Chicago votes for change – The New York Times

Chicago’s mayoral election has joined the growing list of evidence that Americans are unhappy about crime.

Lori Lightfoot, the incumbent, yesterday became Chicago’s first mayor in 40 years to lose a re-election campaign. Lightfoot — a first-term Progressive — placed third in the early stages of this year’s campaign, which saw nine candidates attempt to qualify for an April runoff. Lightfoot received only 17 percent of the vote at the last count.

The runoff will be between Paul Vallas, a former head of the city’s school system who came out with a tough anti-crime message, and Brandon Johnson, a progressive county commissioner who previously worked as a teacher and union organizer. Vallas came second with 34 percent of the vote and Johnson with 20 percent.

Crime in Chicago has risen sharply since the pandemic began, with serious crimes up 33 percent last year from 2019. The homicide rate is down, but only slightly, from its 2021 peak, and so are robberies and auto thefts have increased recently. In a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of Chicago residents said they felt unsafe.

“Chicagoers are really frustrated with the state of the city, and the crime far overshadows all other concerns,” Julie Bosman, executive director of the Times Chicago bureau, told me. “In a city known for its powerful leaders, it’s not surprising that many Chicagoans see this as Lightfoot’s failure. Many voters I spoke to see this mayoral campaign as an opportunity for a fresh start.”

Crime is a particularly vexing issue for progressive Democrats, both in Chicago and nationally. After police officers killed George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, progressive activists and politicians called for both reforms to reduce police violence and a cut in funding for police departments. Many of the proposed reforms — including body cameras and greater accountability for police misconduct — are popular, but defunding the police is unpopular even with most Democratic voters, polls show.

It became less popular after crime started to rise during the pandemic. In 27 cities that publicly report crime data, the homicide rate last year was 34 percent higher than in 2019, according to the Council on Criminal Justice.

Progressives struggle to come up with a convincing answer. Some have suggested that the rise in crime is mostly a talking point for the right, but the statistics say otherwise. And voters seem to agree with the stats:

  • In New York City, Eric Adams won the 2021 mayoral race by focusing his campaign on crime. In the Democratic primary, he lost just one of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, the wealthiest.

  • In upstate New York last year, Republican candidates focused on crime in the midterms and did much better than usual. Democratic candidates often tried to change the subject. “I think those who said, ‘Don’t talk about crime,’ was an insult to black and brown communities, where a lot of these crimes took place,” Adams said after the election. Nancy Pelosi told The Times’ Maureen Dowd that Democrats might have retained control of the House if the party’s candidates in New York had taken crime more seriously.

  • Republicans too things were going well in Oregon last year, where the largest city – Portland – has become a symbol of post-pandemic disorder. Between 2019 and 2022, homicides nearly tripled, vandalism incidents nearly doubled, and car thefts increased by 69 percent.

Karen Bass, the recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, has developed arguably the most successful progressive message on crime. A former community organizer who spent 12 years in the House of Representatives, Bass defeated a more conservative candidate by not downplaying crime concerns, but speaking about them frequently. Bass himself was the victim of a burglary last year.

She has tried to strike a balance by calling for both the hiring of hundreds more police officers and tougher penalties for abusive officers. “We must stop ongoing crimes and hold people accountable,” she said in her inaugural address. “Let me add so boldly that by addressing the social, health and economic conditions that compromise a safe environment, we can prevent crime and violence in the community.”

The Chicago runoff will be the next test of whether a progressive message on crime can win in a predominantly Democratic city. As in Los Angeles, the more progressive candidate – Johnson – is black, while the more conservative – Vallas – is white.

In the past, Johnson has backed calls to defund the police, but he has tried to avoid the issue during the mayoral campaign. He has instead emphasized his plans to build more housing, expand the preschool and increase funding for social services. He will likely portray Vallas as a conservative out of touch with Chicago. The local police union, whose top officer is a Donald Trump supporter, has backed Vallas.

“No matter where you live, no matter what you look like, you deserve to have a better, stronger and safer Chicago,” Johnson said last night at his election night party.

As executive director of the Chicago schools, Vallas expanded the number of charter schools. As a candidate for mayor, he has overwhelmingly focused on public safety, calling it “a basic human right for Chicagoans,” promising an expansion of police forces, and describing the city as in disarray. He is likely to emphasize Johnson’s previous support for defunding the police.

“We will make Chicago the safest city in America,” Vallas said last night.

Related: Read the Times’ coverage of the election and see the results for all nine candidates.

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  • An Israeli raid to detain Palestinian gunmen became one of the most violent encounters in the West Bank in decades, a Times video investigation shows.

  • A cruise ship in the Mediterranean has become a haven for people displaced by the earthquake in Turkey.

  • Republicans are calling green investing “awakening capitalism” and dragging corporations into partisan politics.

  • Twitter outages have spiked as Elon Musk cut the company’s workforce.

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