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Hundreds of Brandon Johnson’s supporters filled El Palais Bu-sché banquet hall in Austin to watch election results roll in on Tuesday night. Packed into the approximately 600-person crowd were Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members, organizers and politicians. 

Alders such as former Mayor Lori Lightfoot ally Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) and Matt Martin (47th Ward), Cook County Commissioner Anthony Quezada (8th Dist.), and state senator Robert Peters (D-13) were in attendance. So was social worker Anjanette Young, who was the victim of a botched police raid in 2019 and endorsed Johnson in February, along with hundreds of supporters, organizers and volunteers.

The mood was electric. Attendees beamed with hope as they hugged and danced to an eclectic mix of jazz, house and R&B tunes under large gold chandeliers. Despite the gravity of the night, people seemed relaxed—almost as if they were at an overflowing house party. 

As Johnson’s place in the runoff solidified, U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez took the stage, surrounded by Johnson’s family, friends and supporters, to celebrate the diversity and strength of the campaign’s multicultural coalition, which was reflected by the makeup of the waiting audience.

“We are sending someone [to the runoff] who understands our community and recognizes that this city is in need of healing, that the city is in need of someone that listens, someone that walks with us, not walks for us. Someone that listens to us and doesn’t talk at us,” Ramirez said before welcoming Johnson to the stage. 

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Johnson came in second with 20 percent of the vote, just behind Paul Vallas, who had 33 percent. Mayor Lori Lightfoot held third place with 17 percent, making her the first popularly elected mayor to lose reelection since first-term incumbent Jane Byrne lost to Harold Washington forty years ago. Johnson will face Vallas in the mayoral runoff election on April 4.


2023 election results map by Pat Sier and South Side Weekly.

The crowd roared as Johnson approached the podium, and a loud chorus of “we want Brandon” chants reverberated through the room as he stood to deliver his speech. 

Johnson thanked his family and the workers and unions propelling his campaign, such as the CTU, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Working Families (UWF) and others. He extended an olive branch to the other mayoral candidates, asking the audience to give them a round of applause. 

“Tonight is about building a Chicago that truly invests in our people,” said Johnson, after highlighting key parts of his platform like affordable housing, homeownership pathways, an improved CTA and fully resourced schools. 

Johnson pledged to represent all Chicagoans if elected to the mayor’s seat. He said he’s committed to ushering in a new trajectory for the city. 

“We get to turn the page of the politics of old. Because with our voices and our votes, we come together as one city to say that we deserve a Chicago that is better, stronger, safer for everyone.”

Johnson didn’t hesitate to criticize Paul Vallas, his opponent in the upcoming runoff. Vallas “has literally failed everywhere he has gone,” he said. “As head of the Chicago Public Schools, he ran the teachers’ pension fund into the ground, closed neighborhood schools.” 

Johnson added that Vallas had a similar track record in New Orleans (where he privatized nearly a third of public schools), Philadelphia and Connecticut. Johnson also warned that Vallas has courted the support of Jan. 6 insurrectionists and the Fraternal Order of Police; declared himself a Republican; and fundamentally opposes abortion. “Chicago, we cannot have this man as the mayor of the city of Chicago,” he said. 

Kash Brantley, a South Shore resident and UWF fellow, said they support Johnson because his campaign is backed by working people and unions. Brantley said Johnson can unite the city and nurture a more collaborative relationship with City Council than Lightfoot was able to. They also like that Johnson supports reopening the city’s mental health clinics and Treatment Not Trauma, a campaign to dispatch mental health professionals instead of police officers to address mental health crises.

During his speech, Johnson touted his role in helping pass a progressive multibillion-dollar Cook County budget as evidence that he can pass a balanced city budget without raising property taxes. 

“I support Brandon because he is a candidate for the people,” Brantley said. “He’s going to be a candidate we can actually hold accountable.”

Arthur Dennis, a former teacher living in Bronzeville, said he supports Johnson because he understands what it means to be a progressive and has an educator’s perspective. Dennis first met Johnson four years ago after he won a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners and was struck by “how he wants to make the budget actually reflect what we need.” He hopes that a Johnson administration will “look at the city budget with a fine-tooth comb and see where we’re mismanaging money” that could be reinvested in communities. 

As he spoke, Johnson tacitly referenced the fact that early in the race, pundits and even some of his opponents had largely dismissed his candidacy early in the race. 

“A few months ago, they said they didn’t know who I was. Well, if you didn’t know,” he roared, referencing a widely popular line from the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 debut single “Juicy”. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the crowd joined him in unison, “… now you know!”

is an editor, reporter, copy editor, and fact-checker based in Chicago.