In a tight race, Brandon Johnson reached the necessary 50% of the vote
Brandon Johnson defeated Paul Vallas for City Hall’s top seat, receiving 286,647 votes in Chicago’s mayoral runoff election last night. Johnson, the more progressive candidate, won by 2.8 percentage points, 51.4% to 48.6%, according to the election results.
After hours of anxious waiting, Vallas conceded to Johnson. Supporters of Johnson’s flocked towards the stage to witness a heartfelt speech thanking his supporters and highlighting his goals for the city.
“The first thing that I want to say is to the Chicagoans who did not vote for me,” Johnson said as his supporters in the crowd scoffed. “Here’s what I want you to know … I care about you, I value you and I want to hear from you. I’d love to work with you, and I’ll be the mayor for you, too.”
Johnson campaigned on reducing crime by moving resources into communities instead of increasing policing.
“Tonight is a gateway into a new future for our city,” Johnson exclaimed. “A city that’s truly safer for everyone by investing in what actually works to prevent crime.
At the Johnson election party, teachers were out in full force. The Chicago Teachers Union endorsed Johnson, and their president, Stacy Davis Gates, spoke before Johnson’s celebration speech.
“I need everyone’s commitment in this room to choose our future that is not about division but about unity. I need everyone in this room to choose love,” Davis Gates said, “Because the transformation we deserve in this city will take those who are in love with equity and justice.”
A senior advisor to Johnson’s campaign, Bill Neidhardt, anticipated that voters for Johnson were attracted by his work in the classroom. Johnson had previously been a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher.
“When you look at the issues that this campaign, both sides, was really waged on the issues of education, public safety and the economy,” Neidhardt said. “I feel like Brandon has a background that is relatable to the most amount of voters.”
Supporter and board member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) Chakena Perry basked in the celebration.
“What Brandon was able to build was multicultural, multigenerational and the vision that people in Chicago have been yearning for and that’s really shown up tonight and shown up in the victory,” Perry says. “I don’t even know if the kids really understand the gravity of this moment. But I’m excited for them 10 or 20 years down the line to look back at these photos and say I was here for the second black male mayor of Chicago and his name is Brandon Johnson.”
Throughout the night, the Vallas campaign headquarters got quieter, while Johnson’s headquarters got louder. At the Hyatt Regency on Wacker, Vallas supporters nervously gathered around TVs in the room as Johnson’s lead grew. Vallas was met by chants of “We love you, Paul,” when he got on stage to concede, but the room was still somber. Some people were crying
Johnson headquarters looked different. With dancing that shook the floor at the Marriott in Chinatown, Johnson supporters were doing the Cha Cha Slide and the Cupid Shuffle. Johnson was greeted on stage by chants and cheers.
Vallas conceded the race to Johnson at 9:43 p.m. after the Associated Press called the election. “So tonight – even though we believe, of course, that every vote should be counted – I called Brandon Johnson and told him that I absolutely expect him to be the next mayor of Chicago,” Vallas said. This remark was met with some “boos” from the crowd, which were quickly hushed by Vallas.
Vallas was joined on stage by his family and people he had worked closely with during his campaign. Primary mayoral candidates Ja’Mal Green, Willie Wilson and Roderick Sawyer, who endorsed Vallas in the runoff, also joined him on stage.
Vallas was calm and even cracked a couple of jokes during his remarks, as well as offering support to Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson in his transition and in the years to come. “The only pathway forward in our great city is together,” he said.
Throughout the night, supporters of Vallas cited public safety as their main concern and their reasoning behind voting for Vallas. Jacob Buterbaugh of Jefferson Park, who volunteered for the Vallas campaign, says he is concerned about crime in Chicago. “The reason I’m supporting Paul Vallas is because he’s a candidate who came out straight away and said he’s gonna put our crime and our safety first,” he said.
Vallas also talked about his push for public safety throughout his concession speech. “I put out a public safety first plan in this campaign because public safety is a fundamental right,” Vallas said. “Without it, we will continue to be defined more by our differences than what we yearn for in common.”
After the speech, Vallas continued to talk to supporters on stage. Supporters like Shawn Scott of South Loop also voted for Vallas due to concern over public safety. “I liked that he was really focused on safety, number one, and moving Chicago forward. I think we had a tough time having Lori Lightfoot as mayor and we needed a change,” he said. Scott says he is disappointed but hopeful that Chicago will continue to progress.
Vallas did not offer comments to reporters after finishing his speech.
Both Johnson and Vallas have backgrounds in education among other experiences that influenced their stances on Chicago’s most prominent issues throughout their campaigns.
Johnson started his career as a public school teacher, teaching in Cabrini-Green and on the West Side of Chicago. According to his campaign website, he experienced firsthand how gun violence, unemployment and school closures affected his students and the community. He went on to organize for the Chicago Teachers Union.
Prior to his bid for mayor, Johnson has been the commissioner of the 1st District of Cook County since 2018, where he chaired the veterans committee and was vice chair of the committees on criminal justice, labor, human relations and emergency management and regional security.
Born and raised in the Roseland neighborhood, Vallas received his primary education from Chicago Public Schools. Under the Daley administration, Vallas became the first CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the first CEO of any public school system. He left in 2001 for Philadelphia, where he became the CEO of their public school system, and then headed to New Orleans in 2007. Vallas’ website has more about his background.
The February 28 Election
The first round of the mayoral election took place on February 28 and included nine candidates. Because no candidate received 50% of the vote, the election had to go to a runoff. The two candidates who received the most votes in the general election – Vallas and Johnson – moved on to the runoff election, and have continued on on the campaign trail for the last few weeks. Official results showed 32.9% of voters voted for Vallas on February 28 and 21.6% of voters voted for Johnson.
This election was intense and unprecedentedly close for a Chicago mayoral, runoff with Johnson and Vallas digging into different issues that divide the city. One of the hot-button issues for this election has been public safety, which the candidates take starkly different stances on.
Vallas has focused his public-safety plan on increasing the police force across the city. By bringing back retired officers and hiring new ones, Vallas planned on implementing more community-based policing and adding more law enforcement presence on the CTA. Vallas also received an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police. Johnson focused his public-safety plan on mental health and other resources, especially in schools, aiming to stop violent crime at the source.
Another issue the candidates had different views on is public education in the city. Though both have had a CPS background – Johnson as a teacher and Vallas as CEO – Johnson received the endorsement from the Chicago Teachers Union. Throughout his campaign, Vallas has been criticized for his advocacy for school choice, as well as his neglect of teacher pensions. However, he also planned on implementing more work-study programs for CPS students. Johnson plans on using his firsthand experience in CPS to work on allocating more funds for public education and services provided within schools. He also is an opponent of school privatization.
Johnson will be sworn into office to replace Lightfoot on May 15.
Hailey Bosek contributed to this report.
Header by Hailey Bosek