Why the Chicago Mayor’s Race Has National Implications

The race to determine who will be the next mayor of Chicago may appear on the surface to be a battle to decide who will sit in the captain’s chair of the Titanic for the next four years. Chicago is a mess, and neither candidate — former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson — has any bright ideas on how to fix the broken metropolis.

But the April 4 runoff election will have an impact far beyond the boundaries of Chicago. Vallas is the pro-cop, pro-law-and-order candidate who has prioritized public safety in the war-torn city. On the other hand, Johnson is still trying to live down his “defund the police” past. He now says he would not cut police spending but wants to invest more in impoverished areas.

Meanwhile, Vallas wants more cops on the beat and a lot more cops on the city’s mass-transit trains, where crime has become unmanageable.

The “defund of the police” lobby had its way for almost three years and the results are self-evident. But it will take at least 5-7 years to train the thousands of police officers to fill the vacancies on the force and beef up mass-transit security.

Chicago’s Police Superintendent David Brown officially stepped down on Thursday, leaving the force momentarily leaderless. No matter who will be named to the top spot, Chicago — and many other major cities — is being roiled by the security debate. And it’s not just about cops. The divide in this debate is racial.

It’s not that most blacks don’t want better policing. But in the past, it was thought that more police meant more harassment of innocent black citizens. Whether that was true or not doesn’t matter. That was the perception of police in Chicago by blacks, and that perception still holds to this day. Torture, forced confessions, manufactured evidence, extortion — hundreds of cases over the last 20 years have been thrown out because of police misconduct.

So despite the huge increase in shootings and murders, many blacks are leery of giving the new mayor a blank check to hire thousands more police officers.

This is the backdrop to the mayor’s race and the debate on law and order. And big-city Democrats across the country are watching closely.

The Guardian:

In one month, the general election could serve as a bellwether for how Democratic voters across the nation think about crime – a topic that became deeply politicized during an uptick in violence after the onset of Covid-19 and the widespread call for police reform after George Floyd’s murder. Chicago is the third largest city in the US, and its nearly 3 million residents are deeply segregated and break down into almost equal thirds white, Black and Hispanic. What may appear on the surface to be a reliable Democratic stronghold actually encompasses a wide spectrum of moderate liberals, progressives and even some Trump supporters, the latter concentrated among cops, firefighters and other public workers living on the far Northwest Side.

At a time when places like New York City and Washington DC are reassessing their approach to public safety issues and rebuilding their communities, Chicago’s election in April could inform how some of the biggest cities move forward.

“Things like theft and burglary have been trending down for the last two or three decades and the last couple of years is no different. Even overall violence hasn’t increased that much,” said David Olson, a criminal justice professor and co-director of Loyola University’s Center for Criminal Justice Research. “The challenge politically are the crimes that have increased are the ones that are the most serious and the most visible in terms of coverage by the media and attention by people. And rightfully so, given the fact that homicide is the most serious offense.”

It’s not just homicide. Rape, home invasion, and burglary have also shot up despite murders decreasing slightly. And auto theft has shot up 55% in the last year.

All this leads to a feeling of insecurity — a feeling shared by many residents of big cities across America. A Vallas win would give hope to the more reasonable Democrats around the country who will take note of Vallas’s campaign themes and look to apply them to their own races in 2024.

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