February 22, 2023

Preview: Lightfoot Facing Big Challenges from Garcia, Vallas and Johnson in Mayor’s Race

By Staff

Mayor’s race expected to be closest in years with an April 4 runoff all but assured

Paul Vallas Lori Lightfoot photo

Paul Vallas (left) and incumbent Lori Lightfoot take questions at a WBEZ mayoral panel at UIC.
(Photo/Lulu Anjanette)

Lori Lightfoot and Paul Vallas

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing an uphill battle going into the Feb. 28 mayoral election.

According to a survey by The Daily Line, she trails her top competitors with an 11% share of surveyed voters, while 15% of voters polled were in favor of challenger Paul Vallas. Close polling has had the two candidates in tight competition with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for a chance at the runoff election on April 4.

A recent Chicago Sun-Times survey had Garcia in the lead by several percentage points, followed by Vallas and Lightfoot in a dead heat. Should Lightfoot not make the April runoff, she would be the first sitting mayor to do so since the system was implemented in 1999.

Over the past few months, Lightfoot, Vallas, Garcia and the other six candidates sparred at a series of forums around the city that focused on public safety and crime, education, public transportation and investment into underdeveloped communities.

Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO, is known for his education-focused policy ideas and experience managing large-scale public institutions. During his tenure as CEO, he implemented a number of reforms aimed at improving student outcomes, such as a budget overhaul and the introduction of new technology into classrooms. Vallas has also served as schools superintendent in New Orleans and Philadelphia.

Lightfoot advocates for police reform and is a former federal prosecutor. She made history in 2019 by becoming Chicago’s first Black female mayor, and she has since been praised and criticized for her efforts to improve police-community relations and to address the city’s gun violence problem. Lightfoot has also worked to reduce the city’s budget deficit and improve public transportation.

During a radio event hosted at UIC by WBEZ radio in February, Vallas claimed that the city’s lack of faith in policy and executive decisions stemmed from a lack of leadership and nepotism. He said that the city needs more meritocracy, “more promotions, less friends and family.” Under his leadership, Vallas promised that the city would increase the number of officers and available detectives by pulling from the city’s reserves and promoting available officers.

Lightfoot defended her policies and choices as mayor, saying that since she has taken office, the number of illegal guns seized has made a difference on the streets. She added that the number of illegal guns seized will not solve the problem until the “pipeline of young Black and Brown people” that leads them to crime is dealt with. 

In order to deal with that pipeline, Lightfoot has increased mental health funding sevenfold during her mayorship. She said she believes that her investment into neighborhood development on the South Side and other programs will help the fight against crime. 

Vallas seeks to embrace violence reduction strategies like CRED and open school campuses over the summer in order to keep youth off the streets. In addition, he said that crime also stems from the lack of strong prosecution. To remedy this, Vallas said he plans to strengthen the witness protection program and bolster the ranks of detectives.

Both candidates have said they seek to increase CTA ridership. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CTA has suffered a sharp decrease in ridership that has yet to recover, as well as increased crime at stops and on trains and buses.

Vallas said that by pulling from the CPD reserves, he can place more officers on the CTA as opposed to the mere deterrent the current security force offers. Vallas also said he hopes to reduce the turnover rate within the agency by promoting and retaining existing employees in order to reduce redundant training costs. 

Read more: Full coverage of the mayoral forum at UIC

Lightfoot said she believes that the city will return to normal levels of CTA patronage now that the pandemic has died down along with an increase in security. Additionally, Lightfoot has been backing programs to increase the number of bike lanes within the city in order to create a greener transportation alternative.

Vallas said he seeks to deal with the problem of “dead” schools by closing them and turning them into job-training centers and charter schools in addition to using them during the summer for community programs. Lightfoot said she believes that her plan to invest in preventing young Black and Brown children from entering the crime pipeline will increase attendance at schools.

Search Analysis: The Candidates

According to an analysis of Google search data, Paul Vallas has taken a lead in Google searches in Chicago over the past several weeks. The chart below illustrates 90 days of search on the four leading Chicago mayoral candidates. While the search data isn’t an indication of voter trends, it does show interest in that candidate — positive or negative — over the past three months.

Garcia photo

Chuy Garcia (right) checks out the audio before a WBEZ forum at UIC in early February. (Photo/Lulu Anjanette)

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

By Manny Meraz

Born in Durango, Mexico, and now residing in Little Village, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is looking to become the first Mexican-American mayor in Chicago’s history. 

Garcia is making his second run for mayor against incumbent Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson and five other candidates. Several polls have Garcia making the April 4 runoff for a second time because of his stance on important Chicago issues, particularly crime. In the 2015 runoff mayoral election, Garcia had 46 percent of the vote, while incumbent Rahm Emanuel had 56 percent to win his second term as mayor. 

