Chicago mayoral race: Brandon Johnson wins runoff, Paul Vallas concedes

Incumbent Lori Lightfoot failed to secure a second term in February election.

April 4, 2023, 11:37 PM

CHICAGO -- Brandon Johnson, a former public school teacher, will become Chicago's next mayor.

His margin of victory -- approximately 51% to 49% as of late Tuesday night, per The Associated Press -- over former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas is one of the slimmest in recent political history in this city.

Vallas conceded to Johnson on Tuesday even though the Chicago Board of Elections reported that mail-in votes for the runoff election will not be counted for days.

"To the Chicagoans who did not vote for me, here's what I want you to know: That 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 said. "Tonight is a gateway to a new future for this city."

Vallas, 69, was the majority front-runner in the February election where he and Johnson, 46, led a crowded pack of candidates, all of whom failed to receive more than 50% of the vote. In that election, incumbent Lori Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor in 40 years to fail to secure a second term.

"The only pathway forward in our city is together," Vallas said during his concession speech late Tuesday. "The solutions we adopt and implement must work for all Chicagoans ... It's time for all Chicagoans to put aside their differences and to work together to support the daunting work ahead for Chicago's next mayor."

According to the Chicago Board of Elections, only 33% of those registered to vote in Chicago cast their ballots for Tuesday's election.

Mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas, on Jan. 23, 2023, in Chicago.
Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In the six-week run-up to Tuesday, Vallas and Johnson sparred in numerous televised debates about issues like crime and education. However, underscoring the conversations was the obvious contrast between the progressive left of the Democratic Party, represented by Johnson, and the moderate wing of the party, represented by Vallas.

"You have Vallas being called a Republican and Johnson being called a Socialist. Those issues are designed, of course, to get a more reptilian brain response from voters, but they don't tell us exactly where both campaigns are on the major issues rather than a broad brush," said Arthur Lurigio, a criminologist at Loyola University Chicago. "Being extreme is in their interest."

Johnson capitalized on comments Vallas made years ago about critical race theory and he has blasted both endorsements and campaign donations Vallas received from prominent Republicans like Darren Bailey, the Illinois senator who lost the state's recent gubernatorial election, and a PAC founded by Betsy DeVos, the former education secretary under former President Donald Trump.

The insinuation that Vallas is a closet Republican -- a smear in this reliably blue city -- has appeared on yard signs, stickers and in a television ad that claims Vallas is "endorsed by the Chicago Republican Party."

Last weekend, Republican Party Chairman Steve Boulton released a statement denouncing Johnson and said his "campaign is lying yet again" about the endorsement. "The ad is false, and under federal law, the broadcasters are under an obligation to pull the ads," he said.

Vallas, who earned the endorsement of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, had blasted Johnson for comments he made years ago about defunding the police. Both men said they want to hire more detectives, although Vallas said he wants to fill more than 1,700 vacancies in the department, while Johnson said he wants resources directed to schools and mental health services. Vallas also said Johnson's plan to raise $800 million in additional taxes would cripple the city's economy.

Vallas earned the backing of prominent leaders within the state Democratic Party, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Johnson, a former school teacher whose campaign was funded by the Chicago Teachers Union, was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

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