Crime poses an existential threat to the city of Chicago.

“That’s the issue facing voters Feb. 28.”

By Steve Huntley

February 26, 2023

Major crime in Chicago is up 104 percent in the last two years. So what’s the issue that Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants Chicagoans to focus on in the Feb. 28 primary campaign?

That some people who have endorsed the mayoral candidacy of Paul Vallas also happen to like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has managed to surpass Donald Trump as enemy No. 1 for Democrats.

And what has brought this urgent issue to the forefront of the hard-fought contest to lead the city that used to work? 

DeSantis was featured at a “Back the Blue” event in Elmhurst Monday. That gathering was, as the Sun-Times put it, “promoted by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police though not organized by them.” The FOP of course has endorsed Vallas as the best candidate to tackle Chicago’s out-of-control crime crisis.

Since the FOP is formally backing Vallas and informally boosted the DeSantis event, Lightfoot jumped to the spurious conclusion that “Vallas has wrapped his arms around the far-right fringe of the Republican Party.” Guilt by association by proxy. Political claptrap.

Such is the desperation of Lightfoot’s effort to hold on to the job she has bungled for the last four years. Desperation breeds desperate ranting and raving.

No one should be surprised by this. America has a long history of candidates with miserable records and positions on issues the voters care about trying to get the voters to look the other way. 

And this usually translates into an appeal to tribal politics. Hey, forget that guy’s policies you like because he’s not like you, he’s from the enemy tribe.

And in today’s liberal, progressive, far-left culture, DeSantis is the bete noire. The possibility of the Florida governor running for president — and winning — is seen as so threatening to liberals that the New York Times, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair all have published articles openly hostile to DeSantis.

He espouses popular Trump policies, doesn’t shy away from a confrontation with unfriendly media but doesn’t have the obnoxious personality traits and disregard for facts that have made Trump and candidates he endorses unpopular at the ballot box. 

DeSantis is not afraid to fight back against the far left’s jihad against America culture. He opposes sex education for kids in kindergarten and grades one through three. He is against biological males playing women’s sports and denying women trophies and sports records. And he objects to the use of school classrooms to push radical and divisive theories about race.

What’s more, DeSantis navigated the Covid 19 pandemic without the hysteria of other governors who shut down their economies, kept schools closed to the detriment of kids and issued mask and vaccine mandates. 

Florida is gaining population while Illinois is losing it. Among those moving from Chicago to Florida are cops. CBS-Chicago found “a growing number of Chicago Police officers” moving to Florida, including eight who recently signed up with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. That’s hardly surprising given the soft-on-crime policies of Lightfoot, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

Back in the streets of Chicago, sexual assaults and robberies have increased 23 percent so far this year and car thefts 151 percent. Murders, while dipping a bit from last year, are still 58 percent higher than before the Lightfoot era, reports the CWB crime news site in an analysis of Chicago Police Department statistics.

Is it any wonder that the mayor wants to deflect the voting public’s attention from those dismal numbers?

Throw in the belief that Vallas is the front runner in the primary race and you get distracting, untrustworthy and false campaign rhetoric trying to tie Vallas to DeSantis. 

Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, generally believed to be locked into a three-way race with Lightfoot and Vallas in the primary to determine the two candidates to face off in an April runoff, joined in the Vallas bashing over DeSantis.

Vallas responded with a denunciation of the Florida governor that would have made President Biden, the progress “Squad” in Congress and the New York Times proud. He echoed the lies, misinformation and disinformation about the commonsense approach DeSantis pursues in defending traditional American and family values. 

It wasn’t Vallas’s finest hour. But he can perhaps be forgiven as he is locked in a do-or-die battle for the future of Chicago.

Even before this episode, Lightfoot and Garcia were targeting Vallas with accusations that he’s a closet Republican. Not surprising. Anyone who’s for law and order in the streets, the city’s magnificent retail and business centers, and the neighborhoods has to be a Republican, right?

But anyone who’s followed Vallas’ career, such as his tenure as Chicago public school’s chief, would have a hard time labeling him anything other than the classic do-gooder in the liberal tradition of American politics. Vallas calls himself a “pretty progressive Democrat.”

He may be something that the hard left just can’t understand — a progressive who believes that safe streets and neighborhoods are a fundamental requirement to advance liberal goals. 

Back in the streets of Chicago, nearly two thirds of the city’s voters planning to cast ballots Feb. 28 don’t feel safe from crime. That’s the finding of a poll commissioned by the Sun-Times, WBEZ, Telemundo Chicago and NBC5. A recent JohnKassNews article brings that poll’s findings to life by painting a vivid portrait of a city crushed by crime that is driving families to leave, in this writer’s case to the safe haven of DeSantis Florida.

But Lightfoot, Garcia and others trying to hold off Vallas want you to know there’s another reason to vote against him beyond the DeSantis and closet Republican nonsense. 

Vallas, they harumph, is against abortion.

Never mind that a mayor has nothing to do with abortion. That issue is a state responsibility and prerogative, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs decision restoring democratic authority to legislatures on abortion.

Vallas, a Greek Orthodox Christian, follows other politicians like President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, in bowing to his church on abortion as a religious and moral matter but leaving it to government as a political and legal matter. He would do nothing — and could do nothing — as mayor to restrict it. 

In fact, Vallas doubled down on this political philosophy, saying as mayor he would protect access to abortion. “I have always been an unequivocal, uncompromising supporter of women’s reproductive rights.”

Back in the streets of Chicago, nearly all of the city’s police districts are recording double-digit increases in major crime this year, reports CWB Chicago. The news site daily reports outrages. A baby and two teens killed in a shooting on I-57 near 111th Street. Two women and a man assaulted on the North Side — the alleged assailant out on bail for kicking two cops. A “Puffy Coat Bandit” ring robbing restaurant patrons in Lincoln Park and the Near North Side. Three dead in an organized “sideshow” of reckless auto antics at a major South Side intersection. 

The issue facing Chicago voters is not Ron DeSantis. It’s not fantasies of Vallas being a closet Republican. It’s not some wholly imaginary threat to abortion access.

Crime poses an existential threat to the city of Chicago.

That’s the issue facing voters Feb. 28. 

They shouldn’t let Lightfoot, Garcia or anyone else distract them with tribal politics appealing to emotion over reason.

Lightfoot’s record on crime speaks for itself. Garcia is a committed progressive who had to admit that voters would be surprised to hear him push for hiring more police officers — and voters shouldn’t forget that a tiger doesn’t change its stripes. The other candidate near the top three, Brandon Johnson, a tool of the Chicago Teachers Union, is in the defund-the-police camp.

All the tribal politics flack over DeSantis, closet Republican frenzy and abortion distraction can’t hide from Chicago voters the candidate best suited to wage the battle against Chicago’s crime crisis.

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Steve Huntley, a retired Chicago journalist now living in Austin, Texas, has contributed other pieces to johnkassnews, from an examination of the secret jail for Christopher Columnbus and other politically problematic public art to an essay on Americans suffering from Joe Biden gas pain.

For almost three decades Huntley spent most of his career in Chicago journalism at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was a feature writer, metro reporter, night city editor, metropolitan editor, editorial page editor and a columnist for the opinion pages.

Before that he was a reporter and editor with United Press International (UPI) in the South and Chicago, and Chicago bureau chief and a senior editor in Washington with U.S. News & World Report. Northwestern University Press has issued soft cover and eBook editions of Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America by Truman K. Gibson Jr. with Steve Huntley, a memoir of a Chicagoan who was a member of President Roosevelt’s World War II Black Cabinet working to desegregate the military.