(CNN) — Chicago voters will choose Brandon Johnson, a progressive Cook County commissioner backed by the powerful teachers union, as the city’s next mayor, CNN projects.
Johnson will win Tuesday’s runoff election over Paul Vallas, a moderate former city schools superintendent who had campaigned on a pro-police message in a race where concerns about violent crime were central.
Johnson told supporters his victory had “ushered in a new chapter in the history of our city” and demonstrated a “bold, progressive movement” that he said should be a blueprint for the country.
“Now, Chicago will begin to work for its people — all the people. Because tonight is a gateway to a new future for our city; a city where you can thrive no matter who you love or how much money you have in your bank account,” he said.
Vallas said at his election night event that he had called Johnson to concede the race.
“This campaign I ran to bring the city together would not be a campaign that fulfilled my ambitions if this election is going to divide us more. So it’s critically important that we use this opportunity to come together, and I’ve offered him my full support on his transition,” Vallas said.
Vallas and Johnson were competing to replace Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose bid for a second term ended when she finished third in the nine-candidate February 28 first round — failing to advance to the top-two runoff.
Lightfoot had sparred with two of the most powerful forces in this year’s mayor’s race: the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Vallas, and the Chicago Teachers Union, which backs Johnson — a former teacher and union organizer.
The clash between those two unions is part of a larger battle over how the city handled the Covid-19 pandemic — a period during which violent crime increased and schools were shut down.
Vallas campaigned on a pro-police, tough-on-crime message. He vowed to fill hundreds of vacancies in the Chicago Police Department, and said he would emphasize community policing and place officers on public transit, after a recent violent crime spike at the Chicago Transit Authority’s trains and stations alarmed many commuters.
He also highlighted Johnson’s history of supporting calls to “defund the police” — a message that became popular with progressives in 2020 in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd but that has since receded amid violent crime increases in Chicago and other cities. Top Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have long rejected the slogan.
Johnson said during the campaign that he did not want to slash police spending. He said he would promote 200 new detectives, arguing that solving more crimes would increase Chicago residents’ trust in police and deter crime.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Johnson nodded to his clashes with Vallas over crime and policing. He said he envisions “a city that’s safer for everyone by investing in what actually works to prevent crime. And that means youth employment, mental health centers, ensuring that law enforcement has the resources to solve and prevent crimes.”
Vallas and Johnson spent the weeks leading up to the runoff courting the approximately 45% of the electorate that did not vote for either candidate in February.
They were particularly focused on Black and Latino voters outside of Johnson’s progressive base and Vallas’ support in White ethnic neighborhoods and the northwestern portion of the city.
Vallas featured Black mainstays of Chicago politics, including former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and former US Rep. Bobby Rush, in his closing television advertisement touting his Democratic credentials.
Johnson had argued that Vallas was too conservative for the electorate of a city where 83% of voters backed the Democratic presidential ticket in 2020. He highlighted donations Vallas’ campaign received from business interests and Republicans, as well as digital ads paid for by a PAC with ties to former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“When you take dollars from Trump supporters and try to pass yourself as a part of the progressive movement — man, sit down,” Johnson said at a rally in Chicago with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last week.
This story has been updated with additional developments.