The Fiercest Fight In Democratic Politics Is In Chicago

The Fiercest Fight In Democratic Politics Is In Chicago

On the last day of February, Lori Lightfoot became the first female mayor of Chicago in 34 years to lose an election. The polarizing Democrat was one of the few big-city leaders in America to govern during the pandemic and once again clashed with voters by finishing third and failing to advance. His defeat, sharply rejected by the voters who gave him a huge lead four years ago, served as a warning to mayors around the world: your position will not save you.

Two opposing candidates are vying to replace him in the April 4 runoff: Paul Wallace, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, and Brandon Johnson, Commissioner of Cook County and former public school teacher. The rivalry, of course, could be racial—Johnson was black and Wallace was white—but the biggest difference between the two men, both Democrats, was ideology. Just as the party has undergone major changes nationally, moving leftward from the Clinton consensus of the 1990s when strong moderates struggled to resist progressive dominance, Chicago is now the scene of a fierce battle of the center-left – or even the middle ground. . – Right, depending on your point of view.

Wallas, 69, who has run three school systems besides Chicago, emerged as the clear, if undefeated, favourite. In the first ballot, Wallace received 33% to Johnson's 22%, an excellent result for a man who had finished ninth in a race against Lightfoot four years earlier. He slowly built a powerful coalition that transcended his white base of moderate liberal law reformers, disillusioned and crime-weary black voters who wanted to run as the candidate backed by the president of the right-wing local police union Permeet.

The Obama world, which still influences Chicago politics and is suspicious of the progressive left, also supports Wallas. Dick Durbin, a senior Illinois senator and close associate of the former president, supported Wallace over the weekend and received a sharp rebuke from the Chicago chapter of the Indivisible. Arne Duncan, the Obama administration's education secretary who served in Chicago schools under Wallace, wrote an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune in support of Wallace's mayoral office and drew support from David Axelrod on Twitter. The business elite also supported Wallas, who criticized Johnson for wanting to raise taxes to fill the city's coffers. Billionaire Kenneth Griffin, one of the GOP's most prolific donors, is a supporter of Wallace, and a coalition of business leaders, including the Chicago Board of Trade, recently released a joint statement denouncing Johnson's "tax cut plans."

Johnson, 47, is the candidate for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Jesse Jackson, and is a member of the local Working Families Party. (At least one influential negotiator from the institutional wing of the Democratic Party, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, also endorsed Johnson.) The Chicago Teachers' Union, arguably the most powerful union in the city, invested heavily in Johnson and donated more than a dollar. Million. to the campaign. Perhaps more important to the union leadership, they scolded Wallas. "The fact that he even claims to run this city is a disgusting display of privilege that can be a disincentive for someone like him," said teachers union president Stacey Davis Gates. “He did not provide proof of his competence. He showed no signs of a unifying force." If County Commissioner Cook found a way to beat Wallace, he would become one of the brightest stars on the Democratic Left, an outspoken progressive in charge of a leading city in America.

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On a recent forum, the two men made fun of each other in a very personal way, but the animosity is rooted in ideology. Every Democrat has very different ideas about how America's third-largest city, struggling with a post-pandemic future, should be governed over the next four years. “You build an economy on sand, and once the economy crashes, you run away,” Johnson told Wallace of his experiences as a director in four cities. "The number of killings committed by school-aged students has skyrocketed," Wallas said, recalling the pandemic school closures that Johnson supported. "You must answer yourself.

So far, the race has been tilted slightly towards Wallace, who has waged a disciplined campaign to portray Johnson as too anti-police and business-minded to run Chicago, a city still struggling to fully recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. “Ultimately he supports defunding the police,” Wallas told me. “Him and the union leadership, the impact on schools has been disastrous. I think that would be bad not only for public safety, but also for public education."

Johnson replied that the former principal would ruin education. “The point here is that the conditions we live in, created and managed by my opponent's financial system, are rearing its ugly head once again to destroy the hopes and dreams of workers and middle managers. Class families and those living in poverty,” he told me. “Fully funded ward schools are ready to take over; he is a privatizer. Affordable housing is at stake; He was part of a government that closed public housing."

