CHICAGO – Voters chose a progressive former teacher over a tough-on-crime former public schools executive to lead the nation’s third-largest city, capping off a mayoral election season that has centered on public safety, taxes and education.
Brandon Johnson, 47, a union organizer endorsed by the teachers union, beat out Paul Vallas, 69, a former city budget director backed by the city’s police union, in a tight runoff that marked a momentous win for progressive groups.
With about 91% of the vote counted, Johnson had 51.4% to 48.6% for Vallas. More votes will be counted as absentee ballots arrive in the mail.
“You know, they said this would never happen,” Johnson said in a victory speech late Tuesday. “Now they know.”
Johnson and Vallas proceeded to the runoff after none of nine candidates received more than 50% of the vote in an election in late February. Though both candidates have deep roots in the Democratic Party, they presented opposing views on issues such as crime, taxes, schools and investment in policing.
Johnson has called for new taxes and expanding social programs. He says the city should focus on mental health treatment, affordable housing for all and jobs for young people instead of further investing in policing and incarceration.
He has also proposed a plan he says will raise $800 million by taxing “ultrarich” people and businesses. Johnson’s plan includes a per-employee “head tax” on employers and an additional tax on hotel room stays.
“To the Chicagoans who did not vote for me … I’ll be the mayor for you, too,” Johnson said.
Paul Vallas concedes to Brandon Johnson in mayoral race
Tuesday , Vallas told his supporters he had called Johnson and said he expected him to be the next mayor. Vallas urged his supporters to put aside differences and support Johnson in “the daunting work ahead.”
“This campaign that I ran to bring the city together would not be a campaign that fulfills my ambitions if this election is going to divide us,” Vallas said.
He added he had offered Johnson his full support in the transition.
Who is Brandon Johnson?
Johnson is a former teacher and union organizer who has campaigned as a progressive. He was elected as a Cook County Commissioner in 2018 and supported the teachers union during a strike the following year.
His campaign has focused on addressing the root causes of violence through investments in mental health services, education, jobs and affordable housing. Johnson has said he would promote 200 Chicago police detectives, increase police accountability and work closely with the city’s new civilian police oversight body.
He has faced criticism over a 2020 sit-down interview in which he called “defunding the police” a “real political goal.” In a campaign interview last month, Johnson said he would not “defund the police” but would take a more “holistic approach to public safety.”
He was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, American Federation of Teachers and other groups. U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with a number of U.S. representatives, supported Johnson. The Cook County Board president, Illinois attorney general and the Rev. Jesse Jackson also endorsed him.
Who is Paul Vallas?
Vallas is a former schools executive who positioned himself as a law-and-order candidate. He was city budget director and CEO of Chicago Public Schools under then-Mayor Richard Daley and later led school systems in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Connecticut.
He ran unsuccessfully for governor and lieutenant governor in Illinois, and he placed ninth in the 2019 mayoral election. Last year, he worked with Chicago’s police union to negotiate the Chicago Police Department’s contract.
His campaign focused on public safety, school choice and reforming the city’s finances. Vallas has said he would hire nearly 2,000 more sworn officers and pledged to “return CPD to its core mission.”
He also confronted some criticism over a 2009 interview in which he describes himself as “more of a Republican than a Democrat.” Asked about the interview over the course of the campaign, Vallas repeatedly described himself as a “lifelong Democrat.”
Vallas was endorsed by the city’s police union, the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, U.S. Sen. Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among others.
What happened in the February Chicago mayoral election?
About 36% of registered voters turned out in the late February election. Vallas secured 33% of the vote. Johnson followed with 22% of the vote.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown resigned after her loss; he turns 63 in October – the mandatory retirement age for Chicago police officers. Vallas and Johnson had said they would replace him.
Lightfoot did not endorse either candidate. The other mayoral hopefuls largely split their endorsements between the two candidates. U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, who placed fourth, backed Johnson. Former mayoral challenger and activist Ja’Mal Green backed Vallas.
Contributing: The Associated Press