Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ousted; Vallas, Johnson in runoff

CHICAGO (NewsNation) — Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson will meet in a runoff to be the next mayor of Chicago after voters on Tuesday denied incumbent Lori Lightfoot a second term, issuing a rebuke to a leader who made history as head of the nation’s third-largest city.

Vallas and Johnson emerged from a crowded field of nine candidates, but since neither received more than 50% of the vote, they are now headed for a runoff April 4.

Vallas, who finished ninth in the 2019 Chicago mayoral race, emerged as one of Lightfoot’s top opponents and made public safety the centerpiece of his campaign. He served as an adviser to the Fraternal Order of Police during its negotiations with Lightfoot’s administration. He’s vowed to hire more cops and has the endorsement of the police union.

At his victory party, Vallas noted that Lightfoot had called to congratulate him and asked the crowd to give her a round of applause. In a nod to his campaign promise to combat crime, he said that, if elected, he would work to address public safety issues.

“We will have a safe Chicago. We will make Chicago the safest city in America,” Vallas said.

Lightfoot had criticized Vallas’ relationship with the police and branded him as a Republican in disguise, even accusing him of being fast on the heels of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Obviously we didn’t win the election today but I stand here with my head held high and a heart full of gratitude,” Lightfoot said in her concession speech. “I will be rooting and praying for the next mayor of Chicago.”

Lightfoot is the first Black woman and first openly gay person to lead the city. She is also the first elected Chicago mayor to lose a reelection bid since 1983, when Jane Byrne, the city’s first female mayor, lost her Democratic primary.

Her opponents attacked her record on crime and education throughout the campaign. Both topics have played a significant role in national politics recently and the race in Chicago may indicate where Americans stand heading into 2024.

During Lightfoot’s time in office, the city’s homicide rate has continued to outpace other places like New York City and Los Angeles.

Like other cities during the pandemic, Chicago saw murders rise in 2020. By the end of the year, almost 800 people had been killed, up from about 500 the year before.

Along with her crime policies, Lightfoot also sparred with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) throughout the pandemic over school closures and COVID safety protocols.

Lightfoot has touted her record of investing in neighborhoods and supporting workers, such as by increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. She also notes that the city has navigated unprecedented challenges such as the pandemic and its economic and public safety fallout to protests over policing.

“The world is very different than it was four years ago. I believe that I’m still the right person and I think the voters will validate that, but we’ve been through a lot,” Lightfoot said after a rally on the city’s West Side during the final days before the election. “We can’t go back.”

Johnson on Tuesday night noted the improbability that he would make the runoff, considering his low name recognition at the start of the race.

“A few months ago they said they didn’t know who I was. Well, if you didn’t know, now you know,” Johnson said. He thanked the unions that supported him and gave a special shout-out to his wife, telling the crowd, “Chicago, a Black woman will still be in charge.”

Lightfoot’s loss is unusual for mayors in large cities, who have tended to win reelection with relative ease. But it’s also a sign of the turmoil in U.S. cities following the COVID-19 pandemic, with its economic fallout and spikes in violent crime in many places.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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