Chicago Mayoral Candidate Brandon Johnson has kicked off his April 4 runoff campaign by going all in on his “new” vision for the Second City. Last month, he declared on Joy Reid’s MSNBC “Reid Out” Program that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her re-election bid, because she “abandoned” her progressive agenda. Johnson, the Cook County commissioner, and Paul Vallas, former public schools chief for Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, have professed their disdain for the recent crime wave in Chicago’s streets, including a string of voilent incidents in the commercial Loop district, which should be considered sacred due to it’s tourist-friendly sightseeing.
Johnson characterizes his “War on Crime” as taking an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, including fund social programs by taxing the rich and wants to pursue a therapeutic approach to crime, moving away from “failed approaches that have brought trauma to communities across the city.” His critics argue that his approach to crime in a city wracked with it would be disastrous, highlighting his desire to defund the police.
Johnson’s vision draws on the Chicago Teachers Union’s decade-long push to tackle broader issues such as affordable housing and gun violence. Johnson has proposed a $4 per month corporate head tax to raise $20 million, as well as a $1 to $2 tax on securities trading, and returning $100 million in the enormous tax increment financing schemes that siphon off city tax revenues reserved for mayors’ pet projects. He has also proposed a number of regressive taxes, including on hotel rooms, suburban commuters to the city through a regional rail transit surcharge, and “user fees” for areas frequented by tourists.
Johnson has been cheered by progressives for charting a novel one-sided ground on the issue of crime, but closer inspection reveals little new about Johnson’s plan. Infact, it looks a lot like outgoing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Lightfoot said Johnson, who avoids the word “defund” when speaking on the campaign trail about policing, isn’t being candid with voters.
“He’s asked direct questions at a variety of forums, and that guy’s got more bobs and weaves than Muhammad Ali,” Lightfoot said. Some nerve.
“Lori Lightfoot hasn’t made Chicago safer, but I will. It’s time to get smart, not just tough.” Johnson says in a new ad. Oy vey.
Both Vallas and Johnson are promising job training and hiring programs through public schools, with Vallas claiming that Chicago Public Schools will remain open at night and on weekends.
Whatever their tactical differences, both Vallas and Johnson are political representatives of the ruling class, the former basing himself on the most right-wing forces, including the Fraternal Order of Police, and the latter seeking to rely more on the trade union apparatus as a critical instrument for the suppression of the class struggle.
Chicago’s recent plight is hard to overstate. Already in 2023, more than 75 people have been slain. That follows a surge in gun violence during the pandemic, with more than 800 people killed in 2021 and nearly 700 last year. Total serious crime rose by more than 33% from 2019, when Lightfoot took office, to 2022. Other crimes, such as carjackings and robberies, have increased in recent years.
Chicago has a higher per-capita homicide rate than New York or Los Angeles, but it’s lower than other Midwestern cities, such as St. Louis and Gary Indiana.
Serious gang violence remains a plague. Organized criminal groups have brazenly looted retail stores across the city, including in the main shopping district. Carjackings, muggings and shootings have become all but routine. Lightfoot’s 2021 budget shrank the force by eliminating hundreds of vacancies. Total officers declined from 13,302 when she took office to 11,731 in January. Even as crime has soared, the city’s arrest rate has plummeted to just 12.3%. Police investigative stops fell from some 155,000 in 2019 to 69,000 in 2021.
Ominously, a growing number of big businesses — including Boeing Co. and Tyson Foods Inc. — have been fleeing the city. Ken Griffin’s Citadel LLC, headquartered in Chicago for decades, pulled out last year after several employees were victimized by crime. McDonalds CEO Chris Kemczynski said in a speech to The Economic Club of Chicago: “outsiders sense vulnerability. I’ve heard from other mayors and governors who have made their case to me for McDonald’s to relocate our headquarters to their cities and states. And if I’m getting those calls, you can be sure other Chicago companies are as well.”
Whatever their tactical differences, both Vallas and Johnson are political representatives of the ruling class, the former basing himself on the most right-wing forces, including the Fraternal Order of Police, and the latter seeking to rely more on the trade union apparatus as a critical instrument for the suppression of the class struggle. With Johnson’s agenda looking more and more like a Lightfoot re-hash, it’s time to wonder: is this the candidate who really wants to fix the city?