Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has lost her bid for a second term in office, as former schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County commissioner Brandon Johnson are set to face off in a runoff election in April. This result is unusual for large city mayors, who typically win reelection with ease. However, the pandemic, with its economic fallout and spikes in violent crime in many places, has contributed to the turmoil in US cities.
Vallas is backed by the police union and has promised to add more police officers to address the city’s crime issues, while Johnson is endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and has advocated for more investment in mental health care, education, jobs, and affordable housing. Public safety has been an issue in other recent elections, including the recall of a San Francisco district attorney who was criticized for progressive policies.
Race also played a factor in the Chicago election. Vallas is the only white candidate in the field, while Lightfoot, Johnson, and five other candidates are Black, and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was the only Latino in the race. Lightfoot accused Vallas of using a “dog whistle” by saying his campaign is about “taking back our city,” and of cozying up to the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, whom she calls a racist. Vallas denied his comments were related to race and said his police union endorsement is from rank-and-file officers.
The pandemic may also shape elections for mayor in other cities this year, such as Philadelphia and Houston, where incumbents cannot run again due to term limits. The issues of public safety and racial justice will likely be front and center in these races as well. The outcome of the Chicago mayoral election could also influence the political landscape in Illinois, where the governor’s race will be up for grabs next year.
Chicago has been grappling with a surge in crime, particularly gun violence, over the past year. The city recorded 769 homicides in 2020, a 55% increase from the previous year, and 221 people have been killed in the city so far this year. This issue has been a major point of contention in the mayoral race, with Vallas arguing that more police officers are needed to address the problem, while Johnson has advocated for a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of violence, such as poverty and mental health.
In addition to the issue of public safety, the candidates have also focused on education, affordable housing, and economic development. Vallas has touted his experience as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, while Johnson has emphasized his work on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to expand access to health care and affordable housing.
The runoff election in April will determine who will lead Chicago for the next four years. With public safety and racial justice at the forefront of voters’ minds, the outcome of the election will have significant implications for the city’s future.