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Johnson attacks Wallace’s record in first debate of mayoral runoff as challenger tries to stay above fray – Chicago Tribune


The first debate in Chicago’s mayoral runoff election featured a series of attacks from Brandon Johnson on Paul Wallace, who has largely avoided such attacks even as criticism has intensified.

During the hour, Johnson repeatedly accused Wallace of wanting to raise property taxes, adopting policies in the 1990s that caused lasting damage to the city’s and school district’s finances, and working with Republicans to hurt the pension system. Johnson also said Wallace did not want to teach black history and accused him of not supporting women’s abortion rights.

“We’re in this predicament because of Mr. Wallace’s poor accounting,” Johnson said, referring to the city’s financial woes.

During the debate, Johnson also tried to play down concerns that he is too close to the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, which has endorsed and funded him, but he declined to name an issue on which he disagrees with the organization.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility to the people of the city of Chicago, and when I become mayor of the city, I will no longer be a member of the Chicago teachers union,” Johnson said.

Wallace, who served as city budget chief and CEO of Chicago Public Schools under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, has largely touted his plan to hire police officers, defended the financial position he left CPS in, and said he has consistently supported reproductive rights. women.

In his only direct criticism of Johnson, Wallace attacked Johnson and CTU for closing schools during the pandemic.

“The 100-year pandemic was the reason everything was closed,” Johnson denied.

Wednesday’s debate between Wallace and Johnson, moderated by NBC-5 reporter Mary Ann Ahern, was the first meeting between the two candidates since last week’s election, when they earned seats in the April 4 runoff and ended Mayor Laura Lightfoot’s bid for a second term. The more conservative Wallace and the progressive Johnson sparred throughout a contentious campaign that typically found them on opposite sides of the race’s biggest issues: education and crime.

Wallace tried to cement his status as the favorite by staying above the fray and not engaging Johnson directly.

Johnson also tried to blame the level of CPS teacher pension funding on Vallas’ tenure as school principal and repeated his attack that Vallas would raise property taxes.

But Wallace denied taking a retirement leave, saying the decision is up to state lawmakers and that his oversight has led to greater investment in classrooms.

Although Vallas touts that he left a surplus on CPS’s books during his tenure as CEO, he also oversaw changes to divert annual payments to the Chicago Teachers Retirement Fund, which critics say hurt the system’s long-term solvency .

That decision resulted in some property tax revenue going directly to teacher pension funds for other school expenses. That came after the Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Jim Edgar overhauled CPS in 1995 and gave Daley more control.

The teachers’ pension fund is now estimated to be hovering below 50%, although Wallace defended himself by pointing out that when he was CEO, the system was funded at 104%.

Meanwhile, Johnson defended his plan to impose a $4 tax on each employee at large companies that do 50% or more of their work in Chicago.

“It’s a living document,” Johnson said. “We can raise up to $20 million with this tax. If people don’t like this particular tax, then help me find $20 million.”

“We can’t just say no,” he added. “I come from a large family. We were told no all the time. That’s just the word we heard before asking again. If we want to make Chicago better, stronger and safer, we have to do what America’s safe cities do, and that’s invest in people.”

Another issue that caused Johnson to target Vallas was his previous negative comments about critical race theory and African-American history, which Vallas refuted, saying Johnson had no “record” to stand on.

Johnson argued that Wallace wanted to “eliminate” such history, which would result in students not learning that “the first black mayor of the city of Chicago was Harold Washington, and Eugene Sawyer, right?”

Hair did not fall back. Instead, he talked about the low levels of math and reading proficiency among Chicago’s black children. “The bottom line is that there has been a significant deterioration in the quality of teaching.”

Johnson and Wallace have also faced questions about their politically controversial statements. When asked about how he said in 2009 that he was “more Republican than Democrat,” Vallas reiterated that he was a “lifelong Democrat,” citing his work for Down Clark Netch, his candidacy for the Democratic Party primary against Rod Blagojevich and the Democratic Party government post. Pat Quinn’s running mate in his failed 2014 re-election bid.

Johnson also mentioned Wallace’s previous comments on abortion. “Paul Wallace officially states that he fundamentally opposes women’s reproductive rights. He said he was fundamentally opposed to abortion. But it should come as no surprise” because he is linked to “right-wing extremists who have attacked women”. Johnson added, “I’m going to defend a woman’s right to choose.”

