Visit The TRiiBE Election Center to see results from the mayoral and aldermanic races in Chicago’s April 4 runoff.

Fifty-five years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the moral architect of the Voting Rights Act, was assassinated in Memphis, and nearly 40 years after Harold Washington upset the Chicago machine to become the city’s first Black mayor, Brandon Johnson—buoyed by overwhelming support in Black communities on the South and West Sides—defied the political establishment and won the April 4 runoff for mayor. 

“It was right here in the city of Chicago, that Martin Luther King Jr. organized for justice, dreaming that one day that the civil rights movement and the labor rights movement will come together,” Johnson said in his victory speech in the South Loop. “Well, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement and the labor rights movement have finally collided. We are experiencing the very dream of the greatest man who ever walked the earth.”

On Tuesday, Johnson narrowly won the April 4 runoff over former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Paul Vallas after receiving 51.4 percent of the vote, while Vallas received about 49 percent. Johnson won all of the city’s majority-Black wards, where in the first round of the election, Mayor Lori Lightfoot performed better than all seven other Black mayoral candidates. On Tuesday, Johnson also won five majority-Latiné wards: the 22nd, 25th, 26th, 33rd and 35th Wards. The Board of Election Commissioners will continue counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked by April 4 until April 18.

Hover over the wards for more details on turnout. Map produced by Jim Daley.

Turnout was key to Johnson’s victory, and organizers from multiple labor unions, including the CTU and SEIU, and political organizations such as the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR), helped get him over the finish line. United Working Families (UWF), an independent political organization, endorsed Johnson and canvassed on his behalf throughout the election cycle. Since January, UWF estimates that through its volunteer field program, they’ve knocked on half a million doors in Chicago and made a million phone calls. 

Youth voter turnout played a significant role in Johnson’s win. Voters aged 18 to 24 increased their turnout by about 5,000 votes on April 4 compared to February 28, an increase of more than 30 percent. Overall, the 18-to-24 age cohort accounted for nearly 4 percent of ballots cast on April 4.

Geographically, voter turnout trends in the runoff mirrored those seen on February 28. For example, turnout was the highest in two white-majority wards that are home to many police and city workers: the 41st Ward on the North Side, which includes Edison Park, Norwood Park and Sauganash; and the 19th Ward on the South Side, includes Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood. The 19th Ward cast the most ballots in the election overall with 23,317, while the 41st Ward cast 18,436 ballots.

“It will be a new day in Chicago in terms of progressive policies, and it might be a way for us to stop the exodus of African Americans from leaving the city of Chicago,” said Delmarie Cobb, a veteran journalist and political consultant. 

The seeds for Johnson’s ascendance to City Hall’s fifth floor were planted a decade ago. In 2013, after then-mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 50 schools (most of which were on the South and West Sides), then-CTU president Karen Lewis, of the union’s Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), determined that labor actions alone were not enough to advance the caucus’s progressive agenda and protect neighborhood schools. They established a political action fund and began running candidates for local and downstate office. Johnson, a former teacher and longtime CORE organizer, was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2018.

Now, Johnson is asking Chicagoans to do something that’s been seemingly impossible for administration after administration, something that unequivocally knocks the status quo off its square. Something so ostensibly radical that it trips racial fault lines. Something that, if given room to breathe, could very well undermine the foundational notion that Black Americans are inherently inferior—that instead, if their communities are truly invested in, they will thrive. 

Johnson is asking Chicagoans to reimagine public safety. It’s been a persistent throughline of Black liberatory thought dating back at least to the first cries to abolish slavery, stretching onward to the 2020 unrest following the police killing of George Floyd—and beyond.

This reimagining challenges the notion that safety can only be reactive to violent crime, where a shooting happens and the police show up, for example. Instead, reimagining public safety requires a kind of world-building. What are the root causes that lead a person to commit that crime, and how can they be prevented?

“We’ll have a mayor that will listen to the public, particularly poor people and young people because the past mayors we’ve had have not done that,” said Robert Starks, a professor emeritus of Political Science at Northeastern Illinois University. “They’ve overlooked the children and the poor.”

On Tuesday, April 4, Johnson supporters and volunteers filed into the Grand Horizon Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in the South Loop. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE.
On Tuesday, April 4, Johnson supporters and volunteers filed into the Grand Horizon Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in the South Loop. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE.

During a one-on-one interview with The TRiiBE on March 23, Johnson spoke about the ways in which his platform aligns with grassroots organizers, who for centuries have questioned whether the institution of policing actually protects Black people, and dreamed of reimagining the system. “I think there’s an assumption that calling the police budget into question means getting rid of police,” Johnson said. “And I guess it just depends on who you ask, but the fear is how do you ask a system to protect you when the system has been used to brutalize you at the same time? That’s the fear. Can a system that has historically brutalized also protect?”

Johnson added that the impetus for reforming the criminal legal system is deeply rooted in abuses perpetrated by law enforcement.

“Police brutality case after police brutality case, people begin to lose hope that it was possible to not only repair damages, but to hold the system accountable,” he said. “The call to action was centered around young people’s desire to see real justice [but] could not find it working through the system, and wanted to provoke a more sincere conversation about the role of policing in Black communities in particular.”

Many of the progressive goals that Chicago organizers have been fighting for are the foundational world-building blocks of Johnson’s campaign. He vowed to support Bring Chicago Home, which would increase the real estate transfer tax on real-estate sales valued over $1 million to create a dedicated revenue stream to address homelessness. He also vowed to create a homeless preference at the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to prioritize them for housing choice vouchers and site-based units.

