CHICAGO – The Chicago mayoral finalists Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas met in the first mayoral runoff forum on March 8 and focused mostly on crime, education, and city finances, CBS Chicago reported.
“While the candidates largely stuck to the issues – primarily public safety, education, and city budgets and finances – they also went negative on each other several times, with Johnson in particular accusing Vallas of supporting the political right wing,” CBS reported, adding that “NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago hosted the forum, with NBC 5 Political Reporter Mary Ann Ahern moderating.”
“One of the Ahern’s early questions was aimed directly at controversies surrounding each candidate,” CBS reported, pointing out that “she noted that Vallas spoke at a fundraiser for the far-right group Awake Illinois last year, and also noted that in a 2009 interview, Vallas said he was ‘more of a Republican than a Democrat.’”
Vallas “countered that he is a lifelong Democrat, having started out as a legislative assistant to Democratic Illinois state Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch,” CBS reported, adding that “Vallas had considered a 2010 run for Cook County Board President as a Republican, but he emphasized that he ran for lieutenant governor with Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014 – five years after the interview. He did not address the controversy about Awake Illinois.”
“Meanwhile, Ahern asked Johnson about a past interview where he championed the defunding of police and called it a ‘political goal,’” CBS reported, noting that Johnson “reiterated the content of his public safety plan, which he said calls for promoting, training, and hiring 200 more police detectives – and devoting funds to administering the federal consent decree, a series of mandated CPD reforms that a federal court is overseeing to make sure they are implemented.”
“He also emphasized that he believes part of the problem is that officers are being asked to do other first responders’ jobs in addition to their own – noting that 40 percent of 911 calls are for mental health crises,” CBS reported.
“Johnson and Vallas have both emphasized a need to fight crime and make Chicago safer in their platforms, though they have called for responding to that need through different approaches,” CBS reported, adding that when “asked what he would to do make Chicago safer, Vallas said the city is down 1,700 police officers compared with 2019, and many 911 calls do not end up even getting a response.”
“He called for a return to community-based policing, a greater police presence on the Chicago Transit Authority system, leadership changes, and scheduling changes so that 1,000 officers do not keep leaving the force every year,” CBS reported, noting that “Johnson returned to what he said was a need to alleviate pressure from police officers so that they would not also have to act as ‘social workers, counselors, and marriage therapists.’”
“Johnson repeatedly attacked Vallas on the grounds that his ‘budgetary scheme’ in previous roles in the 1990s was at least partially to blame for the city’s current financial trouble,” CBS reported, adding that “he said Vallas worked with the Republican Party in the 1990s to take the dollars that were supposed to go toward pensions – and decades later, the city was left on the hook for $2.5 billion in property taxes that had to be raised to make up the money.”
“Vallas rebutted that as city budget director under Mayor Richard M. Daley, he passed balanced budgets without raising property taxes once,” CBS reported, noting that “he added that under his watch chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, property tax hikes averaged only 1.5 percent.”
When asked “if they would ensure the protection of the reproductive rights of both women who live in Chicago and those who come into the city from elsewhere – with the U.S. Supreme Court having overturned Roe v. Wade last year, both emphatically said they would do so, with each starting their comments with the phrase, ‘Yes, absolutely,’ though Johnson questioned Vallas’ stance on abortion,” CBS reported.
“I’ve been a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, always, from the very beginning,” Vallas said, “adding that he would ensure the city would protect the reproductive rights of both residents and visitors,” CBS reported, noting that “Johnson also said he would protect a woman’s right to choose… but he questioned Vallas’ support of women’s reproductive rights.”
“Paul Vallas is on record in saying that he fundamentally opposes women’s reproductive rights. He said it. He fundamentally opposes abortion, but it shouldn’t be a surprise, because he’s hanging out with right-wing extremists who have attacked women,” Johnson said, CBS reported.
“That’s nonsense. I have never said that,” Vallas responded, CBS reported. “Someone once asked me the religious question, because I’m Greek Orthodox, and I really said that in essence that I have the same position that Nancy Pelosi has, or Biden has. My fundamental religious beliefs aside, I will always be 100 percent supportive of women’s reproductive rights.”
The Chicago mayoral runoff election is set for Tuesday, April 4 with early voting beginning on March 20.