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Michael Liptrot And Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez Discuss Municipal Elections On Vocalo

Written by on March 7, 2023

Pictured above: Last-minute early voters cast ballots Monday at the Loop Super Site polling place operated by the Chicago Election Board. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago’s city elections took place on Feb. 28, narrowing down the nine mayoral candidates in the running to two — Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas — who will advance to the runoffs April 4.

Michael Liptrot of WBEZ’s Reset stopped by the Vocalo studio to break down the mayoral results with Bekoe. The two also touch on hotly contested aldermanic races on a call with Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez, who took home a victory in the 33rd Ward.

This year’s city election drew voters from across Chicago to cast their votes for one of nine mayoral candidates. Current mayor Lori Lightfoot conceded just after polls closed with 16.89% of the vote, the first time in 40 years an incumbent hasn’t made it to the runoff election. Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson, neither of whom earned the 51% of the vote needed to claim mayoral office, are advancing to the runoff on April 4.

Following the election, Michael Liptrot, producer for WBEZ’s Reset, stepped into the Vocalo studios to sit down with Bekoe and break down the election results for listeners, as well as discuss what people can expect as we advance toward the runoffs. Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez also called in to discuss her 33rd Ward win at the election, and what she hopes to see in a future mayor.

Bekoe and Michael Liptrot outside the Vocalo studios on March 1. Photo via Twitter.

Bekoe: It’s Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM, Chicago’s only NPR Music station. I’m your host Bekoe the Illest coming through your stereo. It is the top of the 11 o’clock hour, Chicago, and yesterday was a very, very, very busy day yesterday. And, as promised, I told you all I had a very special guest coming through in the building with me. He goes by the name of Michael Liptrot. He’s WBEZ’s journalist and producer. How you feeling, sir?

Michael Liptrot: Doing alright. Thanks for having me, Bekoe. It’s definitely a new day of a new chapter for the city of Chicago.

Michael Liptrot in the Vocalo studios, discussing the local elections with Bekoe on March 1. Jayvon Ambrose for Vocalo.

Bekoe: Yes, it is. Let me give you some hand claps, first and foremost, for even taking out time from your busy schedule. You know, it’s a very busy day yesterday. And here you are, yet again, being a busy man, breaking down things for… our listeners to hear. Now, first and foremost, man, did you get any sleep?

ML: I did. I did. I was here [at Chicago Public Media studios] until about 8 or 9 last night. Then I’ve been up since about 5 or so, been here since close to 7 just doing analysis and seeing what’s going on, and looking forward to the runoffs.

Bekoe: You ain’t get no sleep. [Both laugh] You definitely didn’t get no sleep! Now… before we even chime in on the runoffs, man, there were nine candidates, once upon a time, and now we’re down to two. Can you… give a synopsis on what took place yesterday, for everyone?

ML: So the polls, going into yesterday, were pretty indicative that, of the nine, four were going to be front-runners. Lori Lightfoot, of course, incumbent mayor, then Paul Vallas, Chicago Public Schools CEO and former mayoral candidate, from the 2019 election, Cook County Commissioner and teacher, Brandon Johnson, as well Jesús “Chuy” García. Then, coming through yesterday, it became apparent that Vallas was going to be in the lead. But still, he did not have the 50% plus 1% needed to take home the title of mayor. Then, after that, it was coming through to see who was going to be the second person in the runoff. And, just for context, everyone… when it comes to the mayoral election, you need 50% or more to be elected mayor. 

And, with this vote spread out across nine candidates, someone would have to take a pretty strong foothold of the voter population to get over 50%, and Paul Vallas got 33, close to 35% at one point. As of right now, Paul Vallas got 33.7% of the vote, then Brandon Johnson, Cook County Commissioner, was able to get 20, little over 20% of the vote. So him and Paul Vallas are going to the runoff. Which brings us to this situation we have, where, for the first time in over 40 years, you have an incumbent mayor, who not only was not reelected, but didn’t even make it to the runoffs to potentially be reelected. Lori Lightfoot was knocked out in first round.

