We’re going to have a mayoral election this year. Not just this year, but next month. Here’s how we think the candidates stand, as the campaign starts to get real.
1. Chuy Garcia
Last month, Garcia received a $1 million donation from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, a powerful labor organization that don’t make no waves and don’t back no losers. The union also released a poll finding that Garcia would get 25 percent of the vote in the Feb. 28 primary, compared to 18 percent for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, 14 percent for Paul Vallas, and 10 percent for Willie Wilson. As a congressman, Garcia is in a much stronger position than when he entered the race for mayor eight years ago as a county commissioner unknown outside his Southwest Side district. Garcia revived his political career by forcing Rahm Emanuel into a runoff, but voters didn’t think he had the experience to be mayor. Now, they do. This is not just Garcia’s moment, but his community’s. Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in Chicago, and are asserting themselves politically. Delia Ramirez, who was endorsed by Garcia, won the new Latino-influence congressional seat on the Northwest Side. Garcia and his protégés have been dismantling the old Irish political machine on the Southwest Side — led by Garcia’s nemesis, Ald. Ed Burke — and replacing it with a Latino machine, led by Garcia. Last fall, the windows of Garcia’s Archer Avenue campaign headquarters were filled with signs for state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, County Commissioner Alma Anaya, state Sen. Celina Villanueva, and judicial candidate Iris Y. Chavira. This year, Garcia is backing Jeylu Gutierrez to replace the retiring Burke on the City Council. As the Irish dominated 20th Century Chicago politics, Latinos may dominate the 21st Century. In its historical significance, Garcia’s candidacy may rival Harold Washington’s as a community’s coming of age; it’s hard to beat history.
2. Paul Vallas
Paul Vallas looks like the bad penny of Chicago politics, turning up again after losing elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and mayor. Don’t handicap this election based on the last three, though. This time, Vallas is the only white candidate in the race: he doesn’t have to share that constituency with Bill Daley, Jerry Joyce, or Garry McCarthy. Vallas is also running as a “back the blue” candidate at a time when the city is experiencing 700 murders a year, and 70 percent of voters list crime and public safety as their first or second most important issue. Vallas’s public safety plan includes restoring the police force to 13,000 officers, with 10 percent in the detective rank, hiring 600 to 700 officers for a CTA Police Transit Unit, and waiving the residency requirement in order to rehire former officers who have left the city.* Vallas also wants to fire Superintendent David Brown, but so does every candidate. Vallas could do very well in the first responder neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest sides, as well as among white lakefront voters who worry that crime is driving away corporate headquarters. If he cancels the police residency requirement, though, his voters won’t be around to re-elect him in 2027. Clearing and Garfield Ridge would turn 100 percent Latino within three months.
*Editor’s note: The Vallas campaign reached out to Chicago magazine to provide the following clarification: “[A]s Mayor I would allow CPD recruits to not have to maintain a Chicago residence until their 18-month probationary period is up. … By providing this time for recruits, it allows those who are not from Chicago or even Illinois the opportunity to search for a neighborhood and get familiar with the City of Chicago.”
Lightfoot is the incumbent, but she’s not campaigning like one. The mayor is sending out desperate fundraising emails, begging for donations so she can keep her Odd Couple ads on the air: “Advertising is really expensive, and if we can’t raise enough money by the end of the year, we’ll have to start making cuts.” She is attacking Garcia for taking a $200,000 donation from an independent committee funded by cryptocurrency fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried: “Garcia is a member of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, which regulates portions of the digital assets industry that includes cryptocurrency.” Paul Vallas is “heavily funded by Republican donors and megadonors.” Lightfoot bites at her opponents’ ankles because she can’t run on her own record. In 2019, the year she took office, Chicago had 490 murders; in 2020, 769; in 2021, 797; in 2022, 630. Crime has doubled on the CTA. Illinois’s wealthiest man, Ken Griffin, moved his Citadel hedge fund to Miami because employees no longer felt safe here, and took his collection of paintings out of the Art Institute, too. Three out of four Chicagoans say they want a new mayor. The question is not whether Lightfoot will be re-elected, but whether she will make the April runoff.
