(Chicago) Chicago’s mayoral victory on Tuesday for little-known progressive and former teacher Brandon Johnson over a more moderate veteran of the city’s political world has given the Democratic Party’s most left-wing confidence a boost — and may have shown the way forward for the party on the sensitive issue of crime.

Mr. Johnson, 47, backtracked on some of his most progressive positions, including cuts to Chicago police personnel. But he never wavered from his position that, in a city where violence and crime are on the rise, leaders must take a fundamentally different approach to public safety. Instead of increasing police numbers, he advocated economic and community development, increasing the number of social workers and mental health professionals, as well as increasing the number of inspectors responsible for elucidating crimes committed.

“He might not call it a policing activity, but it will be part of the policing system,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis, a Chicago Democrat who has long supported Mr. Johnson in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Johnson’s victory could serve as a lesson to other Democrats battling Republicans’ verbal attacks. Rep. Delia Ramirez, a newly elected progressive Democrat from Chicago’s Northwest borough, was overjoyed.

Perhaps no issue has divided Democrats more than crime and policing, as violence has exploded across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, and Republicans have been relentless. assert that their opponents were soft on criminals. Crime and public safety are top concerns for Chicago voters, with 57%—and 61% of blacks—believing the city is unsafe, according to a poll conducted by Schoen Cooperman Research for the institute. curator Manhattan.

The city saw a 45% increase in crime compared to the same period last year in several categories, including sexual assault, robbery, burglary and auto theft. Murders are down from the spike in 2021 and 2022 amid the pandemic, but the number of murders this year is still nearly 50% higher than in 2019.

National Democrats had conceded they expected those numbers to give a narrow victory to Mr. Johnson’s opponent, Paul Vallas, 69, a former Chicago schools leader who has focused his campaign on the fight against crime.

“When people are afraid, they turn to what they perceive as strength,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle, who participated in an internet ad for Mr. Johnson, criticizing Mr. Vallas for his management of the Philadelphia school system. “As Bill Clinton said, people will choose strength and evil over weakness and good. As Democrats, we need to have a message on crime that fits this moment. »

Then Johnson won.

Boyle cautions against over-interpreting this result. Mr. Vallas may have lost because attention has focused on his mistakes leading the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans school systems and his association with Republicans, whom he be it suburban business leaders or the pro-Trump chairman of the local Fraternal Order of Police. With the power of the Chicago teachers’ union behind him, Mr. Johnson out-organized Mr. Vallas, who spent far more money on the campaign.

“In many ways, Paul Vallas is credited with this victory,” Mr. Boyle said.

Analysts also pointed out that Mr. Johnson’s victory likely had less to do with his ideology than with the consolidation of the black vote after a split primary and Mr. Vallas’ inability to offset that vote with higher Hispanic turnout. important than expected.

But liberal activists weren’t about to spoil the triumph of a young progressive voice that exuded optimism over an older, gruffer moderate who leaned heavily on the message that rising crime required more police with fewer restrictions. Leaders of the Democratic left, including Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, backed Johnson, lifting him from the shadows to put him in second place on the first ballot.

Ultimately, his appeal in a predominantly Democratic city got the better of Mr. Vallas’s efforts to prove his Democratic bona fide by enlisting the support of party stalwarts, including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, Arne Duncan, Secretary at the Education of former President Barack Obama, and former Rep. Bobby L. Rush, who became an icon on the South Side as the Black Panther.

“Brandon is representative of the Chicago of today: he’s progressive, he’s younger,” said Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat whose North Shore Lake District has been a focus of Mr. Johnson’s support. “This should give courage to those who want to lead progressive campaigns across the country and inspire those who believe in diversity and individual participation in elections. »

In this sense, the vote in Chicago resembled the ethnic community of Los Angeles more than that of New York. In Los Angeles, a wave of support for Republican-turned-Democrat Rick Caruso forced a runoff, but the race’s liberal Karen Bass ultimately prevailed. In New York, Eric Adams, a former police officer, won with a message focused on crime.

Howard Wolfson, who worked for Michael Bloomberg when he was mayor of New York and was involved in Bloomberg’s support of Mr. Adams, noted that Mr. Adams had something that Mr. Vallas did not: he suffered bad behavior from the police as a teenager and reformed criminal justice as a police officer.

“It was much harder to attack him on the issue of policing,” Mr. Wolfson said of Mr. Adams. “Mr. Vallas, given his own biography, was easier to attack. »