Brandon Johnson won the race for Chicago’s mayor by loving and fighting for the city

In Chicago on Tuesday, April 4, hope won out over cynicism.

Brandon Johnson — a former teacher, union organizer and ​“little known county commissioner” as public radio outlet WBEZ Chicago put it — was elected mayor over entrenched Democratic Party operative Paul Vallas, who was backed by the city’s police union and a slew of prominent political leaders.

While the election was close — with Johnson claiming 51% of the vote — the result signified Chicagoans putting their faith in progressive proposals and a candidate who has devoted his life to teaching, community organizing and organized labor.

By contrast, Vallas promised to expand and further empower the police force, and to institute policies like making it illegal to ​“threaten, engage in, or promote looting, damage to property or violence” — an alarming incursion on free speech and organizing.

Chicagoans are indeed traumatized by the city’s seemingly incurable decades-long plague of gun violence, and are also well aware of rising car-jackings and other crimes since the pandemic. The fact that Vallas lost the race despite residents’ very real concern about crime indicates how Chicagoans saw through his fear tactics, recognizing the racist dog whistles — or just not believing that his draconian approach would actually work.

Vallas’ dissonant statements on law enforcement likely didn’t help. He tried to distance himself from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) even as he boasted of helping to negotiate their contracts with the city, and enjoyed the adulation of FOP leader John Catanzara, a Covid-19 denier and apologist for the January 6 insurrection.

Early favorite Vallas ultimately came across as an entitled perennial politician who seemed petulant and almost shocked that an upstart candidate like Johnson was giving him a run for his money. Johnson called out the dripping condescension when Vallas continually tried to minimize his teaching experience and imply it was somehow disingenuous in light of his union service.

“The fact he’s being dismissive of a Black man who taught for four years in Chicago Public Schools is…you’ve got to stop doing that Paul, you just do,” said Johnson in a recent debate, noting that Vallas himself has actually never been elected, only appointed to positions. ​“I got elected, I’ve been an organizer, I know how to put together a plan.”

Many pundits framed the race as a battle between proxies for two powerful interests — the FOP and the Chicago Teachers Union. Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan argued in a convoluted op-ed that somehow Vallas’ closeness to the FOP would help him get Chicago’s infamous police in line, a point Vallas also tried to make.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s critics described him as a subservient tool of the CTU — a ​“Manchurian candidate” in Catanzara’s words. The Chicago Tribune editorial board mused about the CTU being the city’s ​“new Machine,” and quoted Vallas-backer Alderman Brian Hopkins making that charge.

Such framings represented a failure to understand the CTU’s role in the city, making the same mistake that former mayors Rahm Emanuel and Lori Lightfoot both did in trying to cast the union as a villain during their own bitter standoffs.

The CTU has its critics, including members who opposed the union funding Johnson’s candidacy. But the CTU’s biggest infraction in detractors’ eyes seems to be that it is too powerful, moving outside its lane and demanding too large a role in city policy.

In its latest contract negotiations with Mayor Lightfoot, the union demanded provisions going beyond traditional schools issues, addressing topics like housing and immigration. The union argued convincingly that such issues directly impact the well-being of students and teachers.

Many Chicagoans seem to agree with this approach. During the 2012 and 2019 teachers’ strikes and throughout the years, Chicagoans — namely Black and Latino families who make up the bulk of public school attendees — have repeatedly demonstrated and voiced their support for teachers, aides, bus drivers and other workers represented by the teachers union and its allied unions. They’ve made this clear through opinion polls and by marching in the streets and manning the picket lines. Not to mention that the 20,000-plus teachers union members themselves represent a large and diverse slice of Chicago, not some outside force.

Labor activist Joe Allen writing in Tempest magazine noted that there were ​“no outraged editorials” when the operating engineers union donated a million dollars to Rep. Jesús“Chuy” Garcia’s (D-Ill.) mayoral primary campaign, and then another million to Vallas—numbers that are in the same ballpark as the CTU’s $3.2 million for Johnson. Likewise, Allen noted, ​“there is no howling about the role of pro-business PACs pouring money” into city elections.

The FOP — also a union, though not part of labor coalitions — is a different animal, and Vallas’ connections with the organization were much more troubling than Johnson’s with the teachers union. The CTU has by most measures been a successful organization relatively free of scandal, whereas the FOP represents a force that the Department of Justice investigated and identified as rife with racism and misconduct. The FOP fought tooth and nail (unsuccessfully) to prevent citizens from being able to see complaints lodged against officers, and defended the officer convicted of gunning down teenager Laquan McDonald, even hiring him as a janitor after his removal from the force.

While Vallas promised he would not be controlled by the FOP, he offered few meaningful proposals to reform the police, or even acknowledge the need to do so.

Vallas made much of his backing by 26 unions, but these unions were mostly trade unions like the plumbers, operating engineers and electricians, which are known for their deep connections to machine politics and in some cases, exclusionary and racist practices.

