Elections

Progressive Brandon Johnson narrowly wins Chicago's mayoral seat

With policing a central issue in the election, Chicago voters opted for the candidate who pledged a more "holistic approach" toward addressing crime.

Progressive Brandon Johnson narrowly wins Chicago's mayoral seat
Paul Beaty/AP

In a major victory for progressives, Chicago elected former teacher and union organizer Brandon Johnson as their new mayor. 

Johnson beat the more conservative Democrat Paul Vallas who ran a tough-on-crime campaign. 

Though public safety was by far the most important issue to Chicagoans, some voters — especially young ones and those of color — seemed wary of Vallas' plan to expand the police force and take a hard stance on minor offenses. 

"If more police solved everything, then we'd have the safest communities in the country," said Andrew Carr, a Johnson voter.

"I feel like Johnson will do a better job at either incorporating either mental health professionals or, you know, people helping the homeless population," said Morgan Ray, another Chicago voter. 

Like in many U.S. cities, crime surged in Chicago during the pandemic. 

In 2021, the number of homicides reached a 25-year high. 

Though that number went down last year, Chicagoans far and wide tell Scripps News they feel unsafe. 

"People are afraid to ride the trains. People are afraid to go out at night to go to restaurants," said Darryl Levine, a Vallas voter. 

To make the city safer, Johnson wants to invest more in mental health treatment, affordable housing and jobs for young Chicagoans. 

"There's a direct correlation between youth employment and violence reduction," Johnson told Scripps News last month. 

A Chicago Police Department vehicle is parked

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To pay for this, the 47-year-old has proposed a plan to raise $800 million by taxing the "ultrarich" and businesses. But for that, he'll need the support of the City Council, where some members have already expressed opposition. 

"Johnson didn't win with a mandate. He won by 2% of the vote. Chicago is still as divided as it has been and as divided as our national politics are. So the question is how effective he'll be with City Council," said Constance Mixon, a professor of political science at Elmhurst University. 

To tackle crime, Johnson will need to gain the trust of police officers whose union backed Vallas. 

"Brandon Johnson did not have a lot of their support. So he's going to have to figure out a way to win over some of those rank-and-file officers." said Nick Kachiroubas, a teaching professor at DePaul University's School of Public Service. 

"The question also is how much patience do we have for his progressive social policies when it comes to policing?" added Mixon. 

"He's talking about investing in neighborhoods, education, all of the rest. This is going to take some time. Meanwhile, we have a summer ahead of us and a Memorial Day weekend which historically have had high levels of crime in Chicago," Mixon said. 

During the campaign, Johnson tried to distance himself from a non-binding resolution he introduced as a county commissioner in 2020 to redirect funds from police. 

Asked to clarify his position, Johnson told Scripps News last month: 

"My position is the same: I'm not going to defund the police. And we have to recognize that when Black men and Black women, Black boys and Black girls, brown boys, brown girls, brown men and women are being tortured and tormented by police, this is a serious problem." 

Johnson, who will take office in May, had this message for supporters of his opponent: 

"I care about you. I value you, and I want to hear from you."