As the intensely blue city struggles with high crime and financial difficulties, Brandon Johnson, a union organizer, and former teacher was chosen as Chicago’s next mayor on Tuesday. This election represents a significant triumph for the Democratic Party’s progressive side.
Johnson, a Cook County commissioner with support from the Chicago Teachers Union, defeated former Chicago schools Administrator Paul Vallas, who received approval from the police union, in a close election. Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and the first openly homosexual mayor of the city, will be replaced by Johnson, 47.
When Lightfoot finished third in a competitive election in February, she became the first Chicago mayor to lose her attempt for reelection in 40 years.
Johnson’s victory in the third-largest city in the country marked the culmination of an impressive campaign for a politician with little name recognition when he first joined the contest. He rose to the top of the field with the aid of the politically powerful Chicago Teachers Union’s organizational and financial support and the high-profile endorsements of the progressive senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
At a Johnson rally in the latter stages of the contest, Sanders made an appearance.
Johnson thanked his fans for helping start “a new chapter in the history of our city” during his victory address on Tuesday night, and he said that the city would look out for everyone under his leadership, regardless of how much money they have, who they love, or where they are from.
Johnson, a Black man, described being raised in a low-income household, working as a teacher at a school in the notorious Cabrini Green public housing project, and protecting his young children from gunshots in his West Side neighborhood.
His triumph, he said, was a continuation of the civil rights pioneers Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. He also said that the anniversary of King’s death fell on the day he was speaking.
For progressive groups like the teachers union, Johnson’s election to the highest office ever held by an active union member was a historic victory, according to officials.
Progressives and the party’s more moderate wing considered the Chicago election a test of organizing strength and messaging.
Johnson’s victory also comes as progressive advocacy groups like Our Revolution work to win more municipal and state office, notably in the forthcoming mayoral elections in Philadelphia and other cities.
Speaking to his supporters on Tuesday night, Vallas said that Johnson had been called and that he was anticipated to succeed Vallas as mayor.
The revelation appeared to be met with jeers from some in the crowd, but Vallas asked them to put their differences aside and assist the next mayor in “the enormous work ahead.”
Lightfoot also congratulated Johnson in a statement, and she promised that her government would work with his staff during the transition.