Thank God the Chicago mayoral campaign is finally over

At Passover, let us give thanks for freedom from campaign rhetoric.

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Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas debate each other at WBBM-TV CBS Channel 2’s studio, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas debate each other at WBBM-TV CBS Channel 2’s studio, Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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

Passover begins Wednesday night. The holiday where Jews sit late into the evening, delaying dinner while they give thanks for freedom. Our most comfortable holiday, in that it blends food (eventually), family and gratitude. Not to forget obligatory pillow leaning and mandatory wine drinking. What’s not to love?

Yes, a lot of the gratitude is scripted ritual in a language most participants don’t understand. And being Jews, who often have trouble sticking with the program, Seders often turn into general celebrations of freedom from all sorts of oppression. There is much ad-libbing. I certainly plan to give thanks for freedom, finally, from Chicago electoral politics, which have filled the airwaves for months, the past five weeks supercharged by the mayoral runoff.

The simplistic solutions and buzzwords hammered by candidates must offend anybody grounded in the real world. If fixes were that easy, you want to scream, how come nobody’s done them yet? With crime the No. 1 issue, you’d think the choice was: a) let cops do whatever they like so they don’t feel sad and instead start arresting people again so crime goes away, the Paul Vallas plan; or b) fix everything in society — jobs, schools, families — so crime goes away, the Brandon Johnson solution. Good luck with either of those plans.

There are valid reasons to be thankful for the election beyond that it is finally over. The campaigns were surprisingly civil, for a Chicago election. While race was always a factor — how could it not be? — there just wasn’t as much poisonous racial rancor as in years past. A low simmer rather than a rolling boil.

Yes, great white hope Vallas played footsie with the Fraternal Order of Police. But he didn’t come close to Bernie Epton’s notorious “Before it’s too late.” At least not in so many words.

And yes, Johnson, in one of what seemed like daily debates, accused Vallas of being “dismissive to a Black man.” Which approaches the Lori Lightfoot poor-me, you-hate-me-because-I’m-Black-and-not-because-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing quickstep. But both candidates were generally civil.

The 14 aldermanic races, without the megaphone of $30 million handed to Vallas and Johnson, were far more muted. Given the relatively lowly position that being an alderperson represents in the civic pecking order, from a distance any given race can seem like two toddlers in preschool fighting over a rag doll.

That doesn’t mean the races were entirely without interest.

“My greatest challenge is convincing Black people that I’m Black,” said Tina Hone, aldermanic candidate in the 5th ward, who is biracial. That line seems worth highlighting for future reference. I believe you could build an engaging college seminar around Howe’s statement, unpacking the shifting meanings of race as something inherited versus something lived. As both social impediment and political capital. And to be clear: I’m not saying she isn’t Black or should, as she claims, have been compelled to spend her life reminding people of her racial identity. It’s just thought-provoking.

As with gender, traditional notions of race are shifting. The mayoral campaign just completed, thank you Lord God Almighty, reminds us of that. The solid bloc, dance-with-who-brung-ya view of race is old hat in politics. Black ministers lined up behind Vallas, despite his canoodling caustic FOP head and Trump fan John Catanzara. While Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the whitest man alive, backed Johnson.

The other aldermanic race worth grabbing with tongs, pulling out of the tank and holding up for inspection is the 29th, a reminder to everyone who shrugged off the election — and most eligible Chicagoans don’t bother voting — that votes actually do matter, sometimes.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro missed the 50 percent runoff threshold in the February primary by 25 votes. Nor was that the narrowest margin: First Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata escaped a runoff by 14 votes.

If you’re like me, the aldermanic races are a footnote to the take-the-bandages-off-so-I-can-see-what-my-face-looks-like moment of picking a new mayor. Mayor Johnson? It might sound weird now, but we’ll get used to it.

Maybe Chicagoans weren’t as afraid as they’re supposed to be. Maybe they didn’t want to settle for a 69-year-old serial administrator with both the hue and the personal vibrancy of a damp gym sock. Maybe they decided, barely, to take a chance on a 47-year-old former schoolteacher with the brash confidence of someone with more hope than experience. I’d advise patience and moderate expectations.

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