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Lori Lightfoot, the city's first full-term mayor, is facing an uphill battle for reelection. She has struggled to control crime rates while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher strikes and protests over police violence.
Lightfoot is facing off against three candidates who represent opposite positions on public safety and education issues: former schools chief Paul Vallas, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and Congressman Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat from Chicago, was elected mayor in 2016. As an outsider to politics in Chicago, her campaign focused on rooting out corruption from City Hall.
She has earned the support of several progressive groups, such as Chicago Teachers Union. Her campaign has focused on issues related to public safety such as crime reduction. Furthermore, she has highlighted her record for investing in neighborhoods and supporting workers by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
However, since Lightfoot's election as mayor, crime and violence in Chicago have seen an uptick - particularly during her tenure as mayor. Murders in the city increased by nearly 40% while robberies and thefts experienced double-digit percentage increases.
Lightfoot, a former prosecutor and private attorney, has been vocal in her criticism of the police force. She has taken issue with Chicago police union practices that discriminate against Black men, as well as demanding reforms to officer disciplinary processes.
Despite her efforts to combat violence, many Chicagoans remain concerned about high rates of crime and violence in their neighborhoods. While homicides have decreased somewhat from their peak during the COVID-19 pandemic, robberies and other types of crimes continue to increase across Chicago.
Though the race is nonpartisan, there has been a distinct divide between candidates on how to approach police reform in Chicago. Paul Vallas, an ex-Chicago public schools CEO, has taken aim at Lightfoot's record on crime and pledged to restore law and order in the city.
Brandon Johnson, a former teacher endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, has also stressed the importance of public safety and is running with an anti-police message. His support has grown in predominantly white Southwest and Northwest wards that boast significant concentrations of police.
Chicago's race for mayor is a referendum on public safety and policing policies that have regressed under Lightfoot's leadership. She has faced criticism for her temperament, past clashes with left-leaning city officials, and divisive response to protests over George Floyd's killing. Additionally, she hasn't fulfilled some of her campaign promises such as creating civilian oversight of the Chicago police department.
Vallas has a record of bold school-system reform in Philadelphia and New Orleans. He has faced criticism for closing neighborhood schools, creating charter schools and exploring private providers of public education in some of the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
But he has a proven record of winning and keeping support from teachers' unions. He has endorsed an elected school board, promising more staff and free transit for CPS students.
Lightfoot has prioritized her campaign against crime, while Vallas has taken a tough stance in favor of increased police presence on Chicago's streets. He has supported the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and received high-profile endorsements from politicians and business leaders alike.
Johnson, a former educator and union organizer who is not well-known politically, has gained momentum by being supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, which contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars towards his campaign. On his platform he calls for launching an "CTA Violence Intervention Program" with community organizations connecting people in need with housing and mental health services, as well as waiving fares year-round for CPS students.
He has attacked Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, labeling her office "unreliable." He plans to restore the police department back up to 13,500 sworn officers by recruiting retired officers and eliminating residency requirements for recruits. Furthermore, he wants to create a crime review unit to investigate decisions made by both attorneys general and prosecutors in Cook County.
Vallas has consistently opposed the Chicago Police Department's reliance on merit promotions and unpaid overtime for officers. He has also promised to reduce crime in Chicago by focusing on gun violence reduction and creating a city crime lab to trace guns.
Lightfoot, despite her incumbency, has struggled to win over voters who are frustrated with her low approval rating, mishandled crises and inaction on crime issues. Additionally, Black and Hispanic voters--who make up a substantial part of the city population--are less likely to vote for candidates that they perceive as representing their interests.
On May 19th, Chicago may witness a runoff between incumbent Lori Lightfoot and her challenger Sophia King. With nine candidates running, conflicting polls, and over 100,000 mail-in ballots yet to be counted, it's impossible to predict who will emerge victorious in this crowded field of nine candidates.
King has been an outspoken supporter of improving the economy in her community, creating jobs and opening up opportunities for all. She led Invest Southwest, which brought investment to underserved neighborhoods on both South and West sides of Chicago. Additionally, King called for a $15 minimum wage as well as renaming Lake Shore Drive to honor Jean Baptiste Point DuSable - a Black founder of Chicago - with honorary titles.
She has been an outspoken supporter of the Empower Communities for Public Safety community police oversight ordinance. Additionally, she advocated for a community response to gun violence by founding Ariel Community Academy in North Kenwood-Oakland.
Her professional background includes a longstanding dedication to youth programs, women's rights and African American education. Through her leadership roles in multiple community organizations, she has been able to bring together diverse residents of Kenwood-Oakland, Bronzeville and beyond in order to address some of Chicago's most pressing problems.
With her background in small business, she has a unique perspective on how to strengthen the economy of her community and make it an environment where all can prosper. She advocates for increasing minority business ownership and equitable representation for DBEs on City contracts.
She has declared herself a "pro-business progressive," promising to address Chicago's pension issue through progressive forms of taxes. Additionally, she intends to bridge the racial gap in city contracting and collaborate with unions on vocational and trade training programs for residents.
Her campaign is focused on improving public safety, with an emphasis on eliminating the gang database and creating a witness protection program. Furthermore, she wants to establish an Office of Gun Violence Prevention and provide more incentives for youth employment in order to reduce crime rates.
Chicago voters will select a new mayor for City Hall in April, but the race is shaping up as one of the tightest in recent memory. Of the nine candidates running for the job, none is expected to receive 50% of the vote.
Top two candidates will face off in a runoff election, while other hopefuls vie to gain voters in this election that is heavily focused on crime and public safety. With an unprecedented number of early votes and mail-in ballots cast so far, there is a variety of opinions regarding how best to make Chicago safer.
Crime and police have been at the forefront of discussions and debates during the race for mayor, especially on South and West sides of town. While homicide rates in Chicago have decreased since COVID-19, that doesn't mean crime has stopped occurring - particularly on these two sides of town.
Some candidates are proposing to address those problems through various tactics, such as beefing up the police and creating a civilian oversight board. Others support eliminating cash bail and creating safe injection sites for drug users.
Other candidates are committed to improving education, such as a former CPS schoolteacher and Cook County commissioner. Brandon Johnson - the candidate with the most endorsements from influential progressive unions - wants to divert funds away from police operations and towards social services.
Kam Buckner is another candidate running for office; a lawyer who has represented parts of Bronzeville, the Loop and Hyde Park. With a reputation as a moderate, he has gained support from Chicago Teachers Union - the largest teachers union in America - which supports him.
He has also criticized Lightfoot, asserting she isn't doing enough to reduce crime. Additionally, he suggested her hand-selected police superintendent should be removed.
Lightfoot has faced criticism for her temperament and frequent disagreements with the Chicago Teachers Union. Additionally, she is seen as a weak leader who hasn't kept up with her campaign promises.
Should she make it through to the runoff, Lightfoot would become Chicago's first Black woman mayor in over 100 years and its first openly gay mayor.