March 1, 2023

Chicago Mayor’s Race: Vallas and Johnson Headed to April 4 Runoff Showdown

By Brian Chan, Karlie Sanchez, Laaiba Mahmood and Manny Meraz

Paul Vallas Photo

Paul Vallas makes a point during his speech Tuesday night. He was the leading vote-getter
and will face Brandon Johnson in the runoff April 4. (Photo/Lulu Anjanette)

To nobody’s surprise, Chicago’s most-contested mayoral race in decades is headed for an April 4 runoff — with Paul Vallas against Brandon Johnson.

Incumbent Lori Lightfoot (17.1% of the vote) conceded the race at 8:45 p.m. CT Tuesday night, setting the stage for Vallas (33.8%), backed by the police union, and progressive Johnson (20.3%) in the runoff.

Candidates Chuy Garcia (fourth place with 13.7%) and Willie Wilson (fifth place, 9.5%) refused to concede Tuesday night, citing the mail-in ballots yet to be counted. Mail-in ballots cannot be counted until election day, which means 80,000 to 90,000 vote-by-mail ballots won’t be immediately reflected in election-night results. Candidates can challenge and demand recounts in the coming weeks, which could delay the final decision until mid-March. The process could take several days.

Slideshow: Photos from the election night parties

Voter turnout was low again this election, with only 32.1% of the city’s 1.58 million voters casting ballots, with the mail-in ballots that came in Tuesday — estimated at 60,000 to 80,000 — yet to be counted.

Coverage from the four leading candidates’ election-night parties.

Paul Vallas

Paul vallas photo

Paul Vallas stressed public safety in his speech to supporters Tuesday night. (Photo/Brian Chan)

By Brian Chan

With his rallying cry of “public safety as a civil right,” mayoral candidate Paul Vallas is headed to the April 4 runoff election to face Brandon Johnson.

We will make Chicago the safest city in America.” said Vallas, promising change to not just public safety but the city’s operations as a whole. “This city has never really been the city that works for everyone, but it will be when I am mayor.”

Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools superintendent backed by the police unions, was the top vote-getter with 33.8%. Johnson led Lightfoot by more than 3 percentage points when the incumbent took to the stage around 8:45 p.m. to concede the race.

With Lightfoot out, supporters shared their excitement for the changes Vallas promises.

“I voted for Lori last time and she let me down,” said Omar Shareef of the African American Contractors Association.

Others agreed. “It’s time for a change,” said attendee Robert Western.

Vallas served as CPS superintendent from 1995 to 2001. He went on to become the CEO of the School District of Philadelphia and was also the superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina, where he managed the restoration and reorganization of the city’s schools.

Vallas has held a variety of high-profile government jobs in addition to his work in education. He worked as the city of Chicago’s budget director under Mayor Richard M. Daley, and then as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. He previously ran for governor of Illinois in 2002 and subsequently served as Pat Quinn’s deputy governor.

Using his experience from New Orleans, Vallas campaigned to reorganize dying or dead schools and turn them into job training centers and charter schools. Additionally, he looks to open school campuses over the summer. He believes that this will not only increase the attendance and graduation rates at schools but also impact the pipeline of youths to crime. 

He also looks to stem the tide of crime among younger Chicagoans by embracing violence reduction strategies like CRED and taking on a ‘less combative’ leadership role.

Video: Vallas on his experience and qualifications as mayor

Vallas said during the WBEZ forum that a large part of his solution to crime would be to call upon the CPD reserves. He looks to bolster the CPD with reserve officers in order to create an opportunity for detectives to rise out of the ranks. He believes that in order to stop crime the city needs more detectives to aid in the capture and prosecution of criminals. 

Doubling down on the importance of incarceration rates, Vallas went on to state that he plans to increase funding to the witness protection program in order to give the prosecution a leg up during trial. 

These policies are based on his self-described “technocratic problem solver” approach he shared on WGN radio. During a talk hosted at UIC by WBEZ in February, Vallas said he would lead with “more promotions, less friends and family.” 

When describing his crime policies, he often refers to his family: “I come from a family of police officers,” he has said in multiple interviews and in forums.

His competition, mainly Lightfoot, have criticized him for accepting Republican campaign funding. Vallas defended that, saying he is a lifelong Democrat and that “individuals who have contributed to Republicans have contributed to [Lightfoot’s] campaign as well.”

