Amid turbulent weather and security issues in school voting centers, Chicagoans went to the polls on April 4 and elected Brandon Johnson as their new mayor.
The race to lead America’s third-largest city was closely contested, with Johnson receiving 51 percent of votes as of Wednesday morning, and about 35 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. Public safety was the leading issue, with many voters seeking solutions to Chicago’s gun violence crisis, which has claimed 118 lives this year. Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas ran opposing campaigns on how to address violent crime in the city.
Although both candidates are registered Democrats, there were stark differences in their approaches to public safety. Johnson’s campaign prioritized long-term solutions that invest in communities that are most affected by gun violence. Vallas ran a “tough on crime” campaign in which he promised short- and long-term approaches to facing the city’s gun violence.
“Tonight is a gateway to a new future for our city,” Johnson said in his victory speech on Tuesday night. He talked about building “a city that’s truly safer for everyone by investing in what actually works to prevent crime – and that means youth employment, mental health centers, ensuring that law enforcement has the resources to solve and prevent crime.”
Many voters came to view Johnson as the candidate who would defund the police. Despite his statement in a mayoral forum that it isn’t his goal, as county commissioner, Johnson passed the nonbinding Justice for Black Lives Resolution. The measure gave county commissioners a road map for reallocating money spent on policing and incarceration into job creation, housing, health care, and safety measures to support Black Chicagoans.
Johnson has said that adding more police isn’t the solution. Instead, he wants to train 200 new detectives from the current police force and eliminate any administrative positions that could free up more officers to focus on solving crime. He is calling for the passage of the “Treatment Not Trauma” ordinance, which would dispatch medical and mental health professionals — instead of law enforcement — to respond to 911 calls triggered by mental health-related crises.
The mayor-elect said he plans to fire officers with links to extremist hate groups, end Chicago’s contract with the controversial gunshot-detection technology company ShotSpotter, and reopen mental health centers. Johnson said he wants to build relationships with violence intervention programs and invest in services that people need to survive, like health care, education, and job creation.
He was also endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and the People’s Action, former mayoral candidate Jesús “Chuy” García, and notable national figures like U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Vallas said he would hire more police officers; he frequently mentioned that retired officers told him they were interested in returning to the force. Throughout his campaign, Vallas focused on the idea of reviving “neighborhood policing beats,” an approach that assigns officers to certain areas in an effort to build trust with residents. He also wants to replace the private security officers who patrol Chicago’s public transportation with city police officers and add mental health facilities in every police district.
Some voters praised Vallas’ message of using proactive policing and taking a more aggressive approach to prosecuting law-breakers. He proposed installing a city crime lab to stem the circulation of crime guns and a city-run witness protection program that would allow residents to help the police without fear of retaliation.
Vallas was endorsed by a variety of groups, including the city’s police union and the Latino Leadership Council (which first endorsed García), and notable figures including former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, former U.S. and Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan — who is the managing partner at Chicago CRED, a violence prevention organization that works with people most at risk of being shot — and former mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green.