He wants to immediately enact a freeze on the transfer of CHA land to non-housing uses. Such controversial land swaps have led to the construction of a new $150 million open-enrollment school near the South Loop, or the construction of Chicago Fire Football Club practice facility for professional soccer, instead of new housing promised to those forced out of public housing. In 2015, community organizers and residents from Dearborn, Ickes and Wentworth Gardens Homes called for city leaders to put a moratorium on CHA land transfers to create a plan for replacement housing, which was promised when the highrise project homes were demolished between the late 1990s and 2010s. 

Additionally, Johnson vowed to double youth summer employment to over 60,000 jobs, reopen shuttered mental health clinics, support the Treatment Not Trauma ordinance to have health professionals, not police, respond to mental health crises, and promote 200 new police detectives to lower caseloads and improve murder clearance rates.

“It exists in every single institution, the structural violence that has been the prevailing form of governance,” Johnson said. “And I believe that’s why there’s so much energy and excitement around my candidacy, because we made it very clear that the tale of two cities, we’re going to put an end to that.”

On Tuesday, April 4, CTU president Stacy Davis Gates introduced Brandon Johnson, who won the 2023 Chicago mayor's race. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE.
On Tuesday, April 4, Johnson supporters and volunteers filed into the Grand Horizon Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in the South Loop. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE.

The crowd at Johnson’s Election Night watch party brimmed with angst, excitement and pure Black joy as Johnson began pulling ahead of Vallas in the race.

“I’m glad that this is finally at an end. I’m hoping it comes to the correct conclusion. I believe that Brandon Johnson is the correct person for this job,” said Sharyn Payne, a longtime Woodlawn resident and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and Southside Organizing for Power (STOP).

About 2,000 people filled the Marriott Marquis in the South Loop, eagerly awaiting election results. 

“If the numbers hold, that’ll be great for Chicago. It gives us an opportunity to reset our path and figure out a different way of doing government in the city of Chicago, a way that supports our communities in a way that uplifts people and a way that addresses some of our nagging, long-standing challenges in the community and in the city,” Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) told The TRiiBE.

By 9:00 pm, the energy in the room shifted to celebration mode as the 1992 house music classic “Percolator” began to flow out of the speakers. People all over the room began dancing in unison. 

The energy in the room didn’t dissipate. The room was still celebrating as Johnson took the stage to address the crowd after Vallas conceded. 

“Chicago, tonight is just the beginning,” Johnson told the crowd. “With our voices and our votes, we have ushered in a new chapter in the history of our city. 

“The truth is the people have always worked for Chicago. Whether you wake up early to open the doors of your businesses, teach middle school or wear a badge to protect our streets or nurse patients in need or provide childcare services. You have always worked for this city. And now Chicago will begin to work for its people, all the people because tonight is a gateway to a new future for our city.”

Throughout his speech, Johnson reiterated the heart of his campaign, which is to invest in people. He also added that he would build upon the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who brought his campaign to Chicago in the mid-1960s to shine a light on the inhumane living conditions for Black people on the West Side and that of Chicago’s first Black mayor Harold Washington who, built a multi-racial coalition and enacted transformative change throughout his decades-long career in public life. 

“Tonight is proof that by building a multicultural, multigenerational movement, we can bring together everyone. No matter if you live on the North, South, and West sides. We have demonstrated that we can change the world, Chicago. We finally will have a city government that truly belongs to the people of Chicago,” he said. 

On Tuesday evening, Lightfoot, in a written statement, congratulated Johnson on his win. “It is time for all of us as Chicagoans, regardless of our ZIP code or neighborhood, our race or ethnicity, the creator we worship, or who we love, to come together and recommit ourselves to uniting around our shared present and future. My entire team and I stand ready to collaborate throughout the transition period,” the statement reads.

On Tuesday, April 4, Johnson supporters and volunteers filed into the Grand Horizon Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in the South Loop. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE.
On Tuesday, April 4, Johnson supporters and volunteers filed into the Grand Horizon Ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in the South Loop. Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE.

There’s over a month left until Johnson’s May 15 inauguration. That means the transition process is in full swing. During a one-on-one interview with The TRiiBE on April 5, Johnson named public safety, public transportation, environment and housing as his top priorities. 

He added that it’s important to identify the people who can “unite our city around education, public safety, transportation, healthcare and environment,” referring to people that will fill the roles in his administration’s cabinet. 

“I believe in co-governance. I want people to know that the process that I will lead will be transparent,” Johnson said. 

He said that during the first 100 days of his administration, he plans to address youth employment by doubling the number of young people hired for both summer and year-round positions. 

In addition, Johnson wants to prioritize how the city handles mental health care services and wants to pass Treatment Not Trauma and Bring Chicago Home as well as an impact study for the environment. He also plans to reopen the Department of Environment. The office was removed in 2011 under then-mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lightfoot created a new position in city government, the Chief Sustainability Officer, to replace the department.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward) first introduced the  “Treatment Not Trauma” ordinance to the City Council’s Health and Human Relations committee in 2020

As written, the ordinance would establish 24-hour crisis response teams within the Chicago Department of Public Health and deploy them citywide. The response teams would be equipped with a clinical social worker, emergency medical professional, or registered nurse. 

Bring Chicago Home is a proposal that calls for restructuring the real-estate transfer tax on high-end property sales and imposing a one-time tax on sold properties; funds would be redirected toward efforts to combat homelessness.

“We cannot have people sleeping outside and I’m going to work very hard to see Bring Chicago Home become a reality,” he said. 

Johnson also wants to ensure that Chicagoans, even those that didn’t vote for him, have a seat at the table. He said he is committed to uniting the city.

“Uniting this city in this moment is not just crucial and critical for the city of Chicago, but it’s critical for our democracy because there’s so much divisiveness,” he explained. “I’m going to work hard every single day to continue to unite this city and I appreciate the opportunity to do that.”

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.
is the digital news editor for The TRiiBE.
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE.