Soaring crime was the top issue for Chicago voters in Tuesday’s mayoral election — and the two Democrats who advanced to the April 4 runoff have very different approaches to public safety. 

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, the top vote-getter in the first round, and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson will face off after making incumbent Lori Lightfoot the first Windy City mayor in four decades to miss out on a second term — in large part due to the decades-high crime rate on her watch.

Under Lightfoot, Chicago recorded 695 murders at the end of 2022 and 804 in 2021 — a level not seen in the Windy City in a quarter-century.

In addition, the city saw more than 20,000 cases of theft in 2022, nearly double the amount of theft incidents in 2021, according to the Chicago Police Department’s end-of-year report. 

In the first three weeks of 2023, crime rates in the city have skyrocketed by 61%, compared to last year, according to CPD.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for re-election Tuesday night.

Vallas, the only white candidate in the field of nine who sought to unseat Lightfoot, is considered the tough-on-crime candidate, having earned the endorsement of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police. 

“Public safety is the fundamental right of every American,” Vallas told supporters Tuesday night. “It is a civil right, and it is the principal responsibility of government. We will have a safe Chicago, and we will make Chicago the safest city in America.”

Vallas campaigned heavily on a platform of increased funding for police and decried what he called the “utter breakdown of law and order” under Lightfoot. 

The 69-year-old’s public safety plan called for the firing of Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown — who announced Wednesday that he would resign effective March 16 — and for filling the more than 1,600 existing vacancies at the Chicago Police Department.

Vallas also pledged to use city funds to hire additional police officers, rather than the current practice of contracting private security to patrol Chicago’s trains and buses.

Most controversially, Vallas advocated for loosening CPD’s chase policy enacted last year, which prohibits officers from foot pursuits of people who are suspected of minor offenses or are simply running away.

“What I would do is I would allow them to chase, and I would establish sensible rules,” Vallas said, arguing that if he stops “punishing the police for being proactive and responsive” it would help counteract “the exodus of officers” from the Second City.

Paul Vallas
Paul Vallas has been known as the tough on crime candidate.

Lightfoot called Vallas too conservative for Chicago, accusing him of using “the ultimate dog whistle” by saying his campaign was about “taking back our city.”

Brandon Johnson has never had to worry about being called too conservative.

In a 2020 radio interview, Johnson said “defund the police” is not just a slogan but “an actual real political goal,” and as a commissioner, he sponsored a nonbinding resolution to redirect money from policing and jails to social services.

That opened him up to criticism from campaign rivals, including Lightfoot. However, it likely helped win his candidacy the endorsement of the Chicago Teachers Union and other progressive organizations, including United Working Families — the Illinois equivalent of New York’s left-wing Working Families Party.

Johnson’s plan to fight crime calls for implementing the federal consent decree overseeing the Chicago Police Department, which was enacted in 2019 following the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald and requires reform of training, policies, and practices in a number of areas — including use of force.

Despite Johnson’s past statements, he bristles at characterization of his platform — which also calls for increased spending on jobs, education, housing and transportation — as extreme or radical.

Brandon Johnson
Brandon Johnson has been open about his support of the defund the police movement.

“What I do know is the city of Chicago needs a better, stronger, safer city. And that means making sure that our schools are fully supported and funded, reliable transportation, good paying jobs, affordable housing, pathway to homeownership,” Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times after his second-place finish Tuesday.

“I mean, these are things that are not extreme or radical ideas. It’s what the families want in the city of Chicago,” he added. 

Johnson has also called for promoting 200 officers to detective positions and opening up mental health centers in the city. 

“My plan works. Paul Vallas has been dishonest, as he always has been,” Johnson said Tuesday. “The safest cities in America invest in people. He has made promises that he can’t keep. What Paul Vallas has put forth is the same ol’, same ol’ that continues to leave communities behind and it makes us less safe.”