Progressive candidate and Cook county board commissioner Brandon Johnson won the election for Chicago mayor on Tuesday evening after pulling ahead of his opponent Paul Vallas in the evening.
At 10pm, with 91% of the votes in, Johnson led at 51.4% to Vallas’ 48.6%. That amounted to almost 16,000 votes.
The election had pit two Democrats from the furthest ends of their party’s spectrum against each other. Public safety has been the number one issue and Democrats across the country were watching to see if Johnson, a progressive who has previously supported the defund the police movement, could defeat Vallas, who nabbed the endorsement of Chicago’s police union and once described himself as a Republican.
At Vallas’ campaign party in downtown Chicago on Tuesday evening, the once buoyant party had deflated as the results rolled in. Around 8pm a bagpipe band loudly rehearsing in a hotel banquet hall was interrupted by Alderman Brian Hopkins, who said the mood in the room was so grim that the group should pack it up and go home.
Johnson and Vallas had gone head-to-head after a crowded mayoral primary in February. In that race, incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot won voters in Chicago’s majority Black wards on the south and west side communities while Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García won Latino voters on the west side. Those votes were up for grabs on Tuesday.
Despite high rates of early voting, election day turnout was reportedly “sleepy”. Even so, young voters seemed to have outpaced previous election records, possibly spurring the boost for Johnson.
Earlier in the day, voters lined up in the sprawling 19th ward where about 65% of the residents are white and 25% Black, making it one of the more racially diverse areas of a very segregated city. Race and personal identity played a role for some voters at the ballot box.
“I just felt like Vallas was prejudiced,” said Paulette Traylor, who cast her vote in the Beverly neighborhood in the ward. “I really don’t think he cares for Black people. I think he’s more of a Republican and I’m not a Republican.”
As a Black woman and one of nine children, Traylor said she also identified with Johnson’s upbringing. The son of a Black pastor, Johnson often cited his position as a middle child of 10 children as the key to his negotiating skills.
In his hometown neighborhood of Austin on the west side, voters touted Johnson’s messaging on mental health and education. Emily Lucas, an Austin resident, pointed to Vallas’ tenure as Chicago Public Schools CEO as a turnoff, and appreciated that Johnson was a local.
“It would be nice to have a mayor who lived down the street,” said Emily Lucas, an Austin resident. “What an advantage. He’s a hometown guy.”