Video: Vallas talks about public safety and CPS

Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson photo

Brandon Johnson steps to the podium to celebrate making the runoff against Paul Vallas. (Photo/Karlie Sanchez)

By Karlie Sanchez

Brandon Johnson is headed to the April 4 runoff against frontrunner Paul Vallas, and he didn’t hesitate to go after his opponent Tuesday night when addressing his supporters at the El Palais Bu-Sché banquet hall in West Garfield Park.

Vallas (33.8%) had a 13 percentage-point lead on the progressive Johnson (20.3%) on Tuesday night. Knowing he has ground to gain in the runoff, Johnson launched an attack on frontrunner Vallas in his speech.

“He switched parties when President Obama became the president of the United States,” Johnson told an enthusiastic crowd. He is more of a Republican than anything else. He said that he fundamentally opposes abortion. As head of the Chicago Public Schools, he ran the teachers pension fund into the ground, closed neighborhood schools and punished students who were in need.” 

Xavier Mcaden, a supporter of Johnson, said that he “is excited for the outcome in April and looking forward to seeing the things Brandon accomplishes once he becomes mayor, especially with the youth programming.”

Johnson’s supporters gathered, cheered and chanted. “Go Brandon Go Brandon Go Brandon.” They sang and danced in the crowd as the good vibes were everywhere.

“We didn’t just get here y’all,” Johnson said. “We’ve been about this work and so for the sake of our children, for the sake of our families, the challenges that are ahead of us Chicago we can defeat the structural inequalities, we have built a multi-racial, multi-generational movement. We can build a better, stronger, safer Chicago and tonight is just the beginning. So do me a big favor in Chicago, so the whole world can know, Brandon is better.”

During his campaign, Johnson said being collaborative as mayor is important because he recognizes the value of his efforts when it comes to serving the City of Chicago. Johnson said in an interview with CBS News that is why the investment in people is important. 

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 multi-racial coalitions to defend neighborhood schools from privatization, reduce high-stakes standardized testing and expand access to state funding.

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

Johnson created a plan for stronger school communities and is striving toward a fully resourced, supportive, safe. He has plans for Bilingual Ed and real sanctuary in CPS, child care for all, expand the sustainable community schools model to city colleges, fully funding, staff, and resourcing, housing the unhoused, and a pan for students to ride the CTA for free. 

When he stepped to the stage Tuesday night to thank supporters and prepare for the runoff, he was greeted with enthusiasm as he shared to the crowd: “A few months ago they said they didn’t know who I was. Well, if you didn’t know, now you know.“

Brandon Johnson photo

Supporters cheer on Brandon Johnson at his party. (Photo/Karlie Sanchez)

Lori Lightfoot

By Laaiba Mahmood
Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her reelection bid Tuesday night, becoming the first sitting mayor to not make it to the runoff since the system was introduced 24 years ago.

At 8:45 p.m. Lightfoot conceded the race with only 17.1% of the vote. Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson advance to the runoff in April.

At a small event closed to the public at the Mid-American Carpenters Regional Council building, Lightfoot addressed supporters after becoming the first one-term Chicago mayor in 40 years.

“Obviously, we didn’t win the election today,” Lightfoot said over a Facebook videostream. “But I stand here with my head held high and a heart full of gratitude.”

At the podium, Lightfoot listed successes from her time in office.

“I’m grateful that we worked together to remove a record number of guns off our streets, reduced homicides, and started making real progress on public safety,” she said.

Read more: Lightfoot campaign denies Red Line Project journalists access

During her tenure, Lightfoot dealt with issues of civil unrest, the pandemic, crime and more.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Lightfoot sparred with other mayoral candidates – particularly Vallas – at a number of debates and forums when they criticized her record as mayor. The top issues the candidates discussed included crime, police reform, education and transportation.

At a forum hosted by WBEZ at UIC, Lightfoot reiterated her confidence in her policies to address crime and gun violence, citing that her office has increased mental health funding to address violence at its root.

“All of our 77 neighborhoods have culturally relevant, free mental health services and for the first time in our city’s history, we are serving children and adolescents,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve increased the amount of funding for mental health sevenfold over my tenure. [There is] more work to be done there.”

