• Michael McDevitt
    APR 05, 2023

    Brandon Johnson wins mayoral election, becoming fourth Black person to hold the office

    Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson smiles upon the crowd during his victory speech Tuesday evening. [Don Vincent/The Daily Line]

    Cook County Comm. Brandon Johnson (D-1) will be the city’s next mayor after defeating former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas in a contentious runoff election. Johnson will become the fourth Black mayor.

    Johnson, who was elected to his second term on the county board in November and is a former teacher, led Vallas, who also ran for mayor in 2019, 51.42 percent to 48.58 percent, according to unofficial results from the Chicago Board of Elections. 

    By 11:30 p.m. on election night and with outstanding vote-by-mail ballots that are postmarked by April 4 left to be counted, Johnson was up by 15,872 votes. 

    The energy at the Johnson campaign watch party was electric Tuesday night as supporters, including elected officials who had endorsed him, cheered and danced to music as they were hyped up by a DJ who announced Johnson’s lead with the majority of precincts reporting. Johnson’s party was held in a ballroom at the Marriott Marquis hotel near McCormick Place. 

    Johnson, a former paid Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) organizer, earned the CTU endorsement when he entered the race. The labor organization congratulated him on his win Tuesday night. 

    “Today, Chicago has spoken,” CTU President Stacy Davis Gates, who also spoke at Johnson’s victory party, said in a news release. “Chicago has said yes to hope; yes to investment in people; yes to housing the unhoused, and yes to supporting young people with fully-funded schools. It is a new day in our city.” 

    Stacy Davis Gates giving opening remarks and then welcoming Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson to the stage [Don Vincent/The Daily Line] 

    Johnson told supporters that he wanted to hear from and work with all residents including those who didn’t vote for him. 

    Public safety concerns dominated the campaign season. Johnson has placed an emphasis on tackling the root causes of crime to improve public safety, such as by promoting more youth summer employment opportunities, focusing on having mental health professionals available to respond to certain crisis calls instead of police and reopening city mental health centers.  

    “For too many people in the city of Chicago, we recognize value. But for too many of us, we don't believe that we deserve it,” Johnson said. “That changes under a Johnson administration because there’s more than enough for everybody in the city of Chicago.” 

    Johnson’s campaign was hit with questions about past comments related to defunding the police and unpaid city traffic fines and utility bills, which he has reportedly since paid off in recent days. 

    During his victory speech Johnson joked about the unpaid fees and bills, saying: “This campaign has always been about building a better, stronger, safer Chicago for all the people of Chicago ... especially folks who have ever been on a payment plan.” 

    Vallas centered much of his mayoral campaign around public safety. He promised to hire more police officers, strengthen community policing, bring back retired officers and bring the Chicago Police Department’s detective ranks up to 10 percent of overall staff.  

    Vallas’ campaign was hit with questions about his past tenure leading school systems in various cities including Chicago, his affiliations with conservative and far-right groups and figures and his residency in the city itself. 

    Vallas told supporters at his election night watch party he had called Johnson to concede and told him that “I absolutely expect him to be the next mayor of Chicago.” 

    “This campaign that I ran to bring the city together would not be a campaign that fulfilled my ambitions if this election is going to divide us more,” Vallas said. “So it's critically important that we use this opportunity to come together and I've offered [Johnson] my full support on his transition.” 

    Heading into Monday, early voting numbers were up this runoff cycle compared to numbers in 2019 and 2015. 

    Chicagoans had been encouraged to vote as early as possible to avoid severe weather that was predicted for Tuesday. Storms ended up not being as intense as predicted and largely blew through the city by Tuesday afternoon. 

    By 7 p.m. when polls closed on Election Day, at least 530,382 total ballots had been cast, according to the Chicago Board of Elections, equating to a 33.2 percent turnout so far. Total turnout will rise as more mailed ballots are counted. 

    Turnout for the Feb. 28 election totaled more than 566,000 votes or about 35.8 percent of registered voters.  

    Johnson and Vallas both visited CTA stops Monday to greet and speak to voters ahead of the election. The safety and reliability of the city’s public trains and buses has been a major campaign issue. 

    Related: Vallas, Johnson make final push for votes ahead of Tuesday election 

    Between March 1 and the morning of April 3, Vallas’ campaign was out-fundraising Johnson’s campaign nearly two-to-one. Vallas has raised more than $13.4 million since making the runoff, and Johnson has raised more than $6.7 million.  

    Related: Days from election, Vallas far out-fundraising Johnson following key labor endorsements  

    Vallas’ reported fundraising included loans he made to his own campaign totaling $200,200, which included an initial $100,100 loan received by his campaign that eliminated the cap on campaign contributions for both candidates.  

    With Vallas and Johnson making the runoff, Mayor Lori Lightfoot became the first incumbent mayor in more than three decades to lose her bid for reelection.  

    I congratulate Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson on his hard-fought runoff victory this evening. It is time for all of us as Chicagoans, regardless of our zip code or neighborhood, our race or ethnicity, the creator we worship, or who we love, to come together and recommit ourselves to uniting around our shared present and future” Lightfoot said in a statement.   

    Since Feb. 28, all seven of the former mayoral hopefuls except for Lightfoot have sided with either Vallas or Johnson. Vallas gained endorsements from businessman Willie Wilson, activist Ja’Mal Green, Ald. Sophia King (4) and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6). Johnson has the support of U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.) and state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago).

Showing 1 reaction

Or sign in with email

    Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
    • James Glynn
      commented 2023-04-05 11:00:04 -0500
      Michael McDevitt had the great fortune of being assigned to cover the election night celebration of the Johnson for Mayor of Chicago campaign. Johnson’s victory surprised many in Chicago. Few observers believed that if Johnson was going to win that it would be declared on election night. The “conventional wisdom” was that his opponent would walk away with the victory soon after the polls closed. Much of the pre-election coverage emphasized the competence and experience of Johnson’s opponent whose allegiance to Democratic Party principles and even his residency in Chicago are questionable. The coverage of Johnson and his campaign was essentially “benign neglect” and conveyed a sense that Johnson had little or no chance of winning. Unfortunately there was also a bit of panic peddling that parallels what happened in 1983 when Harold Washington ran and was elected the first African-American Mayor of Chicago. Washington fearlessly went into every neighborhood in the city and listened to every faction that would talk and negotiate, thereby laying the ground for his reelection in ‘87 by a margin of 7% in the Democratic Primary and 12% in the Final Election. Johnson may have been taking a page out of Washington’s playbook, when as McDevitt reported, he “told supporters that he wanted to hear from and work with all residents including those who didn’t vote for him.”