Chicago mayor’s race runoff: Voters go to the polls in race that highlights Democrats’ divide

Chicago mayor’s race runoff: Voters go to the polls in race that highlights Democrats’ divide

Two candidates representing opposite ends of the Democratic Party are on the ballot in Tuesday’s closely watched Chicago mayoral runoff.

Paul Vallas, the former CEO of the Chicago school system, and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, a former teacher who is heavily supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, were the top two vote-getters in the February general election. Incumbent Lori Lightfoot came in third, so she won’t be on the ballot Tuesday.

Polls will be open from 7 am to 8 pm ET.

“Overall, the race is too close to call,” said Dick Simpson, a former Chicago mayor and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “It depends on the turnout that each candidate is able to produce their voters … the voters are literally torn.”

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Vallas, who is white, has focused his campaign primarily on crime, while Johnson, who is black, has focused on education.

Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images, Scott Olson/Getty Images

Vallas led in the general election, receiving 32.9% of the vote, and Johnson came in second with 21.6%, but Johnson has since closed the gap. A recent poll by Northwestern University’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy (CSDD) and various nonprofits found the race in a dead heat, with Vallas and Johnson tied for 44% of the vote.

Despite previously describing himself as “more Republican than Democrat,” Vallas has received support from several high-profile Illinois Democrats. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois, has endorsed him, as has President Obama’s former education secretary, Arne Duncan. He also has the backing of Republican donor Kenneth Griffin, who previously backed divisive former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Johnson, meanwhile, has won the support of influential national Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders — who held a rally with Johnson last week — and Elizabeth Warren, Jesse Jackson and Rep. Jim Clyburn. At the rally for Johnson, Sanders categorized the race as between the interests of the “powerful and the greedy” and “the son of the working class,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Despite the national interest in the race — Chicago is, after all, America’s third-largest city — Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, noted that the bigger issues are local issues — crime and education – and not broader cultural ones. issues of war.

“The culture war issues and the weird national polarization that we have right now — and Donald Trump — those culture wars and Donald Trump, those things are irrelevant in the city of Chicago,” Mooney said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, candidates brought in about $17 million in the month between the general election and the end of March. Vallas brought in just under $11 million and Johnson brought in $5.8 million, according to the Tribune.

More than half of Johnson’s fundraising has come from the Chicago Teachers Union, where he was once an organizer. Since announcing his candidacy, he has also received support from other influential teachers’ unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Education has become one of the main local issues in this race. While Vallas served as CEO of Chicago Public Schools under former Mayor Richard Daley from 1995-2001 and later in similar positions in other cities across the country, he was a strong supporter of charter schools.

As Mooney noted, the teachers union and charter schools have “conflicting interests,” but Vallas appeals to people who think Johnson is too controlled by CTU.

Although Vallas has received significant funding from charter school advocates, he has not highlighted it as an issue in this campaign. Instead, Vallas has focused heavily on being tough on crime.

Vallas has campaigned for more police officers on patrol and on public transit, Johnson has taken a more progressive path to address the root causes of crime.

In big cities across the country, tough-on-crime messages have proven popular with Democrats. In New York, ex-cop-turned-politician — and the most conservative Democrat in the race — Eric Adams won the mayoral race in 2021, and progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin successfully retreated to San Francisco in 2022.

Vallas has received significant support – financial and personal – from the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union. Chicago FOP President John Catanzara said last week that 800 to 1,000 police officers would resign if Johnson was elected, predicting there would be “blood in the streets as a result.”

In a debate last week, Johnson attacked Catanzara, saying he “has said a lot of disturbing, ridiculous things,” pointing to Catanzara’s comments about supporting protesters in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. criticizing Black Lives Matter and other controversial statements.

“It really speaks to the type of candidacy that my opponent is running,” Johnson said of Vallas’ ties to the FOP and Catanzara. Vallas, for his part, said that he will not be in charge of the FOP.

According to recent polls, much of the city’s black community appeared to be lining up behind Johnson. Vallas has also tried to reach more conservative black voters, as well as assemble a coalition of Republicans, wealthier residents and Latinos. The Latino community has so far remained divided, which could be a big deciding factor in the race.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot, the first incumbent Chicago mayor to lose re-election in more than 40 years, has not endorsed a candidate, although it is unlikely that either candidate will welcome him. Her leadership style amid the COVID-19 pandemic, rising crime and clashes with teachers’ unions has left her highly unpopular both within the city and nationally.

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