Bekoe: I want to ask you, too — by chance, did you see any hints or eggshells that kind of put it out to the public that Mayor Lori Lightfoot was not going to make it to the runoff?

ML: Yesterday? No. When you look at it, because all the candidates, of course, was showing face. They went out and did the political things, Chicago tradition of all the candidates getting lunch at Manny’s Deli in South Loop. So everyone showed face and held their head up high, when it came to waiting for the polls to close. 

But, when you ask about, “Were there hints?” A lot of people will look at the past four years and see a lot of the habits and a lot of the things Lightfoot did as indicative of her not being the best when it came to keeping those relationships, cultivating those allies. That could be the difference between Brandon Johnson getting 20% and her getting 17% of the vote. And it’s less than 20,000 votes difference. So that 3%, had she maintained relationships, had she been as kind to the media, had [she], during these trying times, been different, it could have been a lot closer of a call between who was that second spot for the runoff.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, waves to supporters as her spouse Amy Eshleman applauds after Lightfoot conceded the election in the mayoral race Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Bekoe: I remember her saying, too, that if things were to go down, she would be the only one that could contend Paul Vallas if there was a runoff. And now we have a runoff, which we’re going to talk about more Chicago, y’all stick around because we got a very special guest that’s going to be hitting our hotline in just a moment, so y’all don’t go nowhere. It’s Vocalo Radio. 

Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM, Chicago’s only NPR music station, I’m your host Bekoe. I still got Michael Liptrot in the building with us. How are you feeling, sir?

ML: I’m good, man.

Bekoe: And I have a very special guest on the line, Chicago! 33rd Ward Alderwoman, Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez is in the building. How you feeling?

Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez: I’m very good, thank you!

Bekoe: No problem. Thank you for taking out time to join us.

ML: Congratulations, Alderwoman!

RR: Thank you!

ML: So, for people listening, on top of the mayoral elections, all Chicago’s 50 wards had elections where they could elect their representatives, their alderpeople, which are the City Council representatives. And there were particularly some that were to watch, like Ed Burke’s ward, the 14th Ward, as well as Rossana Rodríguez was facing off against Samie Martinez, who had endorsements from Chuy García, and the Fraternal Order of Police. So Alderwoman, looking back, how was the race for you?

RR: I think that… it’s always a difficult thing to do. We won our first term by 17 votes, so it was not a big margin. And we did organize our hearts out in this ward over the last 4 years, and we have accomplished a lot of things. So we had a really good project going on that allowed us to win. But it was difficult, because we were still running against the machine. It was Dick Mell, still, behind Samie Martinez. It was George Cardenas behind Samie Martinez. It was Iris Martinez behind Samie Martinez. And those people have been building policies… for a very long time within politics, right? So they know how to do certain things. So it was difficult, but we won. And I’m very proud. I’m very proud of what we did.

Ald. Rossana Rodríguez was first elected alderwoman in 2019. Rich Hein/Sun-Times

ML: So this isn’t our first conversation. We’ve worked together before, particularly covering mental health in the city, from the referendum that passed with the midterm election. And, recently, following Dr. Arwady with the Chicago Department of Public Health. And looking forward to a new mayor. What do you want to see from Chicago’s next mayor, when it comes to mental health?

RR: I want… to have an expanded program to address mental health crisis. I want walk-in practice centers, where people can go when they’re in [a crisis]… without having a police station or ER. And I want them… so that we can prevent crises by monitoring and send people that are most likely to go into crisis in our neighborhood. Those are not hard things to do, other cities are doing them. And we need to make sure that we are building structures that will make that possible, but we need to make sure that we are doing it, that we’re building these structures in the public. We cannot afford to continue to delegate this work to nonprofits. We have to assume responsibility for our people, and we need to offer that care. And I really look forward to working with a mayor, like Brandon Johnson, that has decided to be an investor in change and is going to build with our team.

ML: Okay. And, with this, a big part of your job is working with the mayor towards getting things done. For instance, with the Lightfoot administration, you worked towards the “Treatment, Not Trauma.” How was that experience with the Lightfoot administration? And then, how are you looking forward towards whoever becomes mayor? 

