By Karlie Sanchez and Laaiba Mahmood
Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and former school teacher, won the Chicago mayoral election in a big upset of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas on Tuesday night
Johnson, 47, will become Chicago’s 57th mayor and the third African American to serve in the position, following Harold Washington and Lori Lightfoot.
Johnson won 51.4% of the vote while Vallas won 48.6%. Shortly after 10 p.m., Vallas conceded and called Johnson to congratulate him. It was a stunning upset, as Vallas held a 13-percentage point lead over Johnson in the general election just five weeks ago.
Johnson holds a nearly 15,000 vote lead over Vallas. The Chicago Board of Elections expects half of 91,000 mail-in ballots issued to be returned by Tuesday’s deadline. It will take the Board of Elections at least two days or at most up to two weeks to count them.
But shortly after The Associated Press called the race, Johnson addressed the crowd at his election night event at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Chicago, highlighting his commitment to serve as the mayor for all Chicagoans, even those who did not vote for him.
“We are building a better, stronger, safer, Chicago,” Johnson said. “We’re doing it together. It’s a multicultural, multigenerational movement that has literally captured the imagination of not just the city of Chicago, but the rest of the world.”
Before leaving the stage, Johnson drew on the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated on April 4, 55 years ago.
“Today, the dream is alive; so today, we celebrate the revival and the resurrection of the City of Chicago,” Johnson said. “It is time for Chicago to come alive. Come alive, Chicago!”
Supporters, politicians, and union workers were all in attendance. The atmosphere of the venue was classy, with old school R&B classics playing in the background and the crowd danced throughout the night.
While Vallas held an early lead, attendees held onto hope for Johnson’s victory.
“I’m just excited to see change, where everybody’s treated equal, people can speak, safer streets, communities coming together,” said Jose Jimenez, a Chicago Teachers Union worker. “When you see all different kinds of color in all different ages, you know you’re at the right place.”
Supporters had mounting energy as Johnson took a razor-thin lead over Vallas midway through the evening. They were cheering and crowding around the TV to celebrate as vote counts were being updated, solidifying Johnson’s lead.
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Once Vallas conceded, attendees gathered by the stage anticipating Johnson to give his victory speech.
“So, Chicago, I’ll say this: Today, we take big steps toward figuring it out here,” Johnson said. “So I believe since we are taking steps to figure it out here, let’s take this bold progressive movement across the United States of America. Chicago, we can show the country, we can show the world what’s possible when we stand on our values as one people.”
Johnson departed the stage as confetti rained down in the hall. He celebrated with his family onstage.
“It means everything that [Johnson] was elected mayor,” said Claudia Gomez, a nurse and Johnson supporter. “He started from the ground up, so grassroots and I’ve been following him from the beginning. I’m so happy.”
CTU President Stacy Davis Gates gave a speech to introduce Johnson to the stage. The teachers union endorsed Johnson and campaigned heavily for him.
“This movement of the many, this movement of community and love and justice, is going to transform not just the city of Chicago but the United States of America,” Gates said. “And we have our mayor. His name is Brandon Johnson.”
Slideshow: Highlights from the runoff events
Red Line Project photojournalist Lulu Anjanette captured key moments from Johnson’s speech and celebration.