vallas, who built his campaign around a pro-police, tough-on-crime message, benefited from the endorsement of the conservative Chicago Police Union.

Vallas was Chicago's Municipal Budget Director from 1990-1993 and served as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from 1995 to 2001, credited with reforming the school system. After a failed bid for the 2002 Democratic nomination for governor, in which he placed second to Rod Blagojevich, Vallas served as CEO of the School District of Philadelphia until 2007. He subsequently held Superintendent roles in the Recovery School District of Louisiana and Bridgeport Public Schools.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn tapped Vallas as his Lt. Governor running mate in the 2014 election, which they lost to the Republican ticket of Bruce Rauner and Evelyn Sanguinetti. Rauner then appointed Vallas Chief Administrative Officer of Chicago State University, a position he held from 2017-2018 until he announced his first bid for mayor of Chicago. In the 2019 election, Vallas, who received the controversial endorsement of the Chicago Republican Party, placed ninth to Lightfoot.

Johnson has served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners since 2018, after unseating incumbent Commissioner Richard Boykin in the Democratic primary election by 0.8%. He won the general election unopposed and was re-elected in 2022 with 93% against a Libertarian candidate.

A former teacher and among the lesser known of the field, Johnson's candidacy surged with the endorsement of the Chicago Teachers Union and the $1 million investment of its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers. The favored candidate of the left, Johnson also received the support of SEIU, United Working Families and numerous progressive organizations.

Millions of dollars have been poured into the mayoral race, with Lightfoot and Vallas having both raised in excess of $6 million. Johnson raised just over $3.93 million and García $3.69 million. Businessman Willie Wilson, who came in fifth, loaned himself $6 million.

The challenge for Vallas now will be to see if he can coalesce voters around his message as Johnson consolidates the support of liberals and labor unions who supported other candidates.

DemList will keep you informed.

Related: DemDaily: The 2023 Election Calendar 2/24/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, CNN

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