Nonetheless, he has gained a new sheen of respectability. His endorsement by the Chicago Tribune calls him “unapologetically wonkish” with “detailed plans and fresh ideas” and “nationally recognized expertise in city financing, policing and public education.”
In substance, Vallas is the same candidate as he was four years ago, running on his reputation as a policy wonk and a champion of police. In a typical line from a televised debate last month, he said, “Chicago’s in a leadership crisis. Every problem we’re experiencing, from the escalating crime to the individuals leaving our school system in record numbers to the fact that we’re now the highest-taxed city among big cities in the country, is a product of bad decisions from the Fifth Floor [where the Mayor’s office is in City Hall].” What has changed is Vallas’s operation of a more sophisticated, disciplined campaign; an easier set of challengers (in 2019, he was one of many white male politicians vying for the law-and-order vote, and this time, he is the only white candidate and the only conservative Democrat polling well); and a political environment where “defunding the police” has become a convenient bogeyman for Democrats.
Chicago—and Illinois in general—has not been a stranger to the nationwide backlash against progressive criminal justice policies. In 2020, progressive prosecutor Kim Foxx successfully defended herself against three challengers in the most expensive Cook County state’s attorney race in history, evading the eventual fate of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled from office due to a tough-on-crime backlash. In 2022, Governor Pritzker was the subject of a conservative misinformation campaign after he signed a historic criminal justice reform bill that, among many things, made Illinois the first state to abolish cash bail. The right called it the “Purge Law,” claiming that jails would be emptied out in a chaotic free-for-all.