Apr 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Brandon Johnson wins Chicago mayor's race

Progressive mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson addresses to crowd at a stadium during a rally in Chicago.

Brandon Johnson addresses the crowd during a Rally at Credit Union One Arena in Chicago on March 30. Photo: Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Brandon Johnson defeated Paul Vallas in Chicago's mayoral race on Tuesday, AP reports.

Why it matters: Johnson's upset over Vallas, the February frontrunner backed by establishment Democrats and even some Republicans, reflects a progressive shift in Chicago politics.

State of play: The Cook County Board commissioner will replace outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lost her bid for reelection when she placed third in the February municipal election. He'll be sworn in next month.

Zoom in: The result reflects the power of the Chicago Teachers Union, whose early support for Johnson catapulted the former teacher and union organizer from an unknown candidate to mayor-elect.

  • Johnson won backing from other powerful unions and members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
  • Johnson's campaign focused on a new plan to tax the rich and to bring more equity to the South and West sides of Chicago.

The other side: Vallas, a former Chicago schools chief, ran a campaign focused on public safety as the city grapples with high violent crime. He also championed charter schools, while Johnson focused on neighborhood schools.

  • Vallas was endorsed by Chicago's police union, whose president recently told the New York Times that if Vallas loses, "we're going to see an exodus like we've never seen before," suggesting thousands of police officers will leave the department.
  • During the divisive campaign, Vallas' critics accused him of being aligned with conservative Republicans, citing times he criticized Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and former President Barack Obama during broadcast interviews.

What they're saying: "Today, we celebrate the revival and the resurrection of the city of Chicago," Johnson told his supporters during his victory speech Tuesday.

  • "Tonight is a gateway to a new future for our city, a city where you can thrive regardless of who you love, or how much money you have in your bank account."

Vallas said in his concession speech Tuesday night, "It's time for all Chicagoans to put aside their differences."

  • "The only pathway forward in our great city is together."

What's next: Johnson will have to deal with looming fiscal cliffs facing Chicago's public transportation and public schools, among other areas.

  • He will also help select the next police superintendent as the force faces court-mandated reforms as part of a federal consent decree.
  • And he'll work with a City Council that just voted to take away some political power from the new mayor.
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