(New York) Chicago voters haven’t elected a Republican mayor since William (Big Bill) Thompson, who is best remembered in history for his open alliance with one Al Capone. Are they finally ready to elect another?
The question would not fail to irritate Paul Vallas. Last Tuesday, the former head of Chicago Public Schools came out ahead in the first round of the Democratic stronghold’s mayoral election, which saw outgoing mayor Lori Lightfoot snapped out after just one term.
Like all the candidates in the running – there were nine at the start – Paul Vallas ran under the Democratic banner. But his competitors have nonetheless accused him of being a Republican in disguise. And they were able to use his own words to back up that accusation.
“I’m more of a Republican than a Democrat,” Paul Vallas said in 2009 in an interview that resurfaced in ads run by two of his rivals. “If I were to run for office again, I would do so as a Republican,” he added.
Never mind. A plurality of Chicago voters loved the race’s only white candidate’s speech on crime, the overriding theme of this election, and the Achilles’ heel of Lori Lightfoot, who made history by becoming the first black (and lesbian) mayor of the third largest city in the United States.
“Things have gotten better over the past year, especially with regard to carjackings,” commented Dick Simpson, a longtime observer and actor in Chicago municipal politics. “But citizens remain concerned about crime. The homicide rate is too high and serious crimes continue. »
Candidates from the antipodes
Aged 69, Paul Vallas poses as a candidate for public order. He promises to “make Chicago the safest city in America” by filling 1,700 vacancies in the police department, “uncuffing” officers to help them fight crime, and adding 700 new officer positions, among others.
With the support of 34% of voters in the first round, he will face, on April 4, the date of the second round, Brandon Johnson, who won 20% of the vote (Lori Lightfoot finished third with 17% of the vote).
The finalists couldn’t be more different from each other on crime. Elected to the post of Cook County Commissioner in 2018, Brandon Johnson is a labor organizer who called for the “defunding” of the police after the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The 46-year-old black candidate says he wants to s tackling the root causes of violence by investing in education, jobs, housing and mental health.
In the face of the opposing forces, political buffs in Chicago are rubbing their hands, predicting an explosive campaign, where ideological issues will accentuate the racial dynamics of a city where whites, blacks and Latinos each make up a third of the population. ‘electorate.
True Republicans, on the other hand, salivate at the prospect of a fratricidal struggle between Democrats on a theme that has national resonance.
To win, Brandon Johnson will have to demonstrate that this fight has nothing to do with fratricide, according to Victor Reyes, veteran of municipal politics in Chicago. “He must portray Paul [Vallas] like a Trumpist and a Republican,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Paul Vallas, a “Trumpist”? When The Press posed this question to Dick Simpson, he paused before replying: “Well, he’s been associated with Trump supporters, including the head of the police union and some of the groups that are trying to ban discussions on gay rights in schools and to ban books. »
“That does not mean that he himself is a far-right Republican à la Trump,” added the one who has been a city councilor, consultant to two Chicago mayors (Jane Byrne and Harold Washington) and political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Going beyond its base”
One thing is certain: Paul Vallas has experience to spare. After serving as budget director under Mayor Richard Daley in the early 1990s, he led public schools in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Connecticut, with varying success. He also unsuccessfully ran for various positions, including that of governor of Illinois in 2002 and mayor of Chicago in 2019, still as a Democrat.
The curriculum vitae of Brandon Johnson, an ex-teacher, is much shorter. But the challenge he will have to overcome by April 4 is no different from that of his rival, according to Dick Simpson.
“Each of the candidates must go beyond their base and their own ethnic group and obtain the support of at least one of the other racial groups,” explained the professor emeritus.
“In the case of Vallas, he has to appear a little less conservative, a little less aggressive about the police. In Johnson’s case, he needs to make it clear that he has programs that will work. He must convince Latinos or white people that he is progressive, that he will help them, but within the limits of the city budget and other constraints. »
Whether Republican at heart or Democrat at heart, the winner will probably never be as corrupt as Big Bill Thompson, Al Capone’s man for mayor of Chicago.