Lightfoot Defeated as Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson Advance to April Runoff in Race for Mayor

Lori Lightfoot’s time as the mayor of Chicago will come to an abrupt close as she failed to earn enough votes to advance to the runoff in Chicago’s Feb. 28 municipal election.

Lori Lightfoot’s time as the mayor of Chicago will come to an abrupt close as she failed to earn enough votes to advance to the runoff in Chicago’s Feb. 28 municipal election. Former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson will face off to decide the city’s next mayor in a runoff scheduled for April 4, as no candidate is set to eclipse 50% of all votes cast. 

Vallas, who has centered his campaign around crime and public safety, jumped ahead of the rest of the nine candidate field soon after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday night and never relinquished his lead. Vallas secured 172,093 votes, totalling 33.8% of all votes cast. 

Vallas secured key endorsements from the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board and Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge, the union which represents Chicago Police Department officers. His support base is centered around white voters on the city’s northwest and southwest sides as well as crime weary residents of wealthy lakefront wards. 

In his celebratory address to supporters, Vallas highlighted his background as the son of Greek immigrants and the working class bonafides of his family.

“Public safety is the fundamental right of every American,” Vallas said. “It is a civil right and it is the principle responsibility of government. We will have a safe Chicago. We will make Chicago the safest city in America.”

Johnson, who came in second with 103,387 votes totalling 20.3%, has presented a different approach to public safety than Vallas who has mainly advocated increasing the number of police officers on the streets, specifically raising the number of beat cops within individual neighborhoods. Johnson, by contrast, has advocated for increasing funding for mental health services and youth employment programs.

“Tonight is about building a Chicago that truly invests in our people,” Johnson said in his celebratory speech. “The most radical thing we can do as a city is to love the people of Chicago. Loving people and investing in people, that is the way my father raised me. The finances of this city belong to the people of the city. So we’re gonna invest in the people of the city.”

Johnson, who was virtually unknown prior to this campaign, has ridden a surge of momentum to a strong election night showing and a runoff berth. Johnson, a former CPS teacher and Chicago Teachers Union organizer, has received significant financial and organizational backing from the union as well as other progressive organizations in the city. 

Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot finished third, falling shy of an opportunity to serve a second term in city hall. Lightfoot, the first Black woman and first openly-gay person to serve as the mayor of Chicago, secured 86,952 votes, totalling 17.1% of votes cast. Her campaign failed to overcome harsh attacks from opponents criticizing her record as mayor. 

Lightfoot quickly became embattled when she began her first-term as mayor in 2019 as she guided the city through the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-lasting economic effects. She conceded the race around 8:45 p.m. — less than two hours after polls had closed as it became clear she couldn’t make up the gap in votes between herself and Johnson. 

In her concession speech, Lightfoot said she will be praying for the next mayor to deliver for the people. 

“Obviously, we didn’t win the election, but I stand here with my head held high and my heart full of thanks,” Lightfoot said. “You will not be defined by how you fall. You will be defined by how hard you work and how much you do for other people.”

Finishing fourth was U.S. Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who finished with 13.7% of the vote. Earning 70,006 votes, Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2015, pushing Rahm Emmanuel to a hard fought runoff, failed to secure enough support from progressive voters to reach the second round. 

Despite strong support from Hispanic Chicagoans, Garcia, a longtime stalwart in progressive Chicago politics, lost out on key early endorsements from progressive organizations and labor groups and was unable to win a large enough percentage of progressive voters in lakefront wards away from Johnson. 

Billionaire businessman Willie Wilson, also making his second attempt at a mayoral run, came fifth behind Garcia, securing 9.5% of the votes cast. Wilson, who garnered 48,658 total votes, focused on similar concerns as Vallas while campaigning and earned strong support from voters in south side wards but fell short of advancing to the runoff. 

Activist Ja’Mal Green came sixth overall with 2.1% of the vote, while State Representative Kam Bucker finished seventh with 1.8% of votes cast. The 4th Ward Alderperson Sophia King finished in eighth earning 1.2% of the vote and 6th Ward Alderperson Roderick Sawyer finished in last with 0.4% of the vote.

Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix

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