Chicago mayoral finalists Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson split on crime strategy

Chicago election finalists Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson, who will go head-to-head to become the Windy City’s new mayor, are split on their approach to crime after Lori Lightfoot’s historic defeat.

Lightfoot, elected in a landslide victory in 2019 as the city’s first Black woman and openly gay mayor, placed third among nine candidates in Tuesday’s non-partisan election, becoming the city’s first mayor in 40 years to serve for just one term. Earning just 17% of the vote, the progressive Lightfoot faced widespread criticism namely over violent crime, as well as her handling of the pandemic, an 11-day teachers’ strike and racial justice protests and violent demonstrations in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Tuesday’s two top vote-getters, Vallas, who secured 34%, and Johnson, who secured 20%, are advancing to the April 4 runoff election while crime remains a lightning-rod issue.

Vallas, a 69-year-old former head of Chicago Public Schools, is pledging to return the Chicago Police Department to its "core mission to serve and protect the people of Chicago," according to his campaign website. "Public safety is a human right, and it is the government’s responsibility to ensure residents feel safe and secure," his website reads. "Confronting the city’s crime problem and ensuring our residents’ safety is my top priority. Chicagoans deserve a city that is safe for ALL."


The campaign page says, "city leadership has surrendered us all to a criminal element that acts with seeming impunity in treating unsuspecting, innocent people as prey. The data confirms their confidence that few of them will ever be held accountable." 

Among his campaign promises is to rebuild sworn officer staffing from the current 11,710 to the fully appropriated 13,500 level that existed when he was the City of Chicago Budget Director.

Vallas had also promised the immediate dismissal of "absentee" Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown if elected. However, Brown and John Lausch, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced their resignations Wednesday following Lightfoot’s defeat.

Brown’s resignation is effective March 16. Lausch’s will go into effect March 11.

Vallas, who previously ran unsuccessful bids for mayor, governor and lieutenant governor of Illinois, helped last year in negotiating Chicago’s police union’s new contract with the department.

Endorsed by Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, his campaign promised also include building a city-led witness protection program and a forensic crime lab within the department, as well as re-instituting a community policing model to form "strong relationships with the trusted messengers and leaders living and working in the beats they patrol."

The more progressive candidate, Cook County Commissioner Johnson’s approach to public safety is to focus on the root causes of violence by bolstering education, jobs, housing and mental health.

"We have placed too much pressure and responsibility on law enforcement to behave as social workers, counselors, marriage therapists," Johnson said Wednesday in an appearance on WTTW’s "Chicago Tonight." "That’s not what law enforcement should be doing. I’m gonna make sure that law enforcement actually gets to do their job."

In searching for Brown’s replacement, Johnson said he would look for a police superintendent who "understands the unique nature of the city of Chicago."

A former teacher and union organizer endorsed by the Chicago Teacher’s Union and other progressive groups, Johnson has said the Chicago Police Department must solve more homicides. If elected, he wants to promote 200 detectives to that effort. He also reportedly wants to launch a violence intervention program for the transit authority, establish a Missing Persons Initiative, a CPD Anti-Gun Trafficker Department and a Mayor’s Office of Community Safety.

A rallying cry after Breonna Taylor’s death, Johnson wants to end no-knock warrants, according to USA Today.

Johnson also supports reparations for "survivors of police torture," erasing the city’s gang database, terminating officers affiliated with far-right groups and working closely with the city's new civilian police oversight body. Johnson wants to re-open 14 city-run mental health clinics and wants health professionals to respond to more crisis calls in lieu of police officers.