Meanwhile, the unions backing Johnson, along with the teachers, included SEIU and AFSCME locals — the large, diverse and growing unions representing service sector and public employees that reflect the most common employment opportunities, and most crucial frontline positions, in today’s economy.

Public support for unions is relatively high and rising, driven by the success and spirit of organizing at Starbucks, Amazon and other service-sector workplaces — movements much more akin to Johnson’s organized labor world than the trades that backed Vallas. Whereas Vallas has not previously been a vocal proponent of unions, it’s part of the fabric of Johnson’s identity, and his win is also a vote of confidence in organized labor.

“Make no mistake about it, Chicago is a union town,” Johnson said in his victory speech. Vallas’ attempts to connect with working-class, regular people rang hollow and fell flat, even more so than ​“Mayor 1%” Rahm Emanuel, who had more natural charisma. For example, Vallas’ mocking Johnson for unpaid water bills backfired, as all too many Chicagoans could relate to having such debt.

Vallas almost echoed Trump in framing Chicago as a city torn asunder by crime and mayhem, a disaster zone of the type he sailed in to ​“save” in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, and post-earthquake Chile and Haiti. He was hired to ​“fix” public schools in the wake of these natural disasters as well as the troubled system in Philadelphia. This meant closing public schools, introducing private charters and attacking teachers unions, and oddly Vallas continued to be seen in the media as a successful expert on this front even as test scores and public outrage would indicate otherwise.

In railing about crime, describing suburbanites terrified to come into the city on the CTA, Vallas seemed to negate the things Chicagoans love about their city and feel proud about in their own lives.

By contrast, the effusive praise Johnson lavished on Chicago in his acceptance speech felt genuine, a love letter that framed Chicago as one of the world’s best cities, rather than a hell-hole in need of rescuing.

Johnson’s solutions — reopening mental health clinics, creating green jobs and youth employment, and implementing the Treatment Not Trauma plan for non-police response to mental health calls — represent a long view, a belief that Chicago is not in a state of emergency but rather has the time and capacity to address problems at the root, and make lasting change.

Johnson evoked legendary Black Mayor Harold Washington in his campaign stops and in his victory speech, and promised a new rainbow coalition — also name-checking Washington allies Rudy Lozano, the murdered Chicano community organizer and Rep. Garcia.

A rainbow coalition like the one that brought Black people, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and working-class whites together in Chicago 40 years ago is certainly needed now, and Johnson might be capable of galvanizing it. Not through the old Chicago way where Black, Latino, Asian and ethnic white pastors, ward bosses and old-school community organizers trade favors and cut deals with each other, but a true coalition where regular Chicagoans of all backgrounds and ages work together to build trust and address the city’s deep-seated issues.

“The most radical thing we can do is actually love people,” said Johnson on Tuesday.

Taken out of context it could sound hokey. But Johnson’s earnest delivery — that of a teacher who refuses to stop believing in his students no matter what — could make one believe such a warmhearted vision is actually possible.

[This article is reprinted with permission from In These Times magazine, © 2023, and is available at]


May 1, 2023 at 3:19 PM



This is a test, just checking out the comments section.

May 2, 2023 at 11:01 AM

By: john kugler

the truth hurts

interesting i never met this person in the 40 years of organizing in Little Village and the south-side of chicago. and i never saw them in the ctu offices for the 12 years i worked there yet they talk like they know what just happened.

This was not a miracle of organizing it was classic voter suppression of the working class by intellectuals and special interests.

last and most importantly In These Times is a operated by Julie Fain who suppressed rape allegations in the ISO.

I don't and no one should support any organization or affiliate organizations that harm women or suppress victims rights especially sexual oppression, subjugation or misogyny, so when they say something was a miracle and good for workers it is suspect, especially when your connected with a billionaire who owns Royal Caribbean Cruise line saying they are anti-capitalist.

The point i am making is that organizations that marginalize and push out opposing voices for the greater good are just as bad as the ruling class that they are proportionately fighting.

Person left out of that the CTU took dues money and used it for political spending without prior approval and in violation of Illinois Board of election rules.

"The CTU has by most measures been a successful organization relatively free of scandal"

So it was a miracle for the few

An Injury to One is An Injury to All

Dr. Kugler

May 21, 2023 at 8:34 PM

By: john stewart whitfield


What other countries say about the gun violence problem in the U.S.


MARQUISE FRANCIS (Updated May 17, 2023)

Mass shootings in the U.S. are once again on the rise — and countries around the world are taking notice.

At least seven nations have issued advisories to their citizens who intend on traveling to the U.S., citing serious safety concerns in recent years. New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Venezuela and Uruguay have each urged precaution for travelers when visiting the U.S., due in large part to gun violence.