RR: To work with the city council to support mental health became fairly difficult because of Lori Lightfoot. I tried to collaborate with her in the bill… but she did not want to, which made things very hard for the bill… because of all the pressure of the situation, we weren’t able to get investment in the public mental health centers. I am looking forward to collaborating with a mayor that actually sees the value of this. 

But it is very interesting, actually, that Lori Lightfoot did not want “Treatment, Not Trauma,” but “Treatment, Not Trauma” became a major topic with the mayoral election, and a lot of the candidates were talking about it during all the mayoral forums. So I actually think that “Treatment, Not Trauma” can be realized in a majority, regardless, because we have made it incredibly popular.

ML: Alright, thank you so much for your time, Alderwoman, and congratulations again.

RR: Thank you so much for having me.

Bekoe: It’s Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s only NPR Music station. I’m your host Bekoe coming through your stereo, rocking out your morning on his Worry-free Wednesday. Throughout the hour, man, you heard a conversation we’ve had, me and Michael Liptrot with 33rd Ward Alderwoman Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez, we talked a little bit about… main elections, what led us to where we’re at now. And, before we even get into this runoff conversation, I think is only right, we play some winner and some loser mayoral montage for you all. Is that okay? Can we do that one time, Mike?

ML: Yeah, sounds good, man.

Bekoe: Alright, let’s get into it.

Lori Lightfoot (clip): We fought the right fights, and we put this city on a better path, no doubt about it.

Brandon Johnson (clip): You turned our hope into reality. Because you believe that a better Chicago is possible.

Paul Vallas (clip): This city has never really been the city that works for everyone. I’m running for mayor to be the mayor of all Chicago.

Jesús “Chuy” García (clip): Regardless of who occupies the fifth floor, they will be held accountable to us and every community in Chicago.

Lori Lightfoot (clip): It’s been the honor of a lifetime to be mayor. There’s more work to do. And I just want to say thank you all, deeply, deeply, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.

Bekoe: Might as well add some claps in there for that. Shoutout to all the candidates that joined us, this election. There’s a lot, there’s a whole lot. And now, guess what, everybod? We are down to two. We’re down to two, and Mike… I want to know, how does something like this happen, man?

ML: A lot of different political forces coming together that make something like this happen, where you see people who’ve been around for a long time, as well as people who, a couple months ago, we didn’t know who they were. Paul Vallas ran in the 2019 election, and was close to last place. But, when you look at all the years he’s put into the political game, he’s been around for a minute.

Versus Brandon Johnson, someone who is newer to the world of government and governmental politics, outside of his role as Cook County Commissioner. But mostly, his work is as a teacher, going through the Teachers Union, teaching in Chicago Public Schools, and rising up to be endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, but still viewed as more so someone of the people. 

Versus Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, where Brandon Johnson worked, you see this difference. And this divide is going to be hit on a lot when it comes to this next month, leading up to the runoff. You have a young, Black man from the West Side of Chicago, and you have an older white man that many people view as more conservative, and frankly, a Republican, but identifies as a Democrat. And these issues of race, crime, education, and transportation, we as a city are going to be looking to see how both of these candidates navigate this. And where people’s alliances and allegiances fall, when it comes to this runoff.

Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson waves to supporters, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Chicago. Johnson and Paul Vallas will meet in a runoff to be the next mayor of Chicago after voters denied incumbent Lori Lightfoot a second term. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Bekoe: Can I ask you… what are some of the policies each candidate is pushing for their campaign?

ML: So both of them are pushing fairly, fairly progressive policies. Brandon Johnson, in particular, is being described as on the left. And one thing that he, among all other nine candidates, is pushing is a tax for the rich. Real estate transfer tax and, rather controversial, but he is pushing taxing those who are in the upper tax brackets of the city’s residents. So that’s something that’s going to be big when it comes to him. 

