U.S. NewsCrime


Democrats eye Chicago mayoral election with opposing crime platforms

The two Democrats in the running for Chicago's mayor have different strategies for addressing crime, and Democrats want to know which one voters like.
Posted at 9:45 PM, Apr 03, 2023

It's a political battle for the ages between two Democrats with drastically different agendas for the future of America's third largest city.

On the progressive side is Brandon Johnson, a former teacher and union organizer who has been endorsed by the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

His opponent is the more conservative Democrat Paul Vallas, a former public school executive laser-focused on public safety who is backed by the Chicago police union and prominent business groups.

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson celebrates with supporters.

Progressive Brandon Johnson narrowly wins Chicago's mayoral seat

With policing a central issue in the election, Chicago voters opted for the candidate who pledged a more "holistic approach" toward addressing crime.


As the saying goes, "All politics is local." Still, the bruising contest in the Windy City reflects nationwide tensions within the Democratic Party on how to address crime and other issues in the wake of the pandemic.

"If you're going to do something about the crime, then yeah, put the police out there like you say you're going to do," said David DeJesus, a Chicago voter from the South Side area.

"There's cops all around thankfully, but I do think that they should be paid more," said Gabrielle Tatuch, a Chicago voter from the Gold Coast neighborhood.

Like in many U.S. cities, crime surged in Chicago during the pandemic.

In 2021, the number of homicides reached a 25-year high. Though that number went down last year, and the city has a lower murder rate than others in the Midwest — like Milwaukee, Cleveland and St. Louis — polls show crime is by far the most important issue to Chicagoans.

"You can't park without your car getting broke in," said Latoya Johnson, a Chicago voter from the West Side area.

A Chicago Police Department vehicle is parked

Public safety debate fuels voters ahead of Chicago election

Public safety is a national concern that motivates people to vote, especially in non-presidential years. That is especially true in Chicago.


Vallas and Johnson agree that Chicago needs to be safer, but vastly disagree on how to make it happen.

Vallas, who wants to add nearly 2,000 police officers to patrol neighborhoods and mass transit citywide, said at a recent campaign rally that "public safety is the fundamental right of every American. It is a civil right." The 69-year-old, who didn't respond to multiple requests from Scripps News for an interview, says many officers who recently retired or left the city would come back if he wins.

As for Johnson, he told Scripps News he wants to train and promote 200 detectives from the existing rank and file, and have mental health professionals respond to crisis calls instead of police. He also wants to tackle what he calls the root causes of crime: lack of investment and employment on the city's impoverished South and West sides.

"I live in one of those neighborhoods where 60% of the violence occurs, on the West side of Chicago," Johnson said. "It's a beautiful community, but it is a community that has been disinvested in over generations now."

The 47-year-old has been heavily attacked by Vallas for saying on a radio show in 2020 that defunding the police was not just a slogan but "an actual real political goal."

When asked by Scripps News to clarify his position, Johnson replied,"My position is the same, right? I'm not going to defund the police. And we have to recognize that when Black men and Black women … are being tortured and tormented by police, this is a serious problem."

Democrats nationwide are closely watching the race to see which vision of policing resonates the most with voters.

"This election is a referendum on those two crime platforms, and depending on who prevails, I think can send messages to other parts of the country and other cities," said Nick Kachiroubas, a professor at DePaul University's School of Public Service.

Both Johnson and Vallas beat Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the election's first round in February, with Vallas taking home 33% of the votes and Johnson 22%. 

Recent polls show Johnson closing the gap with Vallas keeping a slight lead.