Mayor Lori Lightfoot conceded defeat Tuesday night, ending her efforts for a second term and setting the stage for Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson to run against former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas for Chicago mayor.
A visibly shaken Lightfoot conceded the race just before 9 p.m. and said she will be “rooting and praying for our next mayor to deliver for the people of the city for years to come.”
“Obviously, we didn’t win the election today, but I stand here with my head held high and a heart full of gratitude,” Lightfoot said, highlighting how the city emerged from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and made “real progress on public safety.”
The Associated Press just before 9 p.m. called the race for Johnson, who in addition to defeating Lightfoot also outmuscled U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García.
Johnson’s victory sets up an ideological battle with Vallas over the future path of the nation’s third-largest city. The two will face off in five weeks on April 4.
Vallas scored the top spot in the first round of the mayoral campaign.
Unofficial results showed Vallas garnered 35% of the vote with 90% of the precincts reporting. Johnson was second with 20%, followed by Lightfoot at 17% and García at 14%.
With nine candidates running, including seven Black candidates, few expected Tuesday’s election would be the final say on the 2023 race for mayor.
Vallas also spoke before 9 p.m. surrounded by a gleeful campaign staff as he announced that Lightfoot called to congratulate him on securing a spot in the run-off.
“I want to thank the voters of Chicago for making this campaign about the issues, and nothing but the issues,” Vallas said, a pointed rebuke of attacks from rivals attempting to paint him as a Republican. The former education chief also drew loud cheers as he declared — once again — “I am a lifelong Democrat” and stressed his commitment to abortion rights and marriage equality.
“You cannot erase the record; public service is in my DNA,” Vallas said. “I am the grandson of Greek American immigrants.”
Vallas, who repeated throughout the race that safety is a “fundamental right,” continued with a campaign promise that the now-lame-duck mayor too had pledged: “We will make Chicago the safest city in America.”
Others running included businessman Willie Wilson, state Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner, Ald. Sophia King, 4th, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, and community activist Ja’Mal Green. Wilson scored with 9% of the vote and the remaining candidates each received 2% or less of the vote.
Wilson’s position in the race was critical to the result. The businessman campaigned vigorously with Lightfoot in 2019 but their relationship fell apart before she even took office, spurring his run and potentially siphoning votes from the reelection seeking mayor.
The final matchup was a stunning blow to Lightfoot, who became the first full-term incumbent to fail to win reelection since Jane Byrne lost to Harold Washington in 1983. It was also a clear indication that after an arduous four years, residents were clamoring for a new direction from City Hall. But what direction that is remains to be seen.
The more conservative Vallas and progressive Johnson sparred throughout the divisive campaign, which saw the two typically on opposite ends of the biggest issues in the race — education and crime.
Vallas, a 69-year old former schools chief, has long been a critic of the Chicago Teachers Union that Johnson helps lead, asserting the union’s work stoppages during the pandemic harmed children’s well-being and hurt their growth for generations. Johnson, 46, regularly paints Vallas’ approach to public education as “morally bankrupt” for its promotion of private school vouchers and expansion of charters across the country.
On crime, Vallas has spouted tough talk and positioned himself as the pro-law enforcement candidate who will stamp out the “complete lawlessness” he has seen in Chicago by, among other things, reversing police department rules he contends restrict cops from doing their jobs. Johnson, meanwhile, decried the city’s reliance on policing as a “failed” strategy and instead promised a new citywide strategy that would shift focus toward community investments in housing, mental health and more.
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