In the first weekend of May, eight people were shot and killed at a busy Dallas-area mall after a 33-year-old gunman opened fire, wounding at least seven others before he was fatally shot by police. The previous weekend in Oklahoma, a convicted sex offender shot and killed his wife, her three children and two of their friends before he killed himself, according to police. And just two days prior to that, a man shot and killed five neighbors, including a 9-year-old boy, after the family asked him to stop firing rounds in the air as a baby tried to sleep. The suspected shooter was arrested after a manhunt that lasted several days.

A crime problem or a gun problem?

There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the shooter. Though mass shooting numbers fell slightly in 2022, since 2018 mass shootings have gone up by nearly 100 each year. In fact, in each of the last three years, there have been more than 600 mass shootings in the U.S., or about two each day.

Yet despite these numbers, the U.S. remains one of the safer countries in the world. Not only has violent crime sharply declined since the mid-1990s, but scholars say that the U.S. doesn’t have much more crime than many other countries. It does, however, have more guns. The U.S. is the only nation in the world where guns outnumber people, at a rate of 120 guns to 100 people, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey.

“Rates of common property crimes in the United States are comparable to those reported in many other Western industrial nations, but rates of lethal violence in the United States are much higher,” authors and UC Berkeley scholars Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins wrote in their 1999 book, “Crime Is Not the Problem.”

Still, the threat of gun violence in conjunction with the perceived lack of security within the U.S. is increasingly seen as a safety concern by both American citizens and would-be tourists. Though the chances of a tourist in the U.S. becoming a victim of gun violence remain low, experts say “perception is reality.”

‘A cause for concern’

“If people perceive they are not safe in the U.S. they will not visit,” Simon Hudson, a professor of tourism at the University of South Carolina, told Yahoo News. The 2022 Global Peace Index, which measures the peacefulness of countries and is made up of 23 quantitative and qualitative indicators, ranks the U.S. 129th out of 163 countries, just above Brazil.

Given this ranking, Hudson added, “it is a cause for concern for any country seeking to attract people to live, work and play.”

Pew Research Center found that the gun death rate in the U.S. in 2021 was 14.6 per 100,000 people — a figure much higher than in the majority of developed nations, according to a 2018 study of 195 countries and territories by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

By comparison, gun death rates in countries like Canada (2.1 per 100,000) and Australia (1.0), as well as European nations such as France (2.7) and Spain (0.6), were far lower.

But the U.S. rate is still much lower than in many Latin American countries, many of which frequently find themselves embroiled in long-lasting civic unrest, like El Salvador (39.2 per 100,000 people), Venezuela (38.7), Guatemala (32.3) and Colombia (25.9), the 2018 study found.

“Gun crime is indeed a concern in our country,” Sandy Chen, a professor in Ohio University’s hospitality and tourism program, told Yahoo News in an email. “These advisories simply point out the negative impact of the increased violence and gun crime in parts of America on U.S. tourism.”

Here is how the countries are communicating concerns to their citizens.

New Zealand

A woman walks on a boardwalk through parkland in New Zealand. (Getty Images)

A woman hikes in Egmont National Park in New Zealand. (Getty Images)

New Zealand’s travel advisory for the U.S. is a level 2 of 4, meaning citizens are advised to exercise increased caution.

“The United States remains a target of terrorist interest, both from international terror groups and from domestic-based extremists,” a portion of the advisory on the country’s travel site reads.


Canada, the U.S.’s northern neighbor, cautions its citizens to take normal security precautions, which is the least of its four advisories.

“The rate of firearm possession in the U.S. is high,” a portion of the Canadian advisory reads. “Incidents of mass shootings occur, resulting most often in casualties. Although tourists are rarely involved, there is a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”


Australia’s advisory for the U.S. also cautions its citizens to “exercise normal safety precautions,” which is the least of its four advisories, but notes gun crime as the biggest issue.

“Violent crime is more common than in Australia. Gun crime is also prevalent,” the government says. “If you live in the US, learn and practice active shooter drills.”

United Kingdom

The U.K. does not have a warning level system, but instead offers travel advice for those looking to visit the United States.

“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the USA,” the government says, adding, “Violent crime, including gun crime, rarely involves tourists, but you should take care when traveling in unfamiliar areas.”


France describes the U.S. as “among the safest countries” but warns against both vehicle and physical threats in large cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

“An increase in thefts of vehicles in motion with violence and threats, sometimes using a weapon (‘car-jackings’), has been observed in most major American cities,” a portion of the advisory reads.

South American countries Venezuela and Uruguay have issued warnings for the U.S. since 2019. Venezuela’s government has urged caution since August 2019 because of a “proliferation of acts of violence and indiscriminate hate crimes.”

Similarly, Uruguay’s government urged caution “in the face of growing indiscriminate violence, mostly due to hate crimes, including racism and discrimination.”

Both warnings came shortly after two tragic shootings in less than 24 hours. The first was a shooting at a crowded El Paso, Texas, department store where 22 people were killed, and the other was where a gunman killed nine people in less than a minute on a crowded street in Dayton, Ohio.

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