By Dr. Robert Starks – 

While some were surprised at the results of the February 28th turnout, most political analysts saw it as the continuation of a low turnout trend. The election for mayor featured 7 Black candidates, one Hispanic, and one white in the race. Accordingly to the Chicago Board of Elections, this turnout trend is a continuation of the ballot cast in the last three elections. The Board of Elections stated that “The City of Chicago saw 566,973 ballots cast for a 35.85% citywide turnout for 1,581,564 registered voters.” The breakdown of those who voted in the various categories is even more revealing:

*248,773 ballots were cast in precinct on Election Day

*20,948 ballots were cast at vote centers on Election Day

*131,806 ballots were cast by early voting before Election Day

*165,446 ballots were cast by vote by mail

*23.25% of people early voted

*29.18% of people voted by mail

*47.57% of people voted on election Day

Further, the Board of Election reports: In the February 26, 2019 Municipal Election, there were 560,701 ballots cast for a 35.45% citywide turnout for 1,581,755 voters.

In the February 24, 2015 Municipal Election, there were 483,700 ballots cast for a 34.03% citywide turnout for 1,421,430 registered voters.

In the February 22, 2011 Municipal Election, there were 594,734 ballots cast for a 42.30% citywide turnout for 1,406,037 registered voters.

This disturbing trend of low voter turnout in Municipal Elections has been attributed to various factors, including the switch from the partisan (Democratic Party vs. Republican Party candidates) which included the Precinct Captains who were charged with the responsibility of getting out the votes in their precincts. Some political analysts speculate that the movement away from the traditional person-to-person campaigning to a more virtual mode, i.e., TV, radio, internet, forums and debates, and social media misses the attention of older voters who may not be tuned into these methods of communication and would be much more accustomed to a person-to-person mode. Lastly, some political analysts attribute the low voter turnout to the inability of candidates to spark sufficient interest amongst many voters who are turned off because candidates and campaigns do not reach them where they are on important issues.

The reality is that the low turnout can most likely be attributed to a combination of all these factors. Black Chicago voters have long complained that candidates do not speak directly to their most important concerns of affordable housing, homelessness, poverty, public safety, police misconduct and public education.

All candidates for mayor and alderpersons spoke to these issues from their individual perspectives in their debates. However, Black voters want candidates to speak to their needs and specify achievable solutions. This approach is specifically the consensus of older Black voters who comprise the most reliable voting bloc in the Black community. Thus, turnout in predominately Black wards averaged around 28% including 23.84% in the 37th ward and 23.07% in the 28th ward. At the same time, Mayor Lightfoot carried more of the predominately Black wards than any other candidate because of her loudly propagated Westside and Southside investment for improvement initiative. Clearly, many Black voters were absent from the polling places because they did not see their needs being addressed by the candidates and campaigns.

This same set of circumstances can be seen in the races for Alderperson seats. The Board of Election cites 14 wards that will have candidates for Alderperson appear on the ballot in the April 4th runoff. This is the highest number of runoff elections for Alderpersons in recent history. These wards are the 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, 11th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 30th, 36th,43rd, 45th, 46th, and 48th wards.

Given the large number of Alderpersons that left the City Council before the February 28th election, whoever becomes Mayor will spend a long period of time getting to know the City Council and learn how they can work together. They will spend several months adjusting to the reality of a new mode of city governance. They will have to decide whether the city will be governed by a Weak Mayor/Strong City Council System or a Strong Mayor/Weak City Council, or some modification of these two opposite forms of governance. We cannot forget that for most of the last century and all this century Chicago has been governed by a Strong Mayor/Weak City Council. Neither one of the two Mayoral runoff candidates have given the public any indication of their intended or desired relationship with the new City Council as Mayor.

The official proclamation of the results for the February 28th

Mayoral Election states that Paul Vallas received 185,748 votes or 32.9% of the votes cast. Brandon Johnson received 122,093 votes or 21.6% of the votes cast and Mayor Lori Lightfoot received 94,890 votes or 16.8%. Thus, the April 4th Mayoral Runoff Election will be between Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson. Mayor Lightfoot graciously conceded her loss on Election night. Voters are now awaiting her answer to the question of who she will endorse, if anyone.

