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How Lori Lightfoot’s Election as Chicago Mayor is a Win for Progressives

by Ethan Kim
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The Democratic Party’s progressive wing won a big victory this week when Brandon Johnson, who works in organizing unions and used to be a teacher, was elected as the new mayor of Chicago. He now has the tough task of dealing with high issues of crime rates and money problems that the city is facing.

Johnson, a commissioner supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, won a close election against Paul Vallas who had the police union’s backing. Johnson is 47 and he’s taking over from Lori Lightfoot—the first Black woman and the first openly gay mayor of Chicago.

Lightfoot was trying to get re-elected after 40 years, but she lost her race and was in third place out of many candidates.

Johnson recently won an election to lead the third most important city in the country. He wasn’t well-known when he started his campaign last year but with help from the Chicago Teachers Union (a powerful political group) and endorsements from progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, he made it to the top of all the candidates. Near the end of his race, Sanders even held a rally to support Johnson and cheer him on.

On Tuesday night, Johnson celebrated his victory by giving a speech to thank his supporters. He said that under his leadership, the city will take care of everyone no matter their financial status, who they love, or where they come from. “Now is the start of a new Chicago that really takes care of all its citizens,” Johnson declared.

Johnson, who is Black, remembered an difficult childhood living in poverty and then teaching at a school in the area known as ‘Cabrini Green’. He would also protect his children from danger when they were living in their neighbourhood.

He mentioned two civil rights leaders – Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Jesse Jackson and said that this victory was for them. Then he reminded us all that it was on this day (April 4th) that King had been killed years ago.

Johnson spoke these words of joy, “Today the dream is alive and this is why we are celebrating the revival and rebirth of the city of Chicago!”

This victory was seen as a huge accomplishment for progressive organizations such as the teachers union. This is because Johnson became the first active teacher union member to win a highly ranked position in recent history. Both more moderate members of this political party as well as progressives saw this race in Chicago as an opportunity to examine how powerful their strategies can really be.

Recently, Johnson won an important victory and this inspired progressive advocacy groups, such as Our Revolution, to work hard to win even more local and state offices. This includes upcoming mayoral elections in Philadelphia and other cities.

Vallas announced to his supporters Tuesday night that he had already called Johnson and believes that Johnson will be the next mayor. Some in the crowd didn’t seem too happy with the news, but Vallas asked them all to put aside any negative feelings and show their support for the new mayor during “the tough times ahead.”

Vallas said that if this election divides us, then it won’t match what he wanted which was an election to bring everyone closer together.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot congratulated candidate and soon-to-be Mayor, Lewa Johnson, and said that she will work with his team to help transition leadership. Johnson and Toni Vallas were the top two people in a special election where no one got more than 50% of the votes.

On Tuesday, Johnson did well and got the most votes in both the southern and western areas that are heavily populated with Black people (where Lightfoot won previously back in February) as well as in northern neighborhoods where he also received a lot of votes before. Vallas was successful in northwest and southwest neighborhoods where many city employees live, just like he was earlier during February.

The two Democratic candidates for a political contest, Johnson and Vallas, were in disagreement. Johnson’s supporters said Vallas was too conservative and almost like a Republican instead of a Democrat. Although both of these people had long histories with the Democratic Party, their personalities and opinions were very different from each other.

After teaching in middle and high schools, Johnson worked hard to get teachers to join together. In 2012 they even went on strike, which helped the Chicago Teachers Union become more powerful and influential within the city. Because of this, they fight for things like having better homes to live in, as well as getting more care for mental health problems.

Vallas was the first one to win the February competition, and he was also the only white person out of the nine people who participated. He had a past job experience as the Chicago budget director and later managed schools in Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Bridgeport Connecticut.

Johnson and Vallas disagreed on how to reduce crime in Chicago. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of violent crime, with 797 murders in 2021 – which is the highest number seen in 25 years! However, recently these numbers have gone down – but it still has more murders than other similar cities like St. Louis.

Vallas, 69, wants to hire hundreds more police officers, while Johnson said he wouldn’t shrink the size of the police force. Johnson had to explain comments from before that showed support for taking away money from the police – something he promised he wouldn’t do if he became mayor.

Mayor Johnson thinks the city should use its money to help people get mental health care, have houses they can afford, and get jobs for young people. He has an idea called ‘ultrarich’ – where big companies with lots of employees and people who are staying in hotels pay extra taxes. This plan is intended to bring in $800 million dollars!

The plan is not guaranteed to work, because some people in the City Council and at the state government don’t agree with it. They would need to approve for it to go forward.

Chema Fernandez, 25 years old, voted for Johnson because he was tired of the same old political leaders who were not doing enough to help places like his neighborhood on the southwest side. He wanted some change and so he used his vote to try and get that change.

He said, “We need a chance to try out new policies that could improve our living conditions.”

Teresa Crawford, a journalist from the Associated Press based in Chicago and Chad Day, the chief elections analyst in Washington worked together to provide this information.

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