Johnson should, in theory at least, be able to make a big difference in Chicago's working-class black community, but Wallas was not without support there. Bobby Rush, a recently retired veteran congressman, announced his support for Wallace, as did Willie Wilson, a long-rumoured businessman and wealthy candidate. In the first ballot, southern and western counties favored Lightfoot, the city's first black woman mayor, and both campaigns vied block by block not only for the black Democrat vote, but for the Hispanic vote of progressive Jesus. "Chui" Garcia in the first round of voting. "I stand with Paul because if you look at what Brandon stood for, Brandon's policies are going to basically destroy this town," said Anthony Beal, a black councilor from far Southside. “Brandon was never in charge of anything; he never led anything.

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In 2020, as widespread protests over the police killing of George Floyd rocked Chicago and across America, Johnson introduced a non-binding resolution calling for Cook County to "shift funds from police and detention to third-party public services." redirect law enforcement. . Since then, Johnson has, rhetorically at least, abandoned the Protect the Police movement, which remains popular on the left but has found little popularity elsewhere. Johnson, who has continued to push for more mental health services, jobs and a stronger social safety net to fight violent crime, also said he wants to hire more police detectives and stop slashing the Chicago Police Department's nearly depleted budget. 2 billion dollars.

“If you want to make Chicago better, stronger and safer, you have to invest and spend money. There are no shortcuts to public safety,” Johnson told me. “I understand how some people try to describe me. I understand. When you grow up in America, you really understand a lot more than people think."

As the pandemic, for all its horrors, subsides, bitterness remains in Chicago over the closing of public schools. Unlike New York City, which partially reopened public schools in the fall of 2020, Chicago is not reopening in-person classes until the end of April 2021, a shutdown that lasted more than a year. Union members, as well as many students and parents, feared for their lives, and the hybrid approach adopted by New York City that school year was condemned by teachers and parents alike. But Chicago's long-standing school closures — and the power CTU wielded in negotiations with the city — have been major discussion topics for Wallas, who criticized Johnson for supporting a year without gym classes in the city.

"He was responsible for shutting down the school system for 15 straight months and shutting down systems long after other school districts across the country and state reopened," Wallas said. He argued that school closures had caused "a historic brain drain on students and a dramatic decline in academic achievement." Wallas claims that this has contributed to what he says is a "record increase in homicides and other violent crimes, such as car thefts, being committed by young people outside of school."

In a lull with some Democrats across the country, Johnson has staunchly defended the extended shutdown. “If there is a pandemic 100 years from now, we need to think about how to keep people alive. Most of the people who died during the pandemic were black and brown and saving lives is very important.”

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Education, of course, is at the forefront of mayoral elections, with the leader earning his reputation through his tenure as head of a large and complex system of public schools. Wallas has been a longtime proponent of publicly funded private charter schools. "Both President Clinton and President Obama were strong advocates of charter schools," Wallas said. "Why don't we let existing charter schools, which serve 56,000 children in Chicago, 96 percent of whom are black and Hispanic, use vacant buildings that the city has closed down and teachers' unions are barred from occupying charter schools?" Think about it for a moment."

By the 2020s, the charter had lost some of its luster due to falling out of favor with Democrats, who saw it as a covert attempt to destroy unions, and ignored by Trump's Republican Party, which was intrigued by then-education reforms. In New Orleans, where Wallas was tasked with rebuilding the school system after Hurricane Katrina, he quickly closed neighborhood schools and opened start-ups, earning praise and scrutiny. According to the Times-Picayune, "a lack of transparency, a lack of concern for the most disadvantaged students" was criticized. In Philadelphia, Wallas was hired after the state took over the public school system. He made big changes, but left a deficit and a lot of noise. When speaking of Chicago, his supporters, including former labor leaders and veterans of the Obama administration, describe him as a gifted leader with the ability to revive ailing schools. He improved test scores and opened nearly 80 new schools. In the 1990s, he became the first CEO of Chicago Public Schools to receive Bill Clinton's endorsement.

However, there were plenty of detractors in Chicago. Wallas decided to relinquish pension payments to the teacher pension scheme, which had become an enemy of unions and fueled Johnson's campaign. Wallas has been criticized for poor financial management, poor academic growth, and harsh penalties for underperforming schools. For critics of Wallas, then-mayor Rahm Emanuel's divisive attempts to close schools in the neighborhood were rooted in his tenure as principal.

Wallas is better known than Johnson for his high school leadership and previous presidential elections, but neither candidate particularly impressed. Arguments in favor of one inevitably turn to arguments against: Wallas, a predatory neoliberal, against Johnson, an upstart activist politician. As Alderman Beal said, Johnson never did anything right. And when Wallace came to power, controversy inevitably followed. The question remains whether more voters will see Wallas or Johnson as too dangerous for Chicago.

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