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Juan González on Chicago Mayoral Race: Can a Progressive, Multiracial Coalition Win?

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Image Credit: Brandon for Chicago / Paul Vallas

Chicago residents are voting Tuesday in a mayoral runoff election that has been dominated by issues of public safety, with the two leading candidates coming from different ends of the Democratic Party’s political spectrum. Brandon Johnson is an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union and backed by progressive forces in the city, and Paul Vallas is the former head of Chicago Public Schools who is endorsed by the police union. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, who lives in Chicago, gives his analysis of the race and why it holds national implications. “It raises the question of 'Can a progressive, multiracial coalition capture the mayoralty in the nation's third-largest city, as Harold Washington did so 40 years ago back in 1983?’”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re continuing with elections, today the special runoff election for Chicago mayor, where voters are choosing between two Democrats from different ends of the political spectrum: Brandon Johnson, organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, and Paul Vallas, the former head of Chicago Public Schools, who’s endorsed by the Chicago police union. Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States, and today’s runoff mayoral election has drawn national attention.

Juan, you’re in Chicago. You have had these mayoral forum that you have been presiding over. Talk about the significance of this day.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Amy, I’m still getting accustomed and learning the intricacies of local Chicago politics, but, clearly, this race has national implications, as well. It raises the question of “Can a progressive, multiracial coalition capture the mayoralty in the nation’s third-largest city, as Harold Washington did so 40 years ago, back in 1983?”

And the issues between the two supposed Democratic candidates are clear. Vallas is a centrist whose main focus throughout the campaign has been crime, crime and crime. And he backs increasing — backing the police department, increasing the number of police. He has not placed as much emphasis, however, on another aspect of his long-term policies, which have been the further privatization of public schools and the creation of more charter schools. And he’s received major backing from the police unions and wealthy developers, real estate developers, in the city. On the other hand, Brandon Johnson is a progressive who backs police reform, alternatives to policing, supports and defends, obviously, public education and taxing the rich.

But the polls so far are showing — there was just one by Northwestern University a week ago — a very close race. About 44% of voters appear to be backing Brandon Johnson, 44% Vallas, with about 12% undecided. So, what’s going to be critical today is going to be, obviously, one, turnout, because the undecideds will have a big impact, but the question is who turns out to vote.

And also, what happens among Latino voters? And I think this has not gotten quite as much attention. When Harold Washington ran back in 1983, he got a big majority of the Latino vote, but back then there were only — Latinos only represented about 16% of the city’s population. Today they represent 29% of the city’s population, almost double 40 years ago. And Johnson is not faring well so far, according to the polls. We don’t know for sure, because polls are often wrong. But according to these polls, Vallas has considerable support among Latinos, about 46% to 35%. He’s got just about 51% of support among white voters. And Brandon Johnson has a healthy majority among African American voters, but not the overwhelming number that Harold Washington had 40 years ago.

One of the big things that’s happened is, many of the mayoral candidates, African American mayoral candidates in the first round, are backing Vallas — Sophia King, Ja’Mal Green, [Roderick] Sawyer, Willie Wilson. They all ran for mayor in the first round, and they will come out to back Vallas. In fact, the only candidate who ran for mayor in the Latino community, Jesús “Chuy” García, is the only one of the candidates who is backing Brandon Johnson.

So, it remains to be seen what happens in the Latino community. Unfortunately, I think Johnson has made a big mistake in not highlighting the support of Chuy García. And what’s happened is, according to the polls, about a third of Latino voters actually believe that Vallas is a Latino. He’s actually descended from Greek American immigrants. And so, the reality is that there’s confusion in the Latino community. There has not been enough outreach from the Johnson campaign. So it remains to be seen how the turnout will develop throughout the rest of the day. And we’ll see what happens.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: I watched Paul Vallas ruin the New Orleans school system. I watched Paul Vallas fire Black teachers in New Orleans. I watched Paul Vallas divide and divide and tear that community apart and tear the Philadelphia community apart. I watched him do it. And could there be any better indicator of where Paul Vallas stands than for Betsy DeVos’s PAC — I don’t care what he says. For Betsy DeVos and her PAC to come in and support Paul Vallas tells you everything you need to know about him.

AMY GOODMAN: Randi Weingarten is head of AFT. Arne Duncan, the former education secretary under Obama, and Senator Dick Durbin supported Vallas. At the same time, you have Senators Warren and Bernie Sanders — right, Juan? — coming out for —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For Brandon Johnson, yes, absolutely. This is really a classic battle within the Democratic Party between progressives and the more conservative and centrist forces in the party. But we’ll see now who is actually being able to reach the masses of the voters and turn them out in today’s election.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Juan, for giving us that briefing. Of course, we’re going to ask you about what happens tomorrow.

Coming up, Finland joins NATO. Stay with us.

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