1. Paul Vallas
Vallas is so confident of finishing first on Tuesday he’s acting like he’s already mayor. On Sunday, he held a meet and greet at Barba Yianni, a Greek restaurant in Lincoln Square. The candidate slipped in through the back door, then held a brief press conference in front of microphones from all the major TV stations, declaring himself “the frontrunner” and never mentioning his opponents by name.
“I’m gonna end this campaign talking about issues and issues that I began to talk about long before I even became a candidate,” Vallas told his supporters, who were mostly on the senior end. “And that is public safety, which I think is a human right. I think it’s the biggest challenge that we’re facing today. God knows I’ve articulated what I consider to be my pathway to make sure every community is safe and secure. I’m gonna continue to talk about quality schools. And I’m gonna continue to talk about how we’re going to make this city a city that works again.”
Then the man who would be Chicago’s first Greek-American mayor slipped away to do a radio interview — busy man! — leaving his fans to enjoy a Greek buffet of salad, pita bread, spanakopita, potatoes, chicken kebabs, and gyros. Chicago loves a strongman, and Vallas has been sticking to his law-and-order message, promising to restore safety to a city where murders have increased 25 percent over the last four years. Tough on crime is a message as suited for 2023 as Lori Lightfoot’s tough on corruption was for 2019.
A good sign for Vallas: The top early voting sites are Mt. Greenwood Park in the 19th Ward, followed by Roden Library in the 41st Ward. Those are both in Vallas Country, neighborhoods of white, conservative first responders and city workers who couldn’t care less that he liked a racist tweet. According to a Victory Research poll, Vallas is getting 35.7 percent of the vote in Northwest Side wards, and 38.1 percent in Southwest Side wards. He’s also beating every other major candidate in a potential runoff. He’s acting like the mayor because he’s probably going to be the mayor.
2. Brandon Johnson
Like Lightfoot four years ago, the Cook County commissioner is an obscurity who has emerged as a contender in the final stretch of the campaign. North Side progressives who were torn between Johnson and Chuy Garcia seem to be breaking his way. Johnson was endorsed by 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden. On Saturday morning, he campaigned at Little Corner Restaurant in Edgewater with Nick Ward, the democratic socialist candidate for 48th Ward alderman, where he promised to “tax the rich” and protect public education. The young renters ate it up as avidly as their hash browns and eggs.
“The mayor of Chicago said, ‘that Brandon Johnson, he’s a radical and he’s an extremist,'” Johnson said. “Tell me what’s extreme about having art? What’s so extreme about having a social worker and a counselor? What is so radical about having a well-rounded curriculum that is not connected to a standardized test that was meant to prove the so-called inferiority of Black people? If you believe that a better, stronger, safer Chicago is possible, if you believe that no matter what zip code you live in, or what neighborhood you’re raising a family in, that you get to have access to healthcare, you get to have access to mental health care, you get to have reliable transportation, you get to have access to housing and affordable housing, you get to have access to a fully funded neighborhood school where children should not have to apply for something that is free, come over to the West Side and celebrate, because we’re about to make history.”
Maze Jackson, host of the Maze Jackson on WGBX, 1570 AM, says Johnson has “stolen the fire of the progressive vote” from Garcia. His image as a father raising three children, prominently advertised with family photos on his circulars, will appeal to upscale Black Chicagoans.
“The look, the feel — he’s got a whole Black family, where, if you don’t dig down to his socialism, that’s the same Black people that don’t vote for Willie Wilson — college-educated, middle-class,” Jackson says.
Even David Axelrod thinks Johnson “has the momentum” to make the runoff. The left-wing Johnson is already preparing for a matchup with the conservative Democrat Vallas, promising a debate on the issues of race, class, public education, and policing.
“Do we want a better, stronger, safer Chicago that’s built around working people to help some middle class families and then pull the people out of poverty?” Johnson says. “Well, Vallas has been a terrible operative within systems of government. He has left a trail of tears all over the country. So much so that the the loss of Black population is attributed to his policy. That’s why I’ve referred to it as the Negro Removal Act.”
3. Lori Lightfoot
Four years ago, Lightfoot, the political reformer, was the candidate of white do-gooders on the Lakefront. She didn’t do good enough for them, so now she’s trying to reinvent herself as the Black candidate, campaigning with former congressman and Black Panther Bobby Rush, and telling voters that a vote for “somebody not named Lightfoot” — i.e., another Black candidate — “is a vote for Chuy Garcia or Paul Vallas.”
“I don’t know if there is anybody white voting for her,” Maze Jackson said. “The North Side progressives would also have the option of Brandon Johnson. I think Brandon Johnson replaces Lightfoot with white progressives.”
On Saturday, Lightfoot held a “Women for Lightfoot” rally at the International Union of Operating Engineers Hall in Chinatown, attended almost exclusively by middle- and three-quarter-aged Black women. (There was a white guy waving a “Ridin’ with Lightfoot” sign. Also, Lightfoot’s wife was in attendance.) City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin introduced Lightfoot with a plea for gender solidarity: “There are seven men in this race who say she’s not good enough. These seven men say she should have fixed this city within four years. I’ve got a message to those seven men: Back up, we got this!”
Lightfoot told the crowd that a vote for one of her opponents would be a vote to “go backwards.”
“If you care about making sure that we continue to right historic wrongs and invest in areas of our city than without for far too long, that’s on the ballot,” she implored, her hoarse voice sounding hoarser than usual after weeks of campaigning. “If you care about the work that we’ve done to bend the curve on violence that has plagued our city for decades, that’s on the ballot. We have mental health services for free to every one of our people and for the first time serving our children and adolescents with free, culturally competent mental health and trauma services. If you care about the environment and the historic investment that we have made to claim our rightful place as leaders in climate change and fight against the forces that would poison our air, pollute our water, that is on the ballot.”
