Crime Remained Center Stage in Chicago Mayoral Race

Crime remained center stage in Tuesday’s mayoral runoff in Chicago, where voters will choose between two candidates with contrasting views and approaches to public safety. 

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson calls for more opportunities for young people and mental health support. In contrast, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas calls for more police officers. 

The two are facing off to run the third-largest city in the United States after incumbent Lori Lightfoot lost her re-election bid, finishing third out of nine candidates in the previous round, where no candidate managed to win 50% of the vote.

The nonpartisan race in the city, which is left-leaning, has been a test for Democrats’ messaging on policing in the United States, three years after nationwide protests following the police murder of George Floyd.

Johnson says he will spend more on mental health treatment and youth summer employment programs for at-risk youth, while Vallas says he will hire over 1,500 police officers. 

“Other cities will watch — particularly mayors and incumbent mayors who want to stay in office — to really see how voters react,” said public administration professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Nick Kachiroubas. “The question becomes which approach wins and what is the reaction to that new policing 

strategy.”

Crime in U.S.’s third-largest city has continued to climb

The candidate who prevails will inherit a city where the number of murders has increased by 20% since 2018. There were 804 murders in 2021, the most in a quarter-century.

Thefts have risen by a quarter over the past five years, doubling car thefts.

Lightfoot, who was the first openly gay person and first Black woman to serve as mayor of the city, was trying to win a second four-year term. However, her handling of a series of crises and crimes, including the Covid-19 pandemic, a drawn-out teachers’ strike, and racial justice protests, caused her support to plummet.

In addition to hiring hundreds of new officers, Vallas, who grew up in Chicago’s South Side, and served as the former Chicago budget director, aims to create a victim and witness protection and services program and reinstate a community policing model to get tough on crime. 

“We need more cops outright,” agreed 50-year-old real estate professional Tim Lambert, a Vallas supporter. “When I lived in neighborhoods with beat cops, I knew the cops, and that was a good thing. They have more of a vested interest in the neighborhood than being deployed in a widespread way.”

Johnson is a former union organizer and Chicago teacher. He says he will promote 200 new detectives from the existing police officer pool. He also wants to increase police accountability.

The race winner will have several other issues, including the city’s financial woes, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic that shuttered several offices and businesses, and a struggling public school system. 

In a poll conducted last week by Emerson College Polling, The Hill, and WGN-TV, Vallas was leading Johnson by 5 points, with 13% undecided. Recent polls have shown a narrower margin.