Chicago election results: Brandon Johnson’s win has huge implications for Democrats

In a surprise victory for the progressive organization and the future of police reform efforts, Chicago voters elected former outsider education organizer Brandon Johnson as mayor, pushing out moderate Democrat Paul Vallas, according to the Associated Press. Johnson beat Vallas, a centrist former budget and public schools chief, despite Vallas’ tough-on-crime messages, which resonated with moderates and white voters.

The Progressive victory comes just over a month since voters firmly rejected their incumbent mayor, Lori Lightfoot, in the first round of the mayoral election, largely out of dissatisfaction with her promises reform of schools and the municipal police. With Johnson’s win, the nation’s third-largest city made an ideological statement about a fundamental tension within the Democratic Party nationwide over how to address concerns about crime.

Vallas had been the favorite in recent months against Johnson, who made his political debut as an organizer with the city’s teachers’ union. The election pitted two powerful Chicago constituencies against each other: Vallas was backed by the city’s vocal and controversial police union and Johnson was backed by the teachers’ union.

Chicago appears to have defied a recent trend in big-city Democratic politics in which tough-on-crime rhetoric, especially when aimed at moderate and conservative voters of color, could swing the election. Crime and public safety were top concerns for voters throughout Chicago’s mayoral race, mirroring concerns in local races in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York that cities have seen an increase in crime. crime since the start of the pandemic, although violent crime rates have since begun to decline in many of these areas.

Crime concerns aren’t unique to Chicago, of course, but the sense of a more violent city has roots in fact: In Chicago, homicides and shootings have continued to drop this year after drastic increases in 2020 and 2021, while property crime rates remain high, according to statistics from the Chicago Police Department. And regardless of the data, nearly two-thirds of voters said they felt unsafe in the city, helping to doom incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s re-election efforts.

There was also a big ideological divide in the race that reflects national struggles within the Democratic Party across the country. The party establishment, including a current U.S. senator and a former governor and leaders from across the state, rallied around Vallas, the former leader of the Chicago Schools, and he was boosted by business leaders. company and the largest police union in the city. Progressives rallied behind Johnson, who had the support of national and local activist organizations, labor unions and, specifically, the powerful Chicago Teachers Union.

This split underscored the long-standing struggle progressive activists, organizations and candidates have faced to win competitive elections against moderate or conservative establishment politicians. “It’s the fundamental fault line within the Democratic Party that we see playing out,” Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the Bernie Sanders-aligned progressive network Our Revolution (which backed Johnson), told Vox.

Vallas and Johnson represent different visions of Democratic politics

Vallas and Johnson are near-perfect contrasts of Democratic candidates and their support bases. Although Vallas had long been expected to come out of the first ballot near the top of the pack, Johnson didn’t get much name recognition throughout the first wave of the campaign. Johnson’s second-place finish was the culmination of a late surge in support that coincided with the slow decline in the polls of former front-runner U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and the gradual consolidation of progressive support around Johnson. .

Within the city, various power centers competed to influence and reach voters. The powerful Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) had worked hard to win over voters to Vallas’ controversial past as the former CEO of Chicago’s public school system and to bolster Johnson’s credentials as a solid progressive Democrat. Although still an outsider, Johnson has won support from both traditional bastions of liberal support, like the CTU and an array of SEIU-affiliated unions, and from national progressive groups, like Our Revolution and the Working Families Party. , who have invested time in rallying supporters. , go door to door and inform voters of their options.

Vallas was propelled by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the union that represents the majority of Chicago police officers. Often described as controversial (for example, it invited Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to speak to officers in February), the union also wields significant influence over Chicago politics and lent legitimacy to Vallas’ broader campaign to to focus public safety. Vallas has worked to contrast his view of policing with Johnson’s, promising to fill vacancies in the police force, deploying officers to the city’s transit system, and increasing funding for the police department. This final plank of his message was also meant to contrast Johnson’s previous support for calls to “defund the police” following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd. Johnson now opposes cuts to police budgets. police and outlined its goal of hiring 200 new detectives to focus on solving and deterring crime.

FOP and CTU have clashed frequently with Lightfoot – CTU went on strike while negotiating a new contract with the city, while FOP resisted coronavirus vaccine mandates and criticized reform attempts police and Lightfoot’s crime prevention policies. Vallas had also been backed by some of the city’s biggest corporations and business leaders, who funded the bulk of his financial war chest.

Vallas raised more than $19 million, about $8 million more than Johnson, and edged Johnson by a nearly two-to-one margin on TV ads. Johnson’s campaign had said in recent weeks that it planned to go on the offensive with heavier spending in the final days of the race – although Vallas clearly had an advantage throughout the cycle.

Chicago voters who could swing the election

Of all the candidates who ran in the first round, Vallas and Johnson won the majority of their support from white voters in Chicago. A precinct-level WBEZ analysis of the city’s first ballot results found that voters in the Vallas or Johnson electoral districts were more likely to live in the city’s safer neighborhoods and more likely to be “white, college-educated, employed, living in households earning over $100,000 a year and sending their children to private schools.

The Vallas and Johnson campaigns recognized this and devoted time and resources to trying to reach black and Latino voters who voted for Garcia, Lightfoot (who won most of the city’s black precincts) and the businessman Willie Wilson. Garcia ended up endorsing Johnson and Wilson endorsing Vallas, but Lightfoot hasn’t floundered since his loss. Voters in predominantly black neighborhoods may have been the deciding factor in the election, and Johnson and Vallas spent the final weeks of the campaign focusing on those areas of the city, where turnouts have historically been low. lagging behind majority white constituencies.

The most recent poll, released last week by Northwestern/BSP Research, found Johnson had a 27 percentage point lead among registered black voters over Vallas, while Vallas led by 11 points among Latino voters. Final numbers on how different demographic groups voted have yet to be finalized.

White voters were more evenly split, but a significant portion of all voters, about 11%, remained undecided in the final days of the race. These ethnic and racial dynamics are also representative of a city that is still highly stratified by race, wealth, and crime rates. Vallas’ tougher message on crime seemed to resonate with white voters and may have withdrawn support for Johnson among black and Latino voters. But the neighborhoods most affected by delinquency did not support Vallas in the first round. Tuesday’s results likely confirmed that despite the breakthroughs, Vallas’ crime-oriented message failed to convince enough of those voters.

“To me, an upheaval really comes down to proving that organizing grassroots mobilization can fend off the flood of corporate money that is coming,” said Geevarghese, of Our Revolution. “Brandon’s victory shows that a broader safety message can resonate, not just a message to hire more cops, lock up more people.”

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