A competitive Chicago mayoral election will take place on Feb. 28. Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot is seeking reelection amidst poor approval ratings likely related to her handling of rising violent crime, failures in the Chicago Transit Authority system, and her upfront, hostile confrontations with public officials.
Eight challengers are running to oust Lightfoot from city hall. The candidates include Rep. Jesus “Chuy” García, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Alderman Roderick Sawyer, businessman Willie Wilson, Alderperson Sophia King, community activist Ja’Mal Green, state Rep. Kam Buckner, and former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas.
To win, a candidate must get 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, a runoff election will occur between the top two candidates on April 4. Recent polling shows a statistical three-way tie between Vallas, García, and Lightfoot.
In 2019, Lightfoot defeated Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the runoff with 74 percent of the vote compared to her 26 percent. Now, polls show that Lightfoot might not make the runoff and is in danger of becoming the first Chicago mayor to lose reelection since Eugene Sawyer in 1989. In a December poll taken by M3 Strategies, Chicago voters gave Lightfoot an abysmal disapproval rating of 74 percent, and 68 percent said she does not deserve a second term in office.
The No. 1 issue Chicagoans are facing is crime. The Chicago Police Department has released numbers that show that crime has continued to increase in 2023. Additionally, 76 percent of people say that Chicago is unsafe, according to Crain’s Chicago Business and the Daily Line, and only 9 percent agree that the city is heading in the right direction.
Because of this, candidates are going on offense against Lightfoot’s agenda. Chuy García, who has 17 percent support, according to a poll taken last week, has said, “A mayor who cannot keep us safe is a mayor we cannot afford to keep.” While García’s plan to hire more officers is well-advised, he too is part of the Chicago Machine. He is connected to corruption scandals involving former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Paul Vallas is also making strides this election cycle. He ranked first in that same poll, with 19 percent support. Vallas has endorsed school choice and has said that it is “the civil rights issue for this generation.” He has landed endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago Tribune for his plans to fire Police Superintendent David Brown, hire more police, and freeze property taxes.
Willie Wilson is also making strides this election cycle. Wilson touted his pro-police message in a January debate when he said he would empower police officers to catch fleeing suspects. In a recent interview on Fox New’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, Wilson called Lightfoot the “worst mayor we’ve ever had.” Wilson is running his fifth campaign for office and is approaching it as an outsider populist.
Candidate Brandon Johnson has accused Lightfoot of failing the city and has indicated that he would take an even more progressive approach to the police than Lightfoot. He supports increasing taxes and is endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union. Despite the progressive overtones of his campaign, Johnson has fallen in the latest polls and now has around 11 percent support, placing him in 5th place among the candidates. Chicago voters are not resonating with another staunch progressive.
To ensure Lightfoot loses reelection and to prevent another progressive extremist from taking her spot, Republican and moderate voters in Chicago will need to coalesce around Wilson or Vallas. While Wilson is leading among poor African American voters, Vallas is leading among white voters and places second among male voters.
While conservative voters make up only a small portion voters in Chicago, they can still play a crucial role in removing Lori Lightfoot from office.
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