March 31, 2023

Chicago Election: Vallas-Johnson Mayoral Runoff Could Come Down to Young Turnout

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

Bernie Sanders and Brandon Johnson photo

Mayoral hopeful Brandon Johnson and Bernie Sanders meet on the stage Thursday night. (Photo/Karlie Sanchez)

Brandon Johnson’s campaign for Chicago mayor got a boost Thursday night from fellow progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders during a rally on the UIC campus.

Supporters of Johnson and Sanders joined together at the UIC Credit Union 1 voter turnout rally just days before Johnson takes on Paul Vallas in the Chicago mayoral runoff election. The large crowd chanted “Bernie Bernie Bernie Bernie” as he made his way to the podium to talk about Johnson.

“They have the money, we have the people and when the people stand united people will win,” Sanders said. “We have seen the billionaires and the rich get richer, while the working class struggles to stay alive, but this campaign here Chicago is bringing the working class together.” 

Johnson joined Sanders on the stage, holding his hand and raising them up toward the cheering crowd.

Election 2023: Previews of runoff races and past coverage

“I just can’t help but feel that tomorrow has finally arrived. And those who saw this country for what it could become, and not what it was, understood that one day a dream would come,” he said.

Besides Sanders, Johnson has been endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, James Clybourn, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and many others. 

Voter turnout could be critical for Johnson. On Feb. 28, only 3% of voters were 18-24. The goal of Thursday’s rally was to increase voter turnout among young voters and reach Johnson’s progressive base of supporters. 

Johnson earned 20.3% of the vote in the municipal election, trailing Vallas by 13 percentage points. But recent polls show them in a dead heat with 10 percent of the vote undecided.

Johnson is running on a platform dedicated to affordable housing efforts, supporting public school funding, mental health care access and green jobs. A former Chicago Public Schools teacher, Johnson went on to become an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union. In 2018, he was elected commissioner of the 1st District of Cook County.

Google search trends on Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson over the last seven days in Chicago.

Preview: Paul Vallas

Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson eliminated incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the Feb. 28 municipal election, leaving the two of them to face off in Tuesday’s runoff.

Vallas won a commanding 32.9% percent of the vote on the 28th, followed by Johnson with 21.6%. According to Hill and Emerson College Polling, Johnson has closed the gap, with Vallas holding a five-point lead over Johnson in a 46% to 41% contest with 13% remaining undecided of those polled. That poll and others show the race is in a dead heat.

In the race, the momentum gained from endorsements from eliminated mayoral candidates could mean the difference in the race. With his history in education, Vallas has been endorsed by former U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan, along with U.S Senator Dick Durbin and Former Illinois governor Pat Quinn. Both Duncan and Vallas served as CPS superintendents.

Vallas’ strong “tough on crime” stance has earned him a spot in the runoff, but whether or not it will be enough to carry him through remains to be seen. Public safety has been his first priority throughout the campaign, with Vallas attacking his competitors’ public-safety plans during several debates.

“I want to restore the police ranks and return to constitutional-based, consent-decree-enforced community policing. My opponent wants to defund the police,” Vallas said during a recent debate on CBS 2 Chicago.

Johnson has said in several interviews and debates that his plans to manage funds within the police department do not translate to defunding the police but rather to shifting funding into more effective spending. That would still result in lowering the amount of money spent on the Chicago Police Department, a point Vallas has made repeatedly in attack ads on Johnson.


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