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  • Ruhika Ponda

Chicago's 2023 Mayoral Election: A Monumental Upset and Potential Shift in Policy

The 2023 Chicago Mayoral election was held on February 28, 2023 — a monumental election that left current Mayor Lori Lightfoot in third place behind Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson. The two front runners faced off in a runoff election on April 4, 2023, and Mr. Johnson emerged victorious by a slim margin, taking over the role from Mayor Lightfoot. This election was particularly significant because Mayor Lightfoot became the first mayor of Chicago in 40 years to lose re-election. The discontent surrounding her policies and decisions while in office was very apparent through the votes — or lack thereof — that she received. Given the outcome, there promises to be a considerable shift in mayoral policy in the city of Chicago, regardless of who ultimately wins the runoff election.

Mayor Lightfoot has been the mayor of Chicago for the past four years, since 2019. She is a Democratic mayor who has attempted to tackle economic improvement in Chicago, police reform, and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most notably, she raised the minimum wage for Chicago workers, paved the way for Chicago to transition to civilian oversight of policing, and spearheaded the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Chicago during the height of the pandemic. She campaigned on these issues, highlighting the fact that her policies have aimed to “expand opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago.” Mayor Lightfoot is also the first Black LGBTQ+ woman to be elected mayor of Chicago, or any other major city in the United States.

The Chicago public became displeased with her leadership primarily because of the spike in violent crime following the COVID-19 pandemic. 2022 ended with the highest crime rate Chicago had seen in five years, and the year with the most murders in 25 years. Of the Chicago voters polled, 44% said that crime and public safety was a priority to them when deciding who to elect mayor. Given Mayor Lightfoot’s attitude toward police reform and the increased crime statistics during her mayoral term, Chicago voters may have felt that she was not the ideal candidate to be “tough on crime.” This election showcased a broader phenomenon emerging in American politics surrounding conflicting interests between the apparent rise in crime rates and police reform in America. Many major cities experienced an uptick in crime rates following the pandemic and there seems to be a split, even within the Democratic party, as to how to handle police policy and reform while also maintaining public safety.

The two runoff candidates, Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson were both Democrats, but they had considerably conflicting views on policing and education reform. Throughout his campaign, Mr. Vallas took an aggressive stance on crime and promised to expand policing in an effort to reduce crime rates in Chicago. He was endorsed by the local Fraternal Order of Police and campaigned on a promised effort to make Chicago safer for residents. Mr. Johnson, on the other hand, was a more progressive candidate who asserted that he supported police reform. He was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and prioritized education reform in his campaign.

Mayor Lightfoot’s loss came as a shock to many, given how rare it is for a sitting Chicago mayor to get the smallest percentage of votes. Mr. Johnson’s ultimate victory in the runoff election signifies a potential shift in the ideology of the Chicago population towards more progressive policies in terms of combating crime rather than a “tough on crime” attitude. However, Johnson’s margin of victory was relatively slim and the outcome is indicative of the growing divide in ideology in regard to crime and policing in America as a whole, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic.


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