Brandon Johnson, a union organizer and former teacher, has been elected as Chicago’s next mayor in a close race over former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas. Johnson was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and won with organizing and financial help from progressive organizations such as Our Revolution, as well as high-profile endorsements from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Johnson’s victory marks a major win for the Democratic Party’s progressive wing in a heavily blue city grappling with high crime and financial challenges. Johnson will succeed Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and first openly gay person to be the city’s mayor.
Johnson’s win is a significant achievement for the teachers union, with Johnson winning the highest office of any active teachers union member in recent history, leaders say. For both progressives and the party’s more moderate wing, the Chicago race was seen as a test of organizing power and messaging. Johnson’s win also comes as groups such as Our Revolution push to win more offices in local and state office, including in upcoming mayoral elections in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
In his victory speech, Johnson thanked his supporters for helping usher in “a new chapter in the history of our city.” He promised that under his administration, the city would look out for everyone, regardless of how much money they have, whom they love or where they come from. Johnson, who is Black, recalled growing up in a poor family, teaching at a school in Cabrini Green, a notorious former public housing complex, and shielding his own young kids from gunfire in their West Side neighborhood. He referenced civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson and called his victory a continuation of their legacies.
Among the biggest disputes between Johnson and Vallas was how to address crime. Like many US cities, Chicago saw violent crime increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting a 25-year high of 797 homicides in 2021, though the number decreased last year and the city has a lower murder rate than others in the Midwest, such as St. Louis. Vallas said he would hire hundreds more police officers, while Johnson said he didn’t plan to cut the number of officers but that the current system of policing isn’t working. Johnson argued that instead of investing more in policing and incarceration, the city should focus on mental health treatment, affordable housing for all, and jobs for youth. He has proposed a plan he says will raise $800 million by taxing “ultrarich” individuals and businesses, including a per-employee “head tax” on employers and an additional tax on hotel room stays.
Johnson’s victory in the nation’s third-largest city capped a remarkable trajectory for a candidate who was little known when he entered the race last year. He climbed to the top of the field with organizing and financial help from the politically influential Chicago Teachers Union and high-profile endorsements from progressive Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Sanders appeared at a rally for Johnson in the final days of the race.