“Police state!”




“Union stooge!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Back the Blue!”

That’s a condensed version of the rhetoric we’re going to hear for the next five weeks during the mayoral runoff between Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson. Chicago’s most right-wing and left-wing voters got the candidates they wanted on Tuesday night. In politics, the energy is at the extremes. Whichever candidate does the best job of portraying his opponent as a radical who is a threat to truth, justice, and the Chicago Way will win the election. Johnson got right to it in his victory speech, characterizing Vallas as a Windy City Donald Trump, only windier.

“Paul Vallas is someone who is supported by the January 6 insurrectionists,” he said, referring to Vallas’s endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police, whose president, John Catanzara, once said he understood the frustration of Trump champions who stormed the U.S. Capitol because they believed the election was stolen. “He switched parties when President Barack Obama became president of the United States. He went as far as to say he’s more of a Republican than anything else. He says he fundamentally opposes abortion. These are direct quotes.”

Vallas “has literally failed everywhere he has gone,” Johnson said of Vallas, who ran the schools in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. “Paul Vallas is the author of ‘The Tale of Two Cities’…We cannot have this man as the mayor of the city of Chicago.” 

Vallas did not mention Johnson by name — he wants to talk about the issues, he says — but he did promise to be the hard hand against crime and disorder, the cornerstone of a campaign that increased his vote share from 5 percent in 2019 to 33 percent on Tuesday — 13 points ahead of Johnson. 

“Public safety is the fundamental right of every American,” Vallas said. “It is a civil right, and it is the principal responsibility of government. We will have a safe Chicago. We will make Chicago the safest city in America. It will not only come from providing the police with the resources and the support that they need, but from building the bond between the police department and the community so we have true community policing…I will also…have zero tolerance when it comes to violating the law or violating the Constitution. And this is coming from a family of four police officers, including my wife.”

Vallas wants to hire 1,800 more police officers and return them to neighborhood beats. Johnson won’t commit to filling vacancies in the department, and wants social workers, not cops, to handle mental health emergencies.

 Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the incumbent they both defeated, may have provided each candidate with his best line of attack: Johnson will take away your money and your sense of security, Vallas will take away your rights. At a Women for Lightfoot rally on Saturday, she called Johnson a “false prophet” who wants to raise taxes $800 million and “cut your police.” Vallas, she said, is “playing footsie with the far right wing…people that want to make sure that people of color women, gays and lesbians in this town, never have purpose or powerful voice.” If Johnson wins, Chicago will turn into the lawless world of Mad Max: Fury Road. If Vallas wins, it will become Gilead from The Handmaid’s Tale.

Vallas won his primary victory with big margins in conservative white wards on the Northwest Side, the Southwest Side, and the lakefront. In the 19th Ward, which consists of Beverly and Mount Greenwood, he got 13,517 votes, for 62 percent. (If you’re looking for guilt by association with Trump, look at Mount Greenwood, where neighborhoods that supported Trump gave Vallas more than 85 percent of their votes. Those folks have been taking down their “Let’s Go Brandon” flags.) In the 41st Ward, which consists of Norwood and Edison parks, he got 12,134, for 72 percent. Those two wards accounted for 15 percent of his citywide total. Vallas also won majorities in the 2nd Ward (Near North Side), 11th Ward (Bridgeport), 13th Ward (Clearing), 39th Ward (Sauganash), 42nd Ward (Loop), 43rd Ward (Lincoln Park), 45th Ward (Jefferson Park) and 50th Ward (West Ridge). Since Vallas was the only white, conservative candidate, he may have maxed out his support among that demographic. Johnson won in progressive wards in the Milwaukee Avenue corridor and on the Far North Side. His best ward was the 35th, in Logan Square and Avondale, which is represented by democratic socialist alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. There, he won 42.8 percent, which amounted to 4,258 votes. Johnson did not win a majority in any ward, and only topped 35 percent in three others: the 1st Ward (Wicker Park), 47th Ward (Lincoln Square), and 49th Ward (Rogers Park). Johnson would seem to have a lot of room for growth in Black wards on the South and West sides, where he ran third behind Lightfoot and Willie Wilson. Still, his loyal CTU and United Working Families door knockers are going to have to put up a big ground game to overcome Vallas’s advantage among middle and upper-middle-class whites, who donate money and turn out to vote. Both candidates look competitive in Latino wards, where each finished second or third behind Chuy Garcia.

“Today is about Vallas getting Wilson on his side and the CTU/progressive world bullying Chuy into supporting Johnson,” political strategist Tom Bowen tweeted this morning.

This will not, as some people are saying, be a repeat of the 1983 mayoral election, when the only issue dividing Bernie Epton and Harold Washington was race. Back then, Chicago had never been run by a Black mayor. Chicago has now been run by two Black mayors. It will, however, be the most polarizing mayoral election since 1983, with Vallas and Johnson as far apart as two mayoral candidates can be on policing, education, taxation, and just about every other issue facing Chicago today.