And Paul Vallas has a lot of different legislation that he’s looking to do, but especially crime. Crime and the contrast that him, his campaign created between Lori Lightfoot in the handling of crime, and, moving forward, his support of police, his support of cracking down on crime. And, now that he has beat Lori Lightfoot in making it to the runoff, the test and the question that a lot of people are going to have is, “Okay, you showed that, when it comes to crime, you can potentially be better than the incumbent. But when it comes to standing out on your own, what do you have to offer?”

Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, center, celebrates with supporters as his wife, Sharon Vallas, left, smiles as she looks on at his election night event in Chicago, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Bekoe: Yeah, I definitely want to know, because, for me, as a parent, education is a big deal for me… I would like for my sons to get the best education possible, and our school system is, it’s been a little different. It’s been some challenges there. So you know, crime… crime takes place everywhere. It’s really about how can we decrease the crime. And I feel like it does start with the kids, as well, because we, as a generation have to touch the next generation to get them to where they need to be, to then touch the next generation and get them to where they need to be, and education, is in my books, a huge deal that I feel should be part of that infrastructure. So, man, I got to ask you, too… what can people expect leading up to April 4?

ML: They can expect a lot of conversations, a lot of critical conversations and commentary, coming from both the candidates, political pundits and journalists, looking towards making the distinction between these two. As well as the idea of what will be the deciding factors. The past nine candidates we saw, of the nine, seven were Black. And now, the idea of, “Is there going to be a Black consensus, a consensus with the Black vote towards Brandon Johnson? And how will that help him?” And with Paul Vallas, looking towards what votes were behind his ascension, really, from barely being not in last place last election to now being the front-runner by a lot. And seeing, with the other people who were eliminated… when you look at Chuy García, where will Latin Americans, when it comes to Chicago, be? Will they be with Paul Vallas, or will they be with Brandon Johnson? 

And even looking at a breakdown of the votes among the wards where you see, where is the turnout at? And when you look to South Chicago, and you see Fifth Ward 30%. 16th Ward, 20%. And some wards that had higher turnouts, when you look at the 41st Ward, with 45%, and the 19th Ward, which is on the South [Side], and 55%? And how do you invigorate your voter base enough to get them to leave the house, enough for them to get an early ballot and mail it in? That’s the struggle, when it comes to politics, for you not only to be convincing enough, and have enough conviction, that people will look to you, beyond whatever the current status quo is, but then enough for them to get up and get out and go vote.

Bekoe: Man, look… before we actually in this hour off and cap things off, I want to know… from you, what are you looking forward to seeing within our next mayor?

ML: It’s a good question. Crime is a big issue. Crime is a big issue, and there was a Sun Times poll that showed that majority of Chicago does not feel safe. So, looking to crime, transportation, as well as the realities of being young in the city of the cost of living, and how will the economy be different? And what will the budgets look like, to support people who are new to the city, moved to the city, and looking to thrive in Chicago? How can people go and rise up within their class? How can people not only secure jobs, keep jobs enough, and be able to support themselves without struggling to make ends meet? And those are the questions that a lot of us have. And, going from young people to middle aged, people having families — what makes Chicago a place where someone wants to have a family and stay?

Bekoe: People are leaving, a lot of these companies are heading on out. Ah, man, man, man. I appreciate you taking out time to chime in and give everybody an update on what has taken place yesterday, as well as what they can expect within his runoff. For those that would like to keep in touch with you and stay in tune, let people know how they can follow you, as well, Michael.

ML: So I’ll be doing updates on Twitter at @M_Liptrot, as well as on Instagram at @Michael_Liptrot. But feel free to reach out to me — what are your thoughts? You can reach out to me through, as well as email

Bekoe: I love it, man. That was WBEZ journalist and producer Michael Liptrot. It’s your boy Bekoe the ILlest, right here on Vocalo Radio.

Keep up with Michael Liptrot and Ald. Rodríguez on Twitter

This segment originally aired on Mornings With Bekoe on Wednesday, March 1

Interview by Bekoe and Michael Liptrot

Audio editing and production by Morgan Ciocca and Ayana Contreras

Written introduction and transcription by Morgan Ciocca

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