Columns | Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: Union solidarity bypassed for mayoral runoff candidates

Brandon Johnson or Paul Vallas – who’s your pick?

I know, chances are high if you’re reading this you’re not eligible to vote in the Chicago mayoral runoff election April 4. In 2019, only about 523,000 Chicagoans chose between Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle. That wasn’t even 33% of registered Chicago voters, nor 20% of the city’s residents, and just a shred more than 4% of statewide population.

So we’re not spending a lot of time here in this space dedicated to state government on the Vallas-Johnson showdown, but there are two things worth noting.

Scott T. Holland

First is the opinion of one prominent Chicago voter, current Gov. JB Pritzker. Asked last week if he’d make a post-primary endorsement, Pritzker succinctly explained why attention on city hall is warranted beyond the urban core.

“The governor and the mayor of the city of Chicago have to be able to work together,” Pritzker said. “We saw for years, I think, under [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel and [Gov.] Bruce Rauner, where they didn’t, and that wasn’t good for the state or for the city of Chicago.”

Cooperation doesn’t mean lockstep agreement. Voters are right to push Pritzker to be a governor for all of Illinois. But open contempt between two such prominent elected officials is definitely problematic.

That leads to the second thing worth noting: this election is a perfect example of the rift between the two most powerful labor unions – teachers and cops – while shedding light on how that schism resonates throughout the political and commentary spectrum.

Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, is a former public educator and current Chicago Teachers Union organizer. Critics note the CTU’s heavy investment in his campaign and say electing Johnson would further entrench the union’s political power.

Vallas is a former Chicago Public School CEO and city budget director. Although a registered Democrat, he won the endorsement of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, which last year endorsed two Republicans, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and state Sen. Darren Bailey, in failed gubernatorial bids. Critics note the FOP’s role in defending police misconduct and say electing Vallas would further enrich the union’s political power.

When the FOP recently hosted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – a likely GOP presidential candidate and Pritzker’s dogmatic opposite – Vallas sought to create distance between himself and DeSantis’ right-wing positions. Pritzker has strongly supported teachers, but he might withhold a Johnson endorsement over concerns about being seen as too far to the left.

Most Illinoisans can’t vote in Chicago. But we all can observe the power dynamics, organized labor’s political might and arguments about ideology and outcome masked as concerns about process and influence.

And, if nothing else, we can be reminded to participate in our own local elections.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at