In a second round of voting, Brandon Johnson, an organizer for the teachers union, county commissioner, and former educator at a middle school, emerged victorious over Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, securing 51.4% of the votes and earning the title of Chicago’s future mayor.
Johnson’s stunning achievement marks a win in the grassroots movement started roughly a decade ago by the Chicago Teachers Union leadership, focusing beyond classroom issues on reforming police, justice, environmental health, public housing, and affordable education.
“We have ushered in a new chapter in the history of our city,” said Johnson. “Whether you need to provide child care services, nurse patients, protect our streets with a badge, teach middle school, or wake up early to open the doors of your businesses, people are now ready to begin working in Chicago.
Incumbent Mayor Lightfoot finished third in the first round of voting, capturing about 17% of the vote. Vallas secured second place with approximately 33% of the vote, while Johnson, who was backed by other labor groups and union teachers, broke through a field of nine candidates, securing about 21% of the vote.
With 99% of precincts reporting, initial results published by the Chicago Board of Elections showed Johnson with 51.4% to Vallas’ 48.6%.
In 2019, Lightfoot’s runoff victory by a large margin was a striking difference to the highly disputed and polarizing nature of the campaign, as demonstrated by the close outcome. The pair has dedicated the past five weeks going door-to-door, organizing events, engaging in debates, attending churches, and gathering support in an attempt to influence voters who may have chosen a different candidate or abstained from voting on Feb. 28.
“In spite of our belief that every vote should unquestionably be tallied, I phoned Brandon Johnson and conveyed my unwavering anticipation for him to assume the position of the forthcoming mayor of Chicago,” declared Vallas during his concession speech on Tuesday evening. “The outcomes this evening unequivocally indicate that the city is profoundly polarized.”
Johnson extended an olive branch to those who did not cast their votes in his favor.
He said, “I want to work with you and hear from you because I value you, and I want you to know that I care about you. Here’s what I want you to know: the Chicagoans who did not vote for me know who I am.”
Both candidates have deep ties to education, propelling them into the politics of education, although they have presented contrasting visions for the future of public schools in Chicago and have been on opposite sides of the public education policy debates over the past two decades.
Vallas is a bearer of the torch for charter and choice schools, who has faced both applause and criticism for his support of charter schools and the expansion of voucher programs.
Johnson, who advocated for someone fitting perhaps an ironic choice, will now be the last mayor to have control over the city’s public schools, as an elected school board will oversee a number of challenges facing the nation’s fourth largest district, including declining enrollment and academic difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the CTU, expressed, “Regarding education, the difference was evident. Educators are capable of instructing, and learners can acquire knowledge without the interference of individuals who evaluate their achievements by shutting down schools instead of improving them. Brandon aims to guarantee that parents have a voice.”
Jesse Sharkey, the former President of the Chicago Teachers Union, said that Johnson’s victory is a vindication for the union’s decade-long push to organize and campaign for materials, making art a big way for members to throw themselves into organizing and knocking on doors.
“There was a surge of innovation and coordination in this election,” he mentioned. “It ended up being just sufficient.”
Johnson, throughout the campaign, has faced questions over whether he would be impartial in negotiations with his own union. “Who is better equipped to deliver bad news than a friend?” He responded.
Sharkey expressed, “Brandon will need to take charge. I don’t believe the CTU has the authority to determine its desires. Brandon is an extraordinary individual with a multitude of values and a strong conviction in effective leadership.”
Embraced and took pictures, followers celebrated and the intensity of the dance music increased significantly. The audience at his election night gathering at the downtown Marriott Marquis raised their hands in excitement and cheered as Johnson surged ahead.
Nina Hike, a science teacher at College Prep Westinghouse and leader of the teachers’ union, stated that she strongly supported Johnson’s campaign and volunteered to help recruit teachers. The union leader emphasized the importance of building a strong foundation in the game of education.
Hike estimated that she devoted her time to conversing with journalists, producing a podcast criticizing Vallas’ educational background, canvassing over 500 residences, and dedicating numerous hours to phone outreach.
As the two candidates remained neck-and-neck, he was taking deep breaths, his margins thin as a razor. On election night, he hosted a canvassing event in his living room at East Garfield Park and knocked on doors for Johnson on the West Side of Chicago in Austin. Wilbourn Wallace, a social studies teacher at DePriest Middle School, hosted the event.
“The entire city has been striving towards this single progressive objective,” Wilbourn stated.
Karen Lewis, the former president of CTU, was referred to as the “protege” of the late Mayor Johnson, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor before becoming mayor herself.
CTU president Stacy Davis Gates expressed, “A Brandon Johnson wouldn’t exist without a Karen Lewis.” “She revolutionized the political discourse in our city. She demonstrated to the people of Chicago how to assert themselves and insist on the necessary and rightful resources for their schools and their city. Tonight, Karen’s vision of an inclusive city that benefits everyone, rather than just a select few, is reaffirmed.”
At the election night party held at the Regency Hyatt, former principal of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, Kenner D. Joyce, who was endorsed by Vallas, said that she did not expect the race to be so close. Even though Johnson, who took the lead, showed promising results, his supporters still held hope.
Beverly Miles, a former candidate for alderman and a supporter of Vallas, expressed her anticipation for a resounding victory for Vallas.
Despite being the county commissioner, she felt that he hadn’t done enough on the West Side. “I don’t think he’s the right guy, but she thought Miles Johnson was a nice guy,” she said.
We knew it was going to be a nail-biter when Tom Ald. Tunney said earlier in the night that the two votes were separated by only about 1,000.
The Chicago Board of Elections has certified the results and tallied all ballots until April 18, as stated by Max Bever, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections. Earlier in the day, there were still remaining vote-by-mail ballots.