Wilson is the most conservative candidate in the race, which should not be surprising, since he is also the wealthiest. His public safety plan is to “take the cuffs off the police and put them on the crooks.” At a Dec.13 mayoral forum at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park, Wilson was asked whether he favored the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, which would raise real estate transfer taxes on properties over $1 million to fund programs for the homeless. Nope. Raising taxes drives people out of the city. Wilson can always count on 10 percent of the vote. One of the dynamics of this race is that there are seven Black candidates, versus one white and one Latino. (The Triibe asked, “Are there too many black people running for mayor?”) Wilson can’t win, but he could draw enough votes from other Black candidates to produce a Garcia-Vallas runoff.
Brandon Johnson could be mayor someday. At the Dec. 13 forum, the 46-year-old county commissioner and former schoolteacher projected a young professional polish that was lacking in all the other candidates, as he talked of raising his family on the West Side and sending his children to Chicago Public Schools. Johnson is the favored candidate of the far left: endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and most of the democratic socialists running for City Council; endorsed by the Girl I Guess Progressive Voter Guide; subject of a puffball Q&A in Jacobin. Johnson will do well in wards with a lot of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members: at the forum, he repeated the DSA line that “treatment, not trauma” is the answer to crime, meaning police shouldn’t be asked to perform tasks better suited to social workers. Most progressive voters will see Garcia as a more practical, electable candidate, though. A good career path for Johnson: run for the seat of 81-year-old Rep. Danny Davis, who has been ready to fall off the tree for several cycles now, then come back as a congressman in 2031. That’s working for Garcia.
6. Kam Buckner
Buckner is a Black, progressive candidate in a race with too many Black, progressive candidates. As a state representative, he helped pass some of the last General Assembly’s most significant legislation, including the SAFE-T Act and an elected Chicago school board. He boasts that his lakefront district, which runs from the Gold Coast to South Shore, is the most diverse in the state. (It’s the descendant of a district that then-state Sen. Barack Obama drew so he could represent wealthy constituents who would fund his U.S. Senate run.) Buckner doesn’t have to give up his seat to run for mayor, and the campaign will help him escape the obscurity that is the lot of state legislators in Chicago. He’s got nothing to lose, but he’s not going to win.
7. Sophia King
As chair of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, 4th Ward alderwoman King helped create the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which hears complaints against officers. As a mayoral candidate, she is running a pro-cop campaign, proposing to fill 1,600 vacancies on the force and bring back 1,000 retired officers to investigate non-violent crime. “The number one request I get is for more police presence,” King said at the Dec. 13 forum. “What does that tell me? That there’s still a respect and a reverence for police. We can not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can uplift police and hold them accountable. We can have safety and justice.”
Sawyer, the 6th Ward alderman, wants to become the third son of a mayor elected mayor himself, after Carter Harrison Jr. and Richard M. Daley. Their fathers were popular mayors, though. Eugene Sawyer was appointed to replace Harold Washington, over the objection of most of his Black colleagues, served 17 months without distinction, and was defeated in the primary by Daley.
9. Ja’Mal Green
Just like in 2019, Willie Wilson challenged Green’s petitions. So Green retaliated by challenging Wilson’s. Former state Sen. Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon allegedly offered Green a bribe to drop his challenge. The two candidates eventually agreed to lay off each other, and Green won the lottery to appear at the top of the ballot. Green is now out with a $5 billion E.P.I.C. Public Safety Plan, which includes:
- Providing citizens with tracking devices (such as Apple air tags) and more than doubling officers’ plate scanners to address carjacking cases.
- Reopening mental health clinics and hiring two therapists per CPD district to serve officers in light of recent officer suicides.
- Introducing a CTA armed and unarmed peacekeepers agency to keep riders safe.
$5 billion is nearly half the city’s annual budget, though, so Green needs to explain how he’s going to pay for this.