The abortion comments were from a late 2009 interview in which Wallace, who worked to rebuild New Orleans schools, expressed controversial views on abortion and said he would “probably register as a Republican in the next primary election.”

The moderator asked if Vallas was “pro-choice.” Throughout the exchange, Wallace said that “personally, I’m pro-choice,” but also, “The bottom line is that I’m against abortion and partial-birth abortion.”

Wallace again compared his stance on abortion to that of President Joe Biden, who generally supports abortion rights but personally opposes the procedure.

“I’m Greek Orthodox,” Wallace said. “I take the same position as Nancy Pelosi or Biden: My fundamental religious beliefs aside, I will always be 100% in support of women’s reproductive rights.”

Vallas was also asked to explain how his better-funded campaign coffers depend heavily on wealthy donors.

Vallas received hundreds of millions of dollars from employees of Citadel, a company run by Republican donor Ken Griffin. In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Griffin was asked about Citadel employees’ financial support for Vallas. “I hope Paul Wallace becomes mayor of Chicago,” Griffin said. “I think he’s the best choice for the city.”

Wallace responded that these business interests simply want a safer city and stem the outflow of middle-class black families.

“At the end of the day, they know the city is in crisis and they need someone who can lead the city and can put together a leadership team that can lead every department, every agency — whether it’s public safety or whether it’s schools , for this it is important, whether it is a budget, that the city meets all the important needs of its citizens,” he said. “And let me point out that many of these funders have supported Democratic mayors in the past.”

A stinging criticism that Wallace ignored was that Johnson implied that Wallace’s 2009 comments about running as a Republican were a reaction to Barack Obama’s election to the White House.

“Look, I know Paul hates this, but after Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States of America, he (Wallace) switched parties and became a Republican,” Johnson said. “It’s just the truth.”

Wallace, who previously denied ever switching sides, instead asked the host to repeat his question about transparency in city contracts, promising to openly release all relevant documents.

But after being asked about how race plays into his strategy to garner enough support at City Hall, Wallace did say, “Brandon obviously wants to make race an issue. I’m running for mayor of all of Chicago.”

Johnson responded that, in fact, “Paul Wallace made it about race.”

“The youth in the city of Chicago deserve black history,” Johnson said. “He’s the one who said it shouldn’t happen.”

Wallace responded that it was “again just stupid” before touting that he had incorporated black history into the CPS curriculum, including adding African studies to world history and working with local school boards that wanted their classrooms to be taught “Afrocentric curriculum”.

“My record is for everybody,” Wallace said.

Johnson, meanwhile, dismissed questions that he had declared it a “political goal” to defund the police, saying he would hire 200 detectives to solve crimes.

“My public safety plan does just that,” Johnson said in response to an anchor asking to respond to residents who want more officers in their neighborhood. However, he stopped short of addressing how the promotion of non-commissioned officers to detectives would deplete the police force. Instead, he noted, police are being asked to do too many tasks that don’t address immediate dangers, such as mental health crises: “You don’t ask people to do their job and someone else’s job.”

Valas has repeatedly said that he will bring back the retired officers.

Candidates were asked if they would continue with the Lightfoot Invest South/West branded programme. Both said yes.

Wallace said he would fund further investment by using revenue from tax increment financing, borrowing money and legalizing and taxing video poker, which is currently banned in the city. Wallace also said he would use “a fair share of the casino’s money.” Casino revenue, however, is bound by state law to be used to pay police and firefighter pensions.

Johnson said he would “continue and expand” the program, including by gathering more community input on projects and offering loans and micro-grants “to give a boost” to small businesses. Lightfoot’s administration faced criticism from outside some community organizers about the lack of transparency in the process of selecting them for investment.

The forum did end on a lighter note, as the two candidates were asked how they were alike.

“Well, obviously, I feel a little bit because we have a similar style in terms of our dress code,” Johnson said, pointing to their suits. He then praised Vallas’ work ethic. “Now we obviously don’t agree as soon as we get down to business, but Paul comes along.”

Wallace, meanwhile, said the two “live in the arena of ideas … and I think we’ve learned a lot from each other.”


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