Dueling endorsements in race for mayor

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis lines up behind his West Side neighbor, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle poised to do the same on Tuesday. Retiring Ald. Roderick Sawyer chooses Paul Vallas, becoming the first mayoral challenger to pick sides in the April 4 runoff.

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Mayoral challengers Paul Vallas (left) and Brandon Johnson.

Both remaining mayoral candidates lined up endorsements on Monday, with Paul Vallas (left) getting the backing of former challenger Ald. Roderick Sawyer, who is leaving the City Council after his failed bid for mayor. Brandon Johnson (right), meanwhile, got the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, whose district includes the Austin neighborhood where Johnson lives.

Sun-Times file photos

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Dueling endorsements from veteran African American politicians dominated the race for mayor of Chicago on Monday.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis lined up behind his West Side neighbor, Cook County Commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson, with County Board President Toni Preckwinkle poised to do the same on Tuesday.

Retiring Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) chose Paul Vallas, becoming the first of seven mayoral challengers to choose sides in the April 4 runoff.

Johnson and Vallas are in a fierce competition for the African American vote. In the first round, most of those were won by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and millionaire businessman Willie Wilson.

Davis’ endorsement helped Lightfoot sweep Chicago’s Black wards, including Davis’ home 29th Ward on the West Side. But it couldn’t spare Lightfoot from a defeat that makes her just the third elected mayor since Prohibition to be denied a second term.

Sawyer finished with 0.4% of the citywide vote, and failed to carry his own South Side ward, receiving 2.7% of votes there.

The value of both endorsements may or may not move the needle, but every little bit helps.

During a news conference outside the Harold Washington Library, Davis described Johnson as “fair-minded” and said he is confident his West Side neighbor will “represent every part of the city.”

Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson stands behind U.S. Rep. Danny Davis as Davis announces his endorsement of Johnson at a Loop news conference on March 6, 2023.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis announces his endorsement of Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson (standing behind him) at a Loop news conference Monday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

At 46, Johnson is also “the right age, full of energy, full of talent, full of responsibility” that will be needed to take on the formidable challenges awaiting Chicago’s next mayor, Davis said.

“I want a mayor who is a creative thinker, who thinks beyond where we have been, but thinks in terms of where we need to go,” Davis told reporters.

“Brandon Johnson has the talent, the skill, the ability to group around him all of the experts that he will need in every area,” said Davis. “What I really like the most is that Brandon Johnson will involve the citizens of Chicago in making decisions about what our city should be. It won’t just be the aldermen. It will be the aldermen and the people all working together on one accord. … I can’t hardly wait for him to march in to that fifth-floor office and say, ‘Here we are Chicago, ready for a new day, a new person.’”

Davis said he knows Vallas and worked with him when Vallas served as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s budget director.

“The difference between Brandon, myself and Paul is that Brandon and myself were teachers. Paul was a manager,” Davis said.

“The difference is Brandon walks and talks with the people each and every day and has the ability to understand their pain, their hurt, their frustration. Paul brings whatever attributes that he has. But I would have Brandon Johnson any day,” said Davis. “Paul will be my friend. … But Brandon is the candidate that I’d like to see on the fifth floor” of City Hall.

Sawyer joins retired Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and White’s political protégé, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), in the Vallas camp.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer shakes hands with Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas as they announce Sawyer’s endorsement during a news conference at Vallas’ campaign headquarters in the West Loop on March 6, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas (left) shakes hands Monday with retiring 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer, who endorsed Vallas during a news conference at Vallas campaign headquarters in the West Loop.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Brandon’s a good man. I have nothing bad to say about him. I just think that my politics are different than what his vision for the future is,” Sawyer told the Sun-Times Monday.

One big difference of opinion is on Johnson’s plan to raise $800 million through taxes on the wealthy and use those funds to pay for an array of programs.

“I’m not a big fan of the tax plan,” said Sawyer. “I’m not engaged about the head tax. I just don’t think that will bring our city forward. It will actually take us back. Those are a lot of the things that we fought against when I first got into office. It would be the antithesis of stuff that I would advocate for.”

Sawyer also said he is concerned Johnson’s CTU connection pose a conflict, given that Johnson would be negotiating with the teachers union when its contract expires next year. Besides $1 million in contributions, the union provided hundreds of foot soldiers to help get out the vote Feb. 28.

“The teachers union is becoming way too political,” said Sawyer, son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer.

Although Johnson no longer talks about “defunding” the police, Sawyer said he is equally concerned about Johnson’s refusal to commit to filling 1,700 police vacancies or fully funding the Chicago Police Department’s $1.94 billion budget.

Johnson said he wants to cut at least $150 million from the police budget by reducing the ratio of supervisors to rank-and-file officers and promoting 200 detectives.

“When Johnson talked about moving up detectives, I didn’t see a real plan to replace those officers. I don’t want to take more officers off the street to do that,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said he has no doubt Vallas will get the 20% to 25% percent of the Black vote he needs to win the runoff. His only concern is how ugly and racially divisive the race might get.

“That is dangerous,” Sawyer said. “We should be focusing on issues and not continue to fan those flames of race.”

Contributing: Ashlee Rezin

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