Lightfoot then attacked Johnson as a “false prophet” and a “smooth guy” who wants to raise taxes by $800 million. She attacked Vallas for “playing footsie with the far right wing of the Republican Party…people that want to make sure that people of color women, gays, and lesbians in this town never have purpose or powerful voice.” She never mentioned Garcia, probably figuring she knocked him out of contention for the runoff with those ads connecting him to Michael Madigan and Samuel Bankman-Fried.
In this election, the problem with being the Black candidate is that there are six other Black candidates. Lightfoot is “doing very well among seniors,” says pollster Matt Podgorski of M3 Strategies. Her best shot at the runoff seems to be peeling off that demographic from Willie Wilson, and hoping Johnson and Garcia split the progressive vote, allowing her to sneak into second place.
4. Chuy Garcia
On Sunday afternoon, I waited nearly an hour in front of the Welles Park Fieldhouse for Garcia and Rep. Jan Schakowsky to appear for a brief “meet and greet” at the early voting site. A columnist for POLITICO and a cameraman from WGN were waiting, too. Forty minutes after their scheduled ETA, Garcia’s campaign called to let me know that Garcia and Schakowsky wouldn’t make it. Car trouble, he explained. That was a perfect metaphor for Garcia’s campaign: The wheels have come off a vehicle that seemed headed unstoppably for the mayor’s office when Garcia announced his candidacy last November at Navy Pier. Back then, Garcia led the rest of the field by 10 points. Now, he’s running third or fourth in the polls.
Former Tribune columnist Eric Zorn voted for Garcia, but was “bothered by his uninspiring, weak-sauce, anodyne, evasive answers to questions, such as this one from a Sun-Times written candidate survey:
Q: Would you broaden the city sales tax to include professional services to match the growing shift to a service-oriented economy?
Garcia: I will always look to expand and broaden our essential services without placing burden on taxpayers.
Compared to the detail-oriented Vallas and the charismatic Johnson, Garcia is an uninspiring, unengaging public speaker. He flubbed his debate with Rahm Emanuel in 2015, and hasn’t improved much since. Garcia would probably be a better mayor than he is a candidate. He is an old-fashioned Chicago-style boss, who has built an impressive political machine on the Southwest Side, where he’s about to take over Ed Burke’s 14th Ward with his hand-picked aldermanic candidate, Jeylu Gutierrez.
Garcia is running “a low-energy campaign that launched way too late,” says Podgorski. “Chuy is barely winning the Hispanic vote. I just don’t see a path for Chuy. He’s not winning his ethnicity.”
A Saturday night rally for Johnson in Humboldt Park featured an all-star lineup of progressive politicians, including Rep. Delia Ramirez, who Garcia supported in her run for Congress last year. Y tu, Delia? Garcia doesn’t need to be mayor. If he loses, he’ll still be a congressman, and he’ll still run the Southwest Side.
5. Willie Wilson
Russ Stewart, a columnist for the Northwest Side Nadig Newspapers, predicts Wilson will lead the field on Tuesday, with 24.4 percent of the vote. “With no Preckwinkle-type running, and Lightfoot having done nothing to develop a Black base law-and-order multi-millionaire capitalist businessman Willie Wilson will get 55 percent of the Black vote and 15 percent of the White vote, or 140,000,” Stewart wrote. Maze Jackson thinks “he will still be the dominant player in the Black community.” Podgorski says Wilson has “tapered off — his votes are going to Lori or Paul.” In the last two mayoral elections, Wilson has gotten around 10 percent of the vote. If he repeats that, he’ll be out of the money, and the runoff.
6. Kam Buckner
A lot of progressives like Buckner’s transit plan…but they’re not voting for Buckner, because there’s a more viable Black progressive in the race.
“I have the utmost respect for Kam Buckner,” tweeted Stephanie Skora, author of the Girl, I Guess Voter Guide. “His work in Springfield has changed the lives of millions for the better, and he’s a real, committed, progressive. But transit is his signature issue, and I think now is the time for some soul-searching about why he’s still in the race. What Kam DOES have is a base of progressive supporters, who could be the difference between Brandon in the runoff, and a runoff featuring Vallas/Wilson/Lightfoot. 2-4% is a lot. We need every single progressive in Chicago to get behind Brandon, & that includes Kam at this point.”
7. Sophia King
Here’s what I wrote about King in a post on strategic voting:
Sophia King, the alderwoman of the 4th Ward, would make an excellent mayor of Chicago. Her approach to public safety is in the middle ground between Willie Wilson’s law-and-order “hunt them down like a rabbit” dictate, and Brandon Johnson’s “treatment not trauma” approach, which would require fewer officers. King wants more cops, and she wants to enforce the federal consent decree on the police department.
“We can uplift police and hold them accountable,” King said during the January 19 WGN debate. “We can have safety and justice.”
Unfortunately, King has raised only $545,000, a tenth of Lightfoot’s $5.1 million, so strategic voters would be advised to cast their ballots for someone with a chance to make the runoff.
8. Ja’Mal Green
My favorite moment of the mayoral campaign was seeing a volunteer in a Ja’Mal Green costume, looking like a giant Muppet, handing out flyers in front of the Harold Washington Library. He called himself “Ja’Mal 2.0.” Pack that costume away and bring it back in four years.
9. Roderick Sawyer
In some opinion surveys, Sawyer has registered 0 percent, meaning nobody the pollsters contacted is voting for him. For this he gave up his City Council seat?