Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson was elected on Tuesday as the next mayor of Chicago, defeating moderate rival and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas to succeed the incumbent Lori Lightfoot.
The three Democrats competed in a February primary election which disqualified Lightfoot, who finished third against Johnson and Vallas, rendering her the first Chicago mayor in four decades to lose her re-election bid. Johnson had clinched 51.4% of the tabulated vote as of late Tuesday night with 91% of expected ballots reporting, while Vallas had 48.6%.
“Tonight is the beginning of a Chicago that truly invests in all of its people,” Johnson said in his victory speech. “The heart of this movement has always been about investing in people.”
Johnson garnered criticism throughout the campaign, which centered largely on the city’s struggles to handle rising violent crime, for his description of the “defund the police” movement as an “actual, real political goal” in a 2020 radio interview. He denounced the statement in later interviews, which Vallas made a feature in his campaign advertisements.
Lawlessness indeed rose dramatically during Lightfoot’s four-year tenure. There were 490 homicides in the Windy City as of 2019, the year in which Lightfoot assumed office, while murders soared to 772 in 2020 and 800 in 2021, marking an increase of more than 58% as nationwide Black Lives Matter protests occurred in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Lightfoot, who has a personal police unit with 71 officers assigned to protect her life, meanwhile proposed eliminating $80 million from the Chicago Police Department budget in 2020.
Johnson said on his campaign website that he will “work with police and first responders to invest in community-based interventions that de-escalate conflict, reduce violence and make our neighborhoods safer.” Vallas, on the other hand, vowed on his website that he would increase the number of sworn officers and consider public safety a “basic human right.”
Vallas was endorsed by the Chicago Police Union, while Johnson was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, which provoked criticism in the wake of government lockdowns for opposing the rollback of virtual instruction.
Prominent businesses such as food processing company Tyson, airplane manufacturer Boeing, and construction machinery firm Caterpillar have announced that they would shutter major offices or move their headquarters from Chicago in recent months. Lightfoot, who excused her primary election loss by noting that she is a “black woman in America,” nevertheless said on her campaign website that she was “committed to attracting new businesses” and “creating an environment that supports and sustains entrepreneurs and workers.”
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The “tax fairness plan” released by Johnson would increase taxes on “big corporations and the ultra-rich” through a per-employee “head tax” and new fees on hotel reservations. Chicago has the second-highest tax burden in the nation for combined state and local sales tax rates, according to a 2021 study from the Tax Foundation.
Businesses have also fled the city in response to higher crime rates. Ken Griffin, the former richest man in Illinois and current chief executive of hedge fund Citadel, moved much of his personal estate and business to Miami in response to the phenomenon. He indicated during one interview that a breaking point was the violent assault of two separate colleagues: the former was robbed after a person put “a gun to his head” during a coffee run, and another was attacked by “some random lunatic just trying to punch him in the head” while he was waiting for a car.