The latest polling numbers show that the race is tight, and no serious analysts are willing to predict a winner currently. While latest polls show Brandon Johnson ahead by two points, Vallas at 44%, Johnson at 46% and 10% undecided. These numbers could change dramatically even in short number of days left before April 4th. Both candidates are aiming their pitches to the audiences that they think will win them the most votes and campaign funds. In this scenario Paul Vallas’ campaign pitch is primarily to the downtown residents, the corporate community, Northwest side, and Southeast side voters who are most vocal in their complaints about public safety and support of Chicago Police. Brandon Johnson’s campaign pitch is to the Progressives throughout the city. It was the progressives and younger voters who gave him his votes.

Unfortunately, neither candidate has voiced any specific policy concerns or promises directed to Black voters in the majority Black wards. Many of those undecided voters are Black. While Johnson has voiced policy plans that are beneficial to the Black community, they have been general and designed to appeal to the entire population. However, given the results of the February 28th Election, it will be near impossible for either candidate to win without the Black vote. Therefore, mobilization of the grassroots Black voters is essential for victory. Johnson, realizing this reality, has now began to increase his appeal to grassroots Black voters as reflected in the increase in the number of Black endorsements from Black church and civic leaders.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a dilemma “…as a situation in which a vital and difficult choice has to be made between alternatives that are equally undesirable.” The choices to be made for the direction of the Chicago Public Schools is a dilemma for whoever become mayor. Public opinion of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is at one of its lowest in recent history. CPS’ 600 schools, including charters that receive public funding, are now estimated to have lost some 100,000 students over the last six years. State funds for public schools is based upon student enrollment and attendance. Given the decrease in enrollment and attendance, CPS’ budget is lower. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), the organization that is sponsoring Mr. Johnson’s campaign, is currently in dispute with Mayor Lightfoot over parental leave for teachers. CTU is threating legal action or maybe a strike if this issue is not settled soon. Student reading and math scores have declined due to the Covid crisis, violence; shootings in and outside of schools has increased. Teacher shortages have reached a peak, and school staffs are depleted of librarians, counselors, computers to access online instruction and assignments, and healthcare aides all of whom are essential to well-functioning schools.

The dilemma is underlined by the question of who will control school policy. Presently, CPS is controlled by the mayor because the appointment of the members of the School Board members and the CEO is done by the mayor. However, in 2021 the Illinois Legislature passed a bill that calls for the transition to a hybrid board of elected and appointed members before a fully transforming to a totally elected board by 2027. This law will not be activated until 2024, thus, the new mayor elected on April 4th will be able to appoint an entire new Board and CEO if desired. Given the transition to the hybrid governance of the schools starting in 2024, the question is, how will these governing transitions change policies from the 2023 to 2024 and 2027? Further, how will these transitions affect the quality of education and the status of students?

These serious questions have not been given any in-depth discussion by the candidates. How will the new mayor approach the restoration of CPS to its pre-Daley status and repairing the destruction committed by Rahm Emanuel? The Educational system is one of the most important issues on the table for voters. After all, the future of this city’s growth and development as a world class progressive, prosperous, and non-segregated city with justice and equality for all its citizens depends on an educated citizenry that respects the rights of all. A top-quality educational system with top quality teachers and staff with all necessary resources is the first step to achieving this future.

Ironically, both candidates have solid backgrounds in educational governance and administration. Brandon Johnson is a former teacher, a Chicago Teachers Union organizer and policy advocate, and a Cook County Commissioner. Mr. Johnson’s major campaign sponsor is CTU. He fully understands the needs of the CPS and the public’s demands for a better school system. Public education has been one of his major campaign issues, and Johnson has pledged to work make CPS better.

Paul Vallas was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley to the office of CEO of CPS in 1995 and served until 2001. In that capacity he gained the admiration of Black owned construction companies because he granted construction contracts to them at a rate and volume that was never seen before. He is a proponent of charter and private schools which, Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow PUSH declared damaging to our students. He said that “charters and heavy testing hurt our schools and, therefore, hurt our students. “Vallas is a proponent of public funding support of charter and public schools. In addition, critics of Mr. Vallas believe that he supports unlimited support of Policemen. One of his major supporters is the Chicago Police Union. Other critics have branded him a DINO, a Democrat In Name Only, and thus, a Dinosaur Democrat.

Brandon Johnson followers have now borrowed a winning phrase from the giant political strategist of the 1980’s, Mr. Lu Palmer, who declared in 1982 in support of Harold Washington’s mayoral election that “WE SHALL SEE IN ‘83”, they are now declaring “WE SHALL SEE IN ‘23”.