Lightfoot also defended attacks from other mayoral candidates on the state of public transportation in the city, claiming that the pandemic was to blame for decreasing CTA ridership.

Lightfoot, 60, came in first in the 2019 municipal general election with 17.5% of the vote. She easily beat Toni Preckwinkle in the runoff election, making history when she was elected as the city’s first openly gay Black female mayor in April.

Lightfoot’s February 2019 election night party was at EvolveHer, a female-focused co-working space in River North. She recalled that night, speaking once again to young people of color as she did four years ago.

“Believe that you can bring about change, that you matter,” Lightfoot said. “And believe you can love who you want to love and do what you want to do and be who you want to be. You will not be defined by how you fall. You will be defined by how hard you work and how much you do good for other people.”

Chuy Garcia

Chuy Garcia photo

Chuy Garcia and his supporters celebrated anyway. (Photo/Manny Meraz)

By Manny Meraz

The 2023 mayoral campaign appears to be coming to an end for Chuy Garcia, who was in fourth place with 13.74 percent of the vote behind Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson and Lori Lightfoot. Only the top two candidates advanced to the runoff, but Garcia refused to concede the race Tuesday night, saying he wanted to have mail-in votes counted in the upcoming days.

 Garcia and his supporters had much to be happy about as many members of “Team Chuy” won their aldermanic races: Gil Villegas , Jeylu Gutierrez and Michael D. Rodriguez, among others.

Many supporters showed up to Garcia and his team’s election night party at the Apollo 2000 theater and were treated to a live Mexican band for four hours. Despite the disappointing mayoral result, the campaign was celebrated. 

Video: Band plays at Chuy Garcia’s election party 

Garcia saw many highly influential supporters show up on his election night party, including former Illinois Fov. Pat Quinn, who has publicly endorsed Garcia for mayor.  o

When asked about what the future mayor of Chicago would have to do for the city, Quinn said, “Public safety is important, but so are the jobs. Economic growth… it’s important for the candidates who made it to the run-offs to do what Chuy has done his whole life and that is bringing people together.”

Quinn added: “The (voter) turnout was disappointing, but the candidates deserve a lot of credit for doing their very best… it is important in Chicago that we get reforms that are long overdue where we give voters the chance to vote on issues and the candidates … people would turn out more if they had that opportunity.”

The poor turnout for  Garcia was a surprise to many as many had expected him to pull more of a fight. 

Despite the loss, Garcia made sure his supporters had a good time with the live music and food bar. Garcia addressed his supporters and talked about what running for mayor of Chicago meant to him and what he vows to see change in Chicago. 

Video:  Garcia addressing his supporters after his defeat in the 2023 Chicago Mayoral election. 

Garcia previously served terms with the Chicago City Council, Illinois State Senate, Cook County Board of Commissioners and the U.S House of Representatives.

This was Garcia’s second attempt for mayor, his first being in 2015, a race in which he lost to the incumbent mayor Rahm Emanuel. Garcia obtained 43.77 percent  of the vote in that mayoral election, and the second now ends in the municipal election, not making it to the runoff election this time and only obtaining 13.77 percent of the vote. 

Garcia had raised $2.3 million for this election, the biggest donation being $1 million from the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Garcia had many plans to help change Chicago and one of them is to protect women’s rights. Garcia planned to continue to protect abortion rights by allowing women to make their own choices about their bodies. He has said he wanted to ensure that women could make those decisions safely in the city of Chicago without having to go to other states risking their health to seek an abortion. 

Garcia also planned on building trust within neighborhood communities and the Chicago Police Department by developing community policing systems and community programs in which people of the community can build relationships with officers and build trust between the two. 

During the campaign, he talked about his desire to reduce gun violence, saying he wanted to hire more Chicago Police Officers and hire a new CPD superintendent.

Garcia also recently opened up about his son Sam and his affiliation with gangs in Chicago and how he almost lost his son to the gun violence in Chicago. Having his own experience with gangs and gun violence in the Little Village neighborhood, Garcia vowed to use that experience to help young men all over Chicago if he were elected as mayor. 

Garcia still wants young men in Chicago to know the many options that they can rely on rather than going into the so-called “street gang” life. Garcia wants to educate these young men to help make the streets of Chicago safer. 


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