CHICAGO (WLS) -- The field of nine mayoral candidates has now narrowed to two as Paul Vallas will face Brandon Johnson in a runoff election in April.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot will not see a second term, the first time an incumbent mayor hasn't been re-elected in decades.
Vallas wasted no time hitting the campaign trail. Wednesday morning he stopped on the South Side and made an appearance on the Maze Jackson radio show. Then he shook a few hands as he left. Later he greeted people and campaigned for votes in the Loop.
"I'm thrilled with how we're doing, I think we're really taking off, we've got great momentum," he sad.
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Vallas, 69, is the former head of CPS and is considered a conservative Democrat. He coasted to a first place finish, riding the wave of concern about public safety, which was the central theme of his campaign. Now he'll face off against Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
Johnson, a 46-year-old former teacher, has already come out swinging, saying Vallas has failed everywhere he has been.
Vallas said he wants to keep his campaign positive and stick to the issues.
"Brandon's gonna say what he's gonna say," Vallas said. "People are going to examine his record and see that there's not much other than a union organizer who was on the CTU's payroll... Brandon's not going to have much of a record to talk about...so I'm gonna continue to talk about the issues to offer subs, tentative solutions, particularly on the issues of crime the issue of quality of schools and the issue of affordability."
Johnson, who is considered a left-of-center progressive candidate backed by the Chicago Teacher's Union, did a series of interviews including on ABC7, Wednesday morning, but planned to kick off his runoff campaign in earnest Thursday.
"Our campaign caught fire just a few weeks ago, the city of Chicago certainly reacted and responded to our message of building a better, stronger, safer Chicago. I'm looking forward to retiring this tale of two cities," he said.
He said he is looking forward to earning the support of voters who cast their ballot for other candidates. He said he has spent his entire career working to protect the middle class.
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"I'm always going to tell the people of Chicago the truth, and the truth of the matter is that Paul Vallas has been the author of this tale of two cities," Johnson said. "When I was in high school in the 90s, it was his negligence that led to the economic downturn that we are experiencing right now."
Both candidates are also now looking for support from their former rivals.
"We're in for a dogfight. This is a battle for the heart and soul of the city," said ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington. "You have two polar opposites running against each other, so there's going to be a lot, a lot happening in the next few weeks."
The choice between the two candidates could not be starker. John is a former CPS teacher and union organizers, while Vallas is the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Vallas has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, while Johnson has called for reallocating money spent on policing.
Johnson made it clear he will be going after Vallas on many fronts.
"Listen, everywhere Paul Vallas has been in charge of the finances he has left a great deal of disruption," Johnson said.
Vallas said he wants to avoid getting down in the trenches, but did swing back Wednesday.
"He's got a lot of questions to answer too. I mean individuals who really have not track record or who are trying to hide their track record are generally going to get nasty," he said.
The runoff is set for April 4, just five weeks from now.
Max Bever with the Chicago Board of Elections said voters can go on chicagoelections.gov Thursday to sign up for an application to vote by mail for the April 4 runoff. They can also sign up to permanently receive a vote-by-mail ballot.
Bever said early voting will begin March 15 or 16 at the Chicago supersites, but not before because the ballots have to be set and March 14 is the last day Feb. 28 ballots can arrive and be included in the vote count.