Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot faced a significant defeat in her re-election bid on Tuesday, failing to secure a top-two spot in the upcoming runoff. Paul Vallas, a former public schools chief who campaigned on a tough-on-crime platform, and Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner backed by progressives and the Chicago Teachers Union, will advance to the April runoff
The election marked the first time in more than three decades that Chicago did not re-elect its incumbent mayor. Lightfoot was unable to overcome fights with the police and teachers’ unions, an increase in violent crime during her tenure, and the city’s slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her concession speech, Lightfoot expressed her support for the next mayor and hoped for a safer Chicago. Vallas, in his celebratory remarks, emphasized his pro-police and tough-on-crime message and pledged to make Chicago the safest city in America. The upcoming runoff will be critical, as Vallas’s conservative message will need to garner enough support in a city where nearly 83% of votes in the 2020 presidential election went to the Democratic ticket. Johnson’s speech on Tuesday night hinted at an effort to consolidate liberals who supported other candidates in the nine-person field. Because no candidate is on course to win 50% of the votes in Tuesday’s election, the top two of the nine candidates on the ballot will advance to the April 4 runoff.
Lightfoot, the first Black woman and first openly gay person to serve as mayor in Chicago, rose to prominence as a reformer promising to break from the corruption and clubby governance that had long marked Chicago politics. However, contentious fights over policing, teacher pay, COVID-19 public safety policies, and complaints about long waits in public transit left her vulnerable to criticism.
Lightfoot had few allies in her bid for re-election, with powerful interests such as the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police endorsing Vallas and the Chicago Teachers Union backing Johnson. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker stayed out of the race entirely. Concerns about crime and public safety have been central to the election, with violence in the city increasing in 2020 and 2021. Though shootings and murders have decreased since then, other crimes such as theft, carjacking, robberies, and burglaries have increased since last year, according to the Chicago Police Department’s 2022 year-end report.
Similar dynamics have played out in other big-city mayoral elections in recent years. Mayor Eric Adams won in New York City with a pro-police, tough-on-crime message in 2021, while Rep. Karen Bass won in Los Angeles over billionaire developer Rick Caruso, who campaigned on a law-and-order platform. Chicago’s municipal elections are non-partisan, and none of the candidates on the ballot Tuesday identified as Republicans. Still, Lightfoot sought to portray Vallas as such, with Vallas attacking her record on crime early in the campaign and receiving backing from the conservative police union. Johnson, meanwhile, eroded Lightfoot’s support among progressives, with his campaign focusing on increasing funding for priorities such as mental health treatment to make Chicago safer.