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Protesters disrupt Chicago mayoral forum as candidates trade personal attacks – Chicago Tribune


Chicago’s mayoral candidates traded personal attacks during a contentious candidate forum Tuesday night that was repeatedly interrupted by loud protesters.

A group of protesters chanted against Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who joked during a live broadcast that he must be doing something right if he’s not mayor yet but is already causing protests. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, meanwhile, defended Johnson, saying he “has the right to speak without interruption.”

For the rest of the forum, moderated by Lourdes Duarte and WGN-TV’s Tahman Bradley, there was far less collegiality between the candidates. Duarte and Bradley once called for a show of hands for candidates who would keep Lightfoot’s pick, Police Superintendent David Brown, as the city’s top cop. Lightfoot raised her hand, and businessman Willie Wilson sheepishly followed suit.

“I think you should fire the mayor,” Wilson said.

Lightfoot largely ignored the comment, but instead took aim at Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chewy” Garcia, whom she accused of “defunding” the Chicago Police Department.

“Check the facts,” Garcia replied. “She’s always creating smokescreens to cover up her own failures.”

Johnson argued that the city’s police spending isn’t working.

The exchange was just one of several testy moments between Lightfoot and her challengers, who have repeatedly criticized each other, sometimes personally.

Activist Ja’Mal Green, for example, said Lightfoot lied about crime statistics and criticized Wilson for saying Chicago cops should be able to hunt suspects “like rabbits.” He said Wilson’s comments were “disgusting”.

For his part, Wilson declined to meet with Green, the youngest candidate in the race, saying, “I don’t respond to kids.”

Wilson’s “bunny” comment during a debate earlier in January was the focus of the forum. Duarte, the moderator, asked him, “What does constitutional policing mean to you?” Wilson’s response was not about constitutional policing.

“We must ensure the safety of our citizens at all costs,” he said.

The mayor also confronted Wilson about the “cowards” remark, noting that he was “talking about black and brown boys in our city” and calling the comment “offensive.”

“I can’t believe you keep saying that,” Lightfoot said.

An emotional Wilson then mentioned his son Omar, who was killed in 1995, as he doubled down on the controversial remarks.

“If someone comes and kills someone in her family, she’s going to know how that feels,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to protect our (law-abiding) citizens.”

While Lightfoot claimed crime was down from 2021 to 2022 and is on pace, state Rep. Cambium “Cam” Buckner said Lightfoot would “double down on the failed policies that gave us double the homicide rate.”

Lightfoot later refuted Buckner.

“It’s easy to come up here and say soundbites, but I haven’t heard any actionable concrete solutions and a lot of the things I’ve heard we’re already doing,” Lightfoot said.

Earlier in the debate, moderators asked the candidates to say whether they would commit to not raising taxes.

Buckner, Garcia and Green raised their hands. Buckner said the city’s budget is “opaque” and if you scrutinize it with “fine teeth” and audit it, you can find “inefficiencies.”

“I don’t believe in nickel and diming and raising taxes on people is the right thing to do,” Buckner said.

Businessman Willie Wilson, left, speaks with Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson before a mayoral forum hosted by WGN News at Steinmetz College Prep on Jan. 31, 2023.

Green promised to conduct a fiscal audit of the city’s books and “grow our economy” with bonds

“No new taxes,” Garcia said, before moving on to talk about crime and the need for investment to grow the city.

The candidates’ promises, however, ignored a key reality: While the city has made some gains in recent years, its finances remain shaky, and it’s unlikely that the next mayor will be able to govern without raising taxes and fees.

In 2019, Lightfoot launched its signature neighborhood investment plan, Invest South/West, to boost development in parts of the city that have long suffered from disinvestment.

Candidate Ja'Mal Green talks with former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Wallace before a mayoral forum hosted by WGN News at Steinmetz College Prep Tuesday evening.

The mayor often praises the program as a transformative effort to expand neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. But the Tribune’s review of the program paints a much more complex and detailed picture. To be sure, the Lightfoot administration spent millions of dollars in public funds and worked to stimulate both public and private development in areas that had experienced generations of disinvestment. But the mayor also pooled millions of dollars that were already in development before she took office or are routine government spending, adding to the investment total for Invest South/West.

Vallas criticized her for taking “one-off actions” and taking credit for economic development. Lightfoot countered that it’s unfair to call her projects “red-hot,” saying, “Tell that to the people of Austin, tell that to the people of Roseland, where we’re seeing real economic development.”

At a news conference after the forum, Lightfoot responded to Wilson’s comments about family loss and said she has “sorrow and sympathy for every single parent who has lost a loved one, a child to gun violence in the city. But you can’t turn that pain into what he wants.’

“There are many examples in our city of moms and dads, grandmas and others turning their pain into purpose, coming together in productive ways to help our young people heal and recognize that picking up a gun is the beginning of a tragedy, and that will not save them. There are many constructive things that can be done in light of this. And I can give countless examples from my own experience,” said Lightfoot. “But to say I’m vindicated because my son was killed by a gun? How about working to bring peace to our neighborhoods instead of making the problem worse by allowing the police to kill more young black and brown children. That’s not the answer.”


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