How Brandon Johnson Won Chicago’s Mayoral Race

CHICAGO — In the final days of his mayoral campaign in Chicago, Brandon Johnson drew more than 4,000 people to a cheering rally featuring Senator Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed him. He traversed the South and West sides, visiting six churches in one Sunday. In a last push on Election Day, Mr. Johnson’s volunteers knocked on 46,000 doors across the city, drumming up excitement and encouraging last-minute voters to go to the polls.

Mr. The coalition Johnson needed — young people, black voters in the South and West, sizable Latino voters, and white progressives in the North and on the Lakeshore — came together.

On Tuesday, a Democratic county commissioner unknown to many Chicagoans a few months ago, Mr. Johnson came from behind to defeat Paul Wallace, a more conservative Democrat and former school administrator. Support. Mr. Vallas, 69, a favorite of many moderate and conservative voters, ran on a law-and-order platform in which he promised to expand the police force and crack down on crime.

But despite polls showing a large majority of Chicagoans view public safety as the most important issue in the election, Mr. Johnson, 47. He tapped a broad network of progressive groups in liberal Chicago — from the powerful teachers union to smaller, ward-based political organizations — focused on field work to mobilize voters. Mr. Johnson pitched voters on a public safety plan that would outsource policing, but distanced himself from past support for funding law enforcement.

Mr. Johnson, since the advent of television, Mr. He took advantage of widespread skepticism among Democratic voters about Wallace’s party identity. Interview Since 2009 Mr. Vallas called himself “more of a Republican than a Democrat.”

And Mr. Johnson is among voters who don’t know him well, particularly Senator Sanders and Congressman Jesus G. Garcia used key endorsements to bolster his credibility.

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“You run with a certain base, but you have to expand your base beyond that,” Mr. City Councilman Andre Vasquez, who organized for Johnson, said Wednesday. “The Latino community has done better for Brandon than expected. The North side has done better. It feels like a coalition of everything.

Still, Mr. Johnson will take charge of a deeply divided Chicago. Once in charge of the city’s public school system, Mr. Vallas, with nearly 49 percent of the vote, defeated Mr. Johnson received 51 percent of the vote, with thousands of mail-in ballots still uncounted. In the first round of voting in February, Mr. Vallas won the most votes.

Before the election, Mr. Johnson worked to increase turnout among young voters and expand his support among Hispanic residents.

“One thing that really caught my attention about Brandon: He’s here advocating for my people, my Hispanic community,” said Lily Cruz, 22, Mr. said a college student from the Southwest who voted for Johnson. “I feel he put in more effort than I’ve seen any other politician who wants to run for office,” he added.

Mr. Johnson did as well as he did in the first round of voting in February in some white neighborhoods near Lake Michigan and in Hispanic areas northwest of downtown. But unlike that, the black Mr. Johnson dominated Tuesday in wards with black majorities, winning 80 percent of the vote in some areas in the South and West.

In both rounds of the election, Mr. Vallas ran heavily in predominantly white neighborhoods around downtown and in the Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods. In the second match, Mr. Vallas made significant inroads with Hispanic voters in the city’s southwest, but he failed to win over many black voters, relying on the endorsements of well-known black politicians, including longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. .

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Chicago has roughly equal numbers of black, white, and Hispanic residents, and race has long played a role in the city’s politics. Mr. Johnson takes over next month from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who failed to qualify for a runoff after serving one term. Ms. Lightfoot, the first black woman and first gay person to lead Chicago, carried all 50 wards in the 2019 race, but her support has crumbled amid labor infighting, rising crime and the pandemic.

Anthony Quesada, Cook County Commissioner for Northwest Region, Mr. To spread the word about Johnson, Mr. He also credited the support of neighborhood progressive groups for persuading undecided voters to accept Wallace’s public safety plan.

“We as organizers have spent a lot of dedicated time talking to people, listening to people’s real concerns, meeting them where they are and really saying, ‘Look, let’s give this a chance,'” Mr. Quezada said.

Last fall Mr. By the time the new campaign began printing literature as it knocked on door-to-door petitions for Johnson, many voters had turned to Mr. Mr. Johnson said he had never heard of him. Quezada said. Last Saturday Mr. When Quezada campaigned again, after a rally with two members of Congress, Mr. He said he knew about Johnson.

Tuesday’s decision, Mr. Vallas said there was “a huge, huge condemnation” of tough-on-crime policies.

“What Chicagoans have just said is, ‘We want to invest,'” Mr. Quezada said. “‘We don’t want to be punished.'”

“The excitement about what’s possible under this administration really drove it home,” said Mr. Moseley said, he was Mr. He said he saw parallels between the multicultural coalition that elected Johnson and the one that inspired Harold, Chicago’s first black mayor. Washington took office 40 years ago. “People were able to feel again that they could hear, see, feel, and that action was really coming on the issues that mattered to them.”

Before the first round of voting, Paul Rosenfeld said progressives in his North Side ward were rooting for fourth-place finisher Mr. Johnson and Mr. They split their vote between Garcia. But ahead of the run, the Democratic committeeman in his ward, Mr. Rosenfeld, liberal voters Mr. Rallying behind Johnson, campaigners from United Working Families and labor groups are knocking on the door.

“Progressive Democratic voters were really only able to focus on two candidates and see the stark difference between the two,” he said. “That made all the difference.”

Rahm Emanuel and Mrs. Tom Bowen, a Democratic strategist who worked for Lightfoot, appealed to liberals with an identity closer to the Democratic Party than Mr. Johnson claimed overwhelming success.

“He ran a great race, but it’s also true that this is an 80 percent Democratic town,” he said. “He had a lower hurdle to clear by being a Democrat with more ties to Democratic voters.”

Now, Mr. Bowen said the mayor-elect is about to face the reality of governing, but with a sizable coalition of Chicago voters.

“He has the support of progressive North Siders and black wards on the South Side,” he said, “and that’s the most durable coalition in Chicago politics.”

Michael Kerstein Contributed report.

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