NBC News predicted on Tuesday that Brandon Johnson would become the next mayor of Chicago, which would be a stunning outcome for the ardent progressive and former teacher whose campaign focused on racial and economic inequality issues and who overcame backlash for previous remarks about cutting police funding.
Johnson defeated Paul Vallas, a well-funded, moderate tough-on-crime candidate who previously served as the Chancellor of the Chicago Public Schools and pledged to immediately bolster the city’s police force in an effort to stem the tide of gun violence.
Vallas told his supporters Tuesday night that he called Johnson and “told him I absolutely expect him to be the next mayor.”
The triumph marks the culmination of a remarkable ascent for Johnson, a 46-year-old Cook County Commissioner, activist, and CTU member who, in the first round of the mayoral election on February 28, had been polling in fifth place until coming in second place to Vallas.
Johnson promptly acknowledged the more than 270,000 voters who opposed him during his victory speech.
“To the Chicagoans who did not vote for me,” Johnson said. “I care about you, I value you and I want to hear from you. I want to work with you. And I’ll be the mayor for you too.”
Johnson ran on a platform of taxing the wealthiest to increase municipal services and funding for local communities and schools.
He pulled back remarks about cutting back on financing for police forces, stating that while he wanted to increase the number of detectives, he also wanted to finance mental health response services.
Johnson emphasized new beginnings strongly in his remarks on Tuesday night. He acknowledged that the timing of his victory—the same day as the 55th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death—served as a metaphor for a new Chicago.
“Today, we did not just acknowledge the assassination of a dreamer,” he said. “Today the dream is alive, so today we celebrate the revival and the resurrection of the city of Chicago.”
“Let’s take this bold progressive movement around these United States of America. Chicago, we can show the country, we can show the world what’s possible when we stand on our values,” he added. “We don’t have to choose between toughness and compassion, between the care of our neighbors and keeping our people safe. If tonight is proof of anything, it is proof that those old false choices do not serve this city longer.”
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Despite being significantly outspent on television, Johnson triumphed. Vallas and his supporters spent about twice as much money on TV, who bombarded the airwaves with ads criticizing Johnson’s prior views on funding the police.
Johnson has now indicated he would not cut money for the police, despite having called it “an genuine political goal.”
According to advertising analytics company AdImpact, Vallas spent more on TV than Johnson did in the same period ($4.2 million vs. $8 million), along with outside funding that supported him.
For Vallas, 69, it adds another defeat to a long record of unsuccessful runs for public office, including his ninth-place finishes in races for mayor, lieutenant governor, and the governor just four years ago.
Vallas’ focused message on crime helped him win the most votes in the February election, eliminating Mayor Lori Lightfoot as a candidate for reelection.
In 2021, homicides increased to their highest level on record in 25 years, turning Lightfoot’s campaign into a referendum on crime. As a result, she lost her re-election bid, being the first Chicago mayor to do so in 40 years.
But, Johnson was ultimately supported by the organizational force of strong city unions. These included the Service Workers International Union, widely present in the city, and the Chicago Teachers Union.
Also, the teachers union contributed millions of money to Johnson’s campaign, raising concerns that he would be accountable to them.
“The conversation that we’re having right now is about ‘What do safe American cities look like now in this country?’” Johnson said in a recent interview. “What they look like is that they have fully funded neighborhood schools, good paying jobs and affordable housing, reliable and safe public transportation.”
“This race is about doing what works,” he added. “And what works is that we invest in people. It’s data-proven that the greatest predictor of a safe community is a community that is fully loved, supported and invested in.”
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