Residents of Chicago will head to the polls this Tuesday to choose a new Democratic mayoral candidate whose strategies to challenge the city’s struggles diverge widely. On one side, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is seen as a progressive backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, proposing tax hikes for businesses and the wealthy. His counterpart, former head of Chicago Public Schools, Paul Vallas, on the other hand, has attracted the support of the police union, advocating ways to reduce crime and attract businesses.
Barack Obama’s former political strategist David Axelrod described the choice between the two candidates as a “stark choice” due to the significant differences between their respective manifestos. Chicago is facing a critical crossroads, its recovery from the pandemic exacerbating existing issues of inequality and crime. Impacted further, high-profile corporate departures like Boeing Co. and Citadel’s Ken Griffin and the announcement of McDonald’s Corp. essentially downsizing their US offices has further hurt its image and put more strain on the city’s finances.
The new mayor will be put in a challenging position in order to tackle crime but also appealing to businesses in order to bring in much-needed revenue to the city. In addition to this, the city also has to deal with a potential economic downturn and has yet to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Paul Vallas has been critical of the city’s downtown vacancies and falling school enrolments, warning about the city’s looming fiscal cliff. He intends to hold the line on taxes, fines and fees to make Chicago a business-friendly destination.
Meanwhile, Brandon Johnson has proposed a $4 per employee tax on large companies based in Chicago, as well as a $1 or $2 tax on securities-trading, which would need state approval. Johnson has also proposed taxes on hotels, fees on the sale of high-end properties, and a levy on airlines that pollute the city’s air.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, reports that Chicago’s revenue is expected to fall from 2023 and its coffers fully depleted, with federal funds soon ending. This, added to the risk of a US recession, paints a bleak picture for the city.
Citadel, founded in 1990 and led by Ken Griffin, is one of the world’s largest hedge funds, managing over $32 billion in assets. The fund moved its headquarters to Florida in 2020, citing the high crime rate in Chicago as one of the reasons.
Paul Vallas, who was born in Oak Park and grew up in a single-parent home, is renowned for his impressive career in education reform and cost management. His work as the head of the Chicago and Philadelphia school systems assisted him in garnering recognition and respect as an authority in education. He was also the budget director for the city of Chicago and the Chairman of the Illinois Economic Development Authority. He also ran two unsuccessful bids for Governor of Illinois and the US Congress.