Chicago Mayoral Election: Paul Vallas Has Administrative Skills, Brandon Johnson Has Heart Of City

I recall with much fondness the long car drives in 1983 from Sturgeon Bay to my family home when the heated Chicago mayoral race was front and center on all their radio stations.  The drives were pleasant though the heated campaigns that year from the Windy City were not.  Harold Washington was doing battle with Bernard Epton and every racial dog whistle that could be employed against the Black candidate, overtly or covertly, was used in the dirty race.  The reason I recall that period so clearly surely is aided by the recollection of a bag of donuts from a local bakery and coffee for the journey as I visited my folks once a week while employed at WDOR. It took a number of chocolate donuts to offset the rancor from Edward Vrdolyak, Edward Burke, and Edmund Kelly. The three Eddies were simply ugly in every political context. Ahhh, Chicago politics.

Fast forward to 2023, and the upcoming mayoral election, which will land on the anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr, a race that pits Brandon Johnson, a Black candidate with a passionate message about inclusion and lifting all parts of the city, with Paul Vallas a white contender with a skill set and background which would greatly aid in running a city.  If you find it hard to discern who should be elected in Chicago from that last line, you have great good reading comprehension.

The idea is often heard from voters about wishing to be able to ‘pick and choose that character or attribute from two candidates and make a blended person’ a result that would please the vast majority. Perhaps in no other campaign in many, many a year has that mood been truer than what is playing out between Johnson and Vallas.  I was pleased when Vallas announced his candidacy and was surprised how Johnson won the votes to put himself into the April runoff, considering the other candidates vying for votes.  It was impressive to see Brandon’s campaign foster so much goodwill and grassroots support.  I have said often in conversations with others that Johnson does not have the best honed political skills, as evidenced by some of his remarks or not being able to deftly glide around an issue as Vallas does due to the latter having been in the game far longer. But Johnson has a well of deep sincerity and determination that is required in any big-city mayor.

Readers may have noted that last week I posted about a very well-done documentary concerning Jayne Byrne.  Though she used a populist theme of the insiders vs. the outsiders to win the election following Michael Bilandic and a snowstorm he had no way of controlling it was clear she had not the skill set to run the city. It showed even with the basics, such as not talking to the press at every turn and certainly not attacking them when rough waters buffeted her. She was gritty and I recall her term in office as being just fun to hear play out over the radio airwaves, but she simply did not have the political and administrative qualities needed to govern a major American city.  

While the polls are way too close to call a winner in this year’s important mayoral race, I try to consider how the average voter there might view the landscape.  Even though Johnson is a conventional family man and has a strong religious background, which does matter to some voters, and Vallas admits to having lived apart from his wife for decades and is known for profanity-laden angry outbursts, I suspect his skill set proves to be the weight that moves the voters.  It was, after all, Valas’ skill set that first brought a smile from this desk upon learning he was to be a candidate. I can not vote there but I do love the Windy City.

We are a week away when the bulk of voters head to the polls, and then politicos such as in this home will turn to the CBS app and watch live coverage of all the excitement from Chicago on Election Night. Good times for pols and polticos.

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