Sen. Bernie Sanders I-Vt. has endorsed Brandon Johnson for Chicago mayor, providing the latest national backing for the Cook County Commissioner who is in a bare-knuckles brawl over the city’s top job with the former Chicago Schools CEO Paul Vallas.
The 46-year-old Johnson surged in the last several weeks to emerge as one of two contenders for the April 4 Chicago mayoral runoff, helping knock out incumbent Lori Lightfoot from advancing to the second round.
Now, Johnson squares off against Vallas, once a perennial candidate, whose tough-on-crime mantra lifted him to secure the top spot in the first round of the mayoral contest.
In a tweet, Sanders said that Johnson, “knows the struggles of working families and the need to stand up for strong unions, make the rich pay their fair share, to invest in affordable housing, quality health care, better schools, and good jobs. That’s why I’m proud to endorse him for mayor of Chicago.”
Sanders’ entry in the race is only further fueling the contention by Vallas that Johnson is too far left for a city grappling with a public safety crisis. The Vallas campaign did not respond to Sanders, but the candidate earlier Thursday took aim, as he has regularly, at Johnson’s past statements about police funding.
“Brandon Johnson can’t run away from his embrace of extreme ideas like defunding the police. Now he says it is a political goal but ‘not his goal.’ Does anyone really believe that?” Vallas said on Twitter.
Johnson has called defunding the police a “political goal” but his campaign has backed away from past remarks, saying critics are attempting to reduce his beliefs into a hashtag. The campaign points to Johnson’s public safety plan that includes bolstering police ranks as well as boosting resources to respond to mental health emergencies and invest in communities.
As endorsements from elected officials like Sanders, Rep. Jim Clyburn D-S.C. and earlier, Sen. Elizabeth Warren D-Mass. have rolled in, Vallas has sought to offer a counterbalance with a show of local support, particularly among Black leaders in the city.
“The Vallas campaign is thrilled to be accepting the endorsement of prominent African American aldermen and business leaders today,” Vallas spokeswoman Sally Daly. “They have the pulse of their communities and will be working with Paul to spread his message to provide increased public safety and equity in each and every neighborhood.”