Four years ago, in a competitive contest for Chicago mayor, Paul Vallas came in toward the back of the pack.
He ran again, this time emphasizing crime, and won the most votes on Tuesday, unseating the incumbent mayor and winning the right to head one of the biggest cities in the nation through an April runoff.
Voters in this Democratic city responded favorably to his new campaign platform, which focused on public safety and support for the police, in a way that it may not have done before the COVID-19 pandemic when violent crime rates surged.
“Every American has a fundamental right to public safety. At his victory party, Vallas proclaimed to the jubilant crowd, “It is a civil right. “Chicago will be secure. We’ll make Chicago the safest city in the nation.
That would be a difficult task. Yet centrist Democrat Vallas, who has the support of the police union, is offering what many voters want to hear, including ideas for hiring hundreds more police.
They will be given a choice as voters. Vallas will compete against progressive opponent Brandon Johnson in the April runoff.
Johnson is supported by the Chicago Teachers Union and believes increasing police spending, and incarceration rates won’t make the streets safer.
Both of them outperformed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who received criticism for her reaction to the rise in crime and will leave office as the first one-term mayor of Chicago in 40 years, with 34% for Vallas, 20% for Johnson, and 17% for Lightfoot.
The election in the city is the most recent illustration of how urban politics have changed in the wake of the pandemic.
Voters in both New York and Los Angeles’ mayoral contests ranked crime as their top concern, while in San Francisco, a district attorney was removed from office due to fears for the general public’s safety.
Democrats may have suffered from the perception that they were lax on crime during the November midterm elections in House races in cities like New York when Republicans surprised many by winning in suburban districts.
Since the 2020 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police triggered protests and cries to “defund” the police, the Republicans have hammered on this issue and divided Democrats on it.
Several moderates expressed dissatisfaction with the party for taking so long to condemn the “defund” rhetoric used by progressive activists even as Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
In his first State of the Union address, Biden said to acclaim from all sides of the aisle: “The answer is not to defund the police.
To support the police.
National Democrats have mostly been able to put that issue behind them even though his comment prompted condemnation from certain Black Lives Matter activists and others who contend that broader issues with police enforcement remain.
Yet, the outcomes in Chicago demonstrated that concerns about crime are still prevalent down the ballot, particularly in metropolitan areas, where Democrats enjoy the broadest base of unwavering support.
In his years of working on mayoral campaigns, Joe Trippi, a seasoned Democratic strategist assisting Vallas’ campaign, said he has never seen a race where the crime was so overwhelmingly the top concern for voters.
He pointed out that Vallas was the only contender to make it his primary concern and that his success might serve as a warning to future Democrats.
Trippi said that other objectives couldn’t be accomplished if people don’t feel comfortable. “I think it is important for Democrats to make clear that you can be a progressive Democrat and make crime and public safety a high priority,” Trippi said.
The April 4 mayoral race in Chicago will fully display the internal party conflict, with Vallas and Johnson presenting voters with entirely dissimilar arguments.