This time, Garcia has taken the approach of fixing what many considered a broken city with the high crime rate, a decreasing number of police officers and overall dissatisfaction with the city’s direction. Garcia said he looks to solve many of these issues with better community policing, community programs and other progressive approaches. 

“Modernizing (Chicago) Police Department to make it accountable, to ensure community and constitutional policing, and to get the type of police force that is representative of Chicago and where real trust is being built with community residents and police officers in Chicago,” Garcia said at a WBEZ mayoral forum in February. 

Garcia has campaigned on increasing the number of Chicago Police officers in the department. The number of officers is down 12 percent since the day Lightfoot stepped into office in 2019. Crime in the city has risen 163 percent during that time. Garcia hasn’t been shy about fixing the problem: He wants to fire Police Superintendent David Brown, who is eligible to retire later this year.

“Talking about the most serious issue facing Chicagoans today, here’s what I would do,” Garcia said. “One, I would get rid of the present superintendent and name a new superintendent who’s familiar with Chicago, preferably Chicago born and raised.”

Garcia started his political career after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago. After he was elected to the City Council, he became a state senator, then moved to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and finally the the US House of Representatives. 

Garcia has raised over $2.38 million since the start of 2022 . His biggest donation was $1 million from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 political fund.

For more information regarding Garcia and his campaign, visit his website.

Brandon Johnson photo

Brandon Johnson greets supporters at a recent campaign event. (Photo/Karlie Sanchez)

Brandon Johnson

By Karlie Sanchez

Brandon Johnson’s campaign has long stressed the values he was raised on — hard work, faith and service.

He began his career as a public school teacher, first at Jenner Academy in Cabrini-Green and then at Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side, where he experienced firsthand how school closures, unemployment and gun violence impacted his students and their communities.

He went on to become an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, where he led multi-racial coalitions to defend neighborhood schools from privatization, reduce high-stakes standardized testing and expand access to state funding.

One of 10 children, he was raised by a pastor and carpenter. He has said his upbringing demonstrated to him the importance of investing in people and to lean on one another.

“The simplest way I can articulate this is that we are not our own, we have a responsibility to one another, and are only as strong as we are collectively,” he said in a  recent interview with The Tribe. “So the type of selflessness is the act of service recognizing that we are ultimately accountable to something bigger than ourselves. That’s what shaped my view of the world. It’s how I’ve led as a husband, a father, teacher, organizer, and as county commissioner, and what my intentions will be as mayor of Chicago.” 

Johnson, 47, currently lives in the Austin neighborhood with his wife, Stacie, and his three children.

Johnson began his career as a public school teacher, first at Jenner Academy in Cabrini-Green and then at Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side, where he experienced firsthand how school closures, unemployment and gun violence impacted his students and their communities. He went on to become an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, where he led multiracial coalitions to defend neighborhood schools from privatization, reduce high-stakes standardized testing and expand access to state funding.

In 2018,  Johnson was elected commissioner of the 1st District of Cook County, where he led the effort to pass the Just Housing Ordinance, which prohibited housing discrimination against formerly incarcerated people. As commissioner, he also collaborated with colleagues to eliminate the gang database, secure legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, and advance recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Johnson’s campaign platform has included fighting for affordable housing, fully funded public schools, access to mental health care and green jobs. 

On affordable housing, he said, “Every resident of Chicago deserves access to stable, long-term, affordable, healthy and dignified housing.”

He said he supports the Bring Chicago Home ordinance to protect those 65,000 who are unhoused, stronger protections against evictions, passing the Real Estate Transfer Tax on multimillion-dollar property sales and expanding the Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

A former teacher, Johnson said he wants to provide students in Chicago with a resourceful, supportive, safe and a healthy learning environment. His campaign highlights the importance of development efforts in schools, trauma-informed approaches due to violence, and even improving access to technology. He also highlights that city aid should not be cut, and rather it should be increased. 

On city budget and revenue, he said, “I have a detailed plan to pay down our debts while ramping up needed investments.” Some of these investments include housing, health, mental health care, child care, education and training in order to jobs in growing industries.

 “Work is work, and we should make sure that we are protecting workers’ rights,” Johnson said at a recent Chicago Food Policy forum hosted by UIC. “You have to have an administration that recognizes the value of that work. Whether you’re a teacher, a firefighter, or whomever you are, the reason why we have such a stratified structure is because those who already have get more, and those with less continue to get things taken away from them is because we are not demanding corporations to pay their fair share taxes. “

Johnson’s mayoral campaign has raised more than $2.7 million since the beginning of 2022, according to state campaign finance filings. Most of his donors have been from teachers’ unions, SEIU locals or affiliated groups. The American Federation of Teachers gave more than $1 million, and the CTU contributed more than $600,000.


Read more on his website.

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