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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Loses Re-Election Bid, So Which Sucker Will Replace Her?
It's a tough job.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for re-election Tuesday night. The top two candidates who'll advance to the April 4 runoff election are Paul Vallas, a former public schools executive, and Brandon Johnson, a county board commissioner.
Lightfoot is the first Black woman and openly gay person to lead Chicago. Now, she's the first sitting mayor to lose re-election since 1989. That's historically stunning but not surprising. Her popularity plummeted during the pandemic when Chicago experienced a rise in violent crime. In August 2020, there was widespread looting and property damage along the famed Magnificent Mile. For a while, Lightfoot repeatedly ordered Chicago's bridges raised to keep people out of downtown.
Lightfoot, like many Democratic mayors of major cities, was hammered from both the Right and Left, never fully satisfying either group. As a candidate, she promised true police reform and accountability measures “over and above the monitoring” required by a federal consent decree. This would address the Chicago Police Department's patterns of violence against people of color and people with disabilities. However, the Chicago ACLU claimed she was all talk and more of an impediment to actual reform. Cops, of course, resented her for even trying to impose accountability on the racket they had going. Predictably, they blamed her for entirely unrelated police shootings. When Chicago Police Officer Ella French was shot and killed during a 2021 traffic stop, rank-and-file officers turned their backs on Lightfoot, refusing to look at her, when she visited the hospital to pay her respects.
Lightfoot was accused of "defunding the police" when she proposed an $80 million cut in the police budget for 2021. She'd said repeatedly that she didn't support "defunding the police" as a political concept but was responding to a $1.2 billion pandemic-induced budget shortfall. Police across the country, though, exploited city-wide, COVID-19-related budget crises and played the victim, claiming that wild-eyed liberal mayors were specifically targeting them. That was rarely the case.
So, let's look at the remaining candidates for mayor: Democrat Paul Vallas is following the Eric Adams "tough-on-crime" path to mayor's office. He's argued that Chicago was a big, flaming dumpster fire under Lightfoot's stewardship and has vowed to make "Chicago the safest city in America." He's affirmatively pro-cop, with an endorsement from the local Fraternal Order of Police, which means absolutely zero police reform or accountability if he's elected. (The FOP's leader, John Catanzara, defended the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.) Vallas wants to give cops more money to arrest more people. He also wants to expand charter schools, but he's absolutely not a Republican posing as a Democrat in a Democratic city.
Brandon Johnson is young, 46, Black, and seems like an actual Democrat. He currently represents the first district on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He was a former elementary school social studies teacher and has received the endorsement of the Chicago Teachers Union. Taking aim at Vallas, Johnson said the former head of Chicago Public Schools "ran the teachers' pension fund into the ground, closed neighborhood schools and punished students who were in need."
"This is the truth about Paul Vallas," Johnson said. "He has literally failed everywhere he is gone."
Johnson would increase funding and resources for public schools, like a Democrat! He would address crime with a more efficient public safety platform that doesn't concentrate on busting heads, though I fear that might not satisfy enough voters. (Johnson once promoted reducing police funding but has since "clarified" that position.) He's proposed a budget that would raise $1 billion in new revenues through a city income tax on high earners. Critics charge that Chicago is already bleeding wealthy residents, and this won't help.
I personally like Johnson but wish he was slightly more like Karen Bass, who held off a fake Democrat in Los Angeles. Vallas, however, finished almost 15 points ahead of Johnson, who'd need almost all of Lightfoot's supporters to win next month. I worry that Chicago will repeat New York's recent mistake.
While I was also critical of Lightfoot at times, I recognize that her only term occurred during a difficult period for Chicago, and that was not entirely her fault.
[ New York Times ]
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