Down to the wire: Mayoral candidates bring out big names for final push


Jake Cox

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders rallies on behalf of Brandon Johnson at a campaign event at the University of Illinois at Chicago on March 30, five days before the runoff election.

Over 4,000 people packed University of Illinois Chicago’s Credit Union 1 Arena Thursday night to rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressives in support of Brandon Johnson. 

Johnson received the Vermont senator’s endorsement earlier this month, alongside a number of other key local and national endorsements, closing the gap between former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas in the April 4 runoff. 

Other progressives joined Sanders at the rally, such as Martin Luther King III, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), President of the American Federation of Teachers Rani Weingarten, Congress members Jonathan Jackson and Delia Ramirez. 

“Our job on Tuesday is to make sure that we have the largest voter turnout this city has ever seen,” Sanders said. “We together are going to make sure that Brandon Johnson is the next mayor of the city.”

Sanders gave Johnson an endorsement on Thursday night. Chuy García, a former Chicago mayoral candidate, also endorsed Johnson last week. (Jake Cox)

One of Johnson’s campaign points of focus is to increase young voter turnout, who made up only 3% of the ballots cast in the first round of voting. Although Johnson is backed by 58.2% of likely voters between the ages of 18-34, their support was not reflected in the initial casting.  

According to the latest poll conducted by Victor Research on March 20-22, Vallas remains the front-runner with 46.3% of the votes compared to Johnson with 44.2%. However, Vallas’ lead dipped from six points to two since the previous poll in early March. 

Vallas’ recent endorsement by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin – the U.S. Senate’s majority whip – is one of many endorsements that has strengthened his campaign. Other prominent support for Vallas comes from the Fraternal Order of the Police Department and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White which contributes to his hard on crime approach and conservative values. 

Vallas stated that Johnson does not believe that the 1,100 police vacancies can be filled in a CNN interview according to CBS News Chicago on March 29. He went on to say that his only strategy for addressing the violent crime in Chicago is to promote 200 officers from the patrol into the detectives bureau. 

Attendees listen to Sanders speak during the event at Credit Union 1 Arena. (Jake Cox)

Highlighting the stark contrast between Vallas’ and Johnson’s ideologies and upbringings, Sanders roused voters to show up for the future of the city they wanted to see. 

“Which side are you on? Are you on the side of the working people or are you on the side of the speculators and the billionaire?” Sanders said. “I know which side Brandon Johnson is on.”

Energizing the crowd, Sanders’ passionate speech emphasized the importance of having a mayor who undertakes issues such as disparities between social classes, crime and mental health in a progressive manner.

“We must address that crisis,” Sanders said. “But we must do it in a way that is smart and effective, and that means not only high quality and non-racist law enforcement, it means that we must address the epidemic of mental illness, the epidemic of drug abuse, the epidemic of poverty and the epidemic of guns on the street. And that is something that Brandon Johnson understands.”

The speakers at Johnson’s rally voiced support for his reformist policies concerning mental health and education. 

Johnson supporter Emily Melbye expressed her support of Johnson’s approach to mental health, which was stressed throughout the night.

“I think we really need a progressive message to help move our city forwards, not backwards,” Melbye said. 

After announcing his ‘Treatment Not Trauma’ ordinance, Johnson’s campaign embraced expanding Chicago’s mental health resources and implementing trained health crisis professionals and EMT’s as first responders to nonviolent 911 calls instead of law enforcement. 

Brandon Johnson, current member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and 2023 Chicago mayoral runoff candidate, is running his campaign with an emphasis on public education and workers’ rights. He has gained an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, who was at the rally on March 30. (Jake Cox)

For Johnson supporter Jorge Martinez, Sanders is his political hero.

“They are both progressive champions in the city and in the senate,” Martinez said. 

As Johnson took the stage, he embraced Sanders creating an image of progressive partnership. Supporters gave a standing ovation in celebration of the two. 

Johnson spoke on his original polling at 2.8% and how the data influenced his public perception. 

“They said they didn’t know my name. Well if you didn’t know, now you know,” Johnson said. 

With the support from the Chicago’s Teachers Union, Johnson entered the candidacy in October with low recognition. He has reshaped his campaign following high profile endorsements from Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Congressman  Jesús ‘Chuy’ García. 

A new poll by Northwestern Now showed that Black voters favor Johnson by a margin of 55%, while 28% favor Vallas. 

“People will try to judge us based on data points,” Johnson said. “The elimination of this country as we know it today is experiencing the benefit of a group of people who said we are not going to accept anybody.”

Johnson stated that his opponent has failed his responsibilities in previous roles as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Energizing the crowd, supporters chanted “Paul Vallas, take a seat.”

“He has destroyed every economy that he has participated in,” Johnson said. “We can turn a corner away from the wicked past.”

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Johnson highlighted his work in the civil rights movement and around Chicago. He quoted King, saying “If we can figure it out in Chicago, we can do it anywhere in the world.”

Son of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King III honored his father and reminded the crowd that the April 4 election day is the assassination date of his father. 

“My father will be looking down on us on Tuesday,” King said. “Who leads this city will determine what will happen for the next generation.” 

The full list of voting sites can be found on the Chicago Board of elections’ website. Polls will open at 6 a.m. on April 4 and close at 7 p.m.