Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas will launch their first television ads this week as they attempt to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
By coming out with TV spots nearly two months ahead of the Feb. 28 election, the two candidates are attempting to define themselves for voters before their rivals can.
Vallas, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2019, is launching two TV ads. One, titled “Out of Control,” focuses on high crime and criticizes Lightfoot for “combative leadership.” In the ad, Vallas vows to hold police leaders accountable and open schools after hours to give children safe alternatives to gangs and violence.
“Paul Vallas,” a narrator says at the end. “Crime and your safety is his top priority.”
The other ad also highlights crime but notes that he is a lifelong Democrat who worked with the Daley administration as City Hall budget director. He also highlights his work with the Fraternal Order of Police in recent years to help broker a deal between the controversial union and Lightfoot.
That ad seeks to counterbalance Lightfoot’s frequent criticism of Vallas that he has taken thousands of dollars from Republican donors — some of whom also gave to her 2019 campaign — and previous affiliation with the FOP. Vallas has tried to portray himself as a technocratic problem-solver who can best run the city out of the nine-candidate field.
Johnson’s ad, titled “Better,” is critically important for his campaign as he competes with bigger-name candidates like Lightfoot and U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García. The ad features a series of clips of Johnson interspersed with city shots as a narrator declares, “Brandon Johnson has a plan to make Chicago safer, grow Chicago businesses and create jobs” and “Brandon’s plan will improve public schools for all of our kids.”
“For mayor, Brandon Johnson is better for Chicago,” the spot states.
Johnson and Vallas are the third and fourth mayoral candidates to launch television ads this cycle. Businessman Willie Wilson was first to go on air. Lightfoot also went on air in November as she attempts to address voter concerns with high crime and fatigue with her combative style of governance. The mayor has run a commercial where two men playing video games argue over whether she has a plan to deal with violent crime, an ad emphasizing that she got the city through COVID-19 and another commercial aimed at softening her image that features her mother.
Lightfoot has pointed out that crime is down from decades-long highs in 2021, but violent crime remains higher than when she took office in 2019.
Johnson, for his part, has raised significant amounts of money, largely from teachers union and SEIU affiliates that have endorsed his campaign, boosting his candidacy. But he faces the dual challenge of appealing to progressive voters disillusioned with Lightfoot while campaigning against a better-known candidate, García, and several other hopefuls.
For her part, Lightfoot faces a challenging reelection bid but has argued that she deserves a second term after leading Chicago through a tumultuous term that included the pandemic, a teachers strike and civil unrest.