Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson won the race for mayor of Chicago Tuesday by defeating former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas in a major win for progressives. Johnson leads Vallas 51.4-48.6 with 91% of the estimated vote reporting in the nonpartisan race to succeed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was denied the possibility of a second term after she took third in the Feb. 28 primary.
Johnson, who is the third African American elected to the post, was outspent by roughly a 2-1 margin, with Vallas running ads arguing that the commissioner supported defunding the police. Johnson has sought to distance himself from the attacks, declaring at a debate, “I am not going to defund the police," but that didn't deter Vallas from continuing to make use of 2020 comments in which Johnson said of the defund movement, “I don’t look at it as a slogan. It’s an actual real political goal.”
Vallas also picked up the backing of prominent Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin and former Rep. Bobby Rush, but Johnson benefited from endorsements from the Chicago Teachers Union and other labor groups. He successfully thwarted his opponent by utilizing old footage of Vallas touting his conservative views. "If I run for public office, then I would be running as a Republican," he said in one comment, adding, "Fundamentally, I oppose abortion."
The commissioner additionally sought to make Vallas’ support from the Fraternal Order of Police, which is led by Trump supporter John Catanzara, a liability in this dark blue city. Catanzara himself made news just before the election when he warned that a Johnson win would lead to “an exodus like we’ve never seen before” from the police force, adding that there would be “blood in the streets.” Vallas condemned the comments, though he didn’t renounce Catanzara's backing.
Johnson ended up pulling off a win on Tuesday in a race where he once looked like an afterthought. “I was polling at 2.3% in October,” he said ahead of Election Day—and indeed, a survey for one of his defeated rivals taken that month put Johnson at just 3%. “No one thought I had a chance. Yet, here I be.”
State supreme court races are a favorite topic of ours, and there are literally dozens more on the ballot in 2024, so we're previewing the top battles with Carah Ong Whaley of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics on this week's episode of The Downballot podcast. Carah tells us how and why so much money has come to be spent on supreme court elections in recent decades before diving into next year's key contests, including several states where control is on the line, like Ohio, Michigan, and Montana. With the stakes high for redistricting reform, abortion rights, and democracy, progressives everywhere will want to stay up-to-date on all of these races.