With public safety front and center in Chicago’s runoff mayoral election, Brandon Johnson, a public school teacher, has emerged as a powerful contender against police union-backed candidate Paul Vallas.

Maximillian Alvarez, The Real News

With Lori Lightfoot ousted, Chicago’s mayor seat is up for grabs in a Democratic Party runoff election between Brandon Johnson and police union-backed candidate Paul Vallas. A former public school teacher backed by a wide grassroots coalition, Johnson has soared in the polls in recent months as a serious challenger to the Democratic establishment in a city where the party machine has dominated for generations. With questions of public safety and police violence at the center of Chicago’s politics, Johnson’s platform seeks to address the conjoined problems of violence and police domination of the city’s budget and politics. As part of a collaboration between The Real News Network and In These Times magazine, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with Brandon Johnson directly to learn more about his plan to overcome Chicago’s multifaceted challenges, and build a future for all in the Windy City.

chicago police car

Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. An updated version will be made available as soon as possible.

Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez, I’m the editor in chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us. The Real News is an independent, viewer-supported, nonprofit media network. We don’t take corporate cash, we don’t have ads, which means we need each one of you to become monthly sustainers so we can keep bringing y’all coverage of the voices and issues you care about most. Just head on over to therealnews.com/support and donate today.

Chicago is in the midst of a high-stakes runoff election that will decide who the Second City’s next mayor will be, after a stunning first round of voting at the end of February knocked incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot out of the race. Equally shocking, the results of that first-round election would pit frontrunner Paul Vallas, a conservative Democrat and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia, against an unexpected progressive challenger, Brandon Johnson, a former rank-and-file member of and staff organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) who currently serves as an elected member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, representing the 1st district.

As Miles Kampf-Lassin, the web editor for In These Times magazine, wrote in an article for Jacobin:

Lightfoot is the first Chicago mayor in forty years to be denied a second term. She faced opposition from voters across the political spectrum, including those who supported her four years ago. After abandoning many of her progressive campaign promises from 2019 once in office, liberals grew critical of her administration, while more moderate and conservative residents blamed her for an increase in crime and other problems afflicting the city… Throughout his campaign, Johnson made fighting inequality across the city a central theme, prioritizing working-class communities while taxing Chicago’s wealthy. He received major backing from the CTU and United Working Families, a coalition of left-wing organizations and unions that has become a highly influential player in city politics over the past decade. He also received support from national groups like the Working Families Party.

Can the insurgent progressive candidate Johnson and his coalition of supporters carve a path to victory and to the Mayor’s office on April 4? If so, how will Mr. Johnson’s administration address the issues that matter most to Chicagoans, from crime and public safety to the cost of living and housing crises crushing poor and working people in the city? And what plans does he have for counteracting the political gridlock and the entrenched, elite-serving, neoliberal status quo that has dominated Chicago politics and engendered so much lost faith in city government among residents in the city?

As a collaboration between The Real News and the great In These Times magazine, which is based in Chicago, I got to speak briefly with Mr. Johnson on Friday, March 17, and pose these questions to him directly. We are hoping to also record an interview with Paul Vallas—so far his team has been unresponsive to our requests, but perhaps that will change. But here, for our Real News viewers and listeners, we are sharing my full interview with Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson.

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