Mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Wallace clashed over the race on Thursday, with Johnson making a series of accusations against Wallace, who dismissed them as “rhetoric.”
The contentious exchanges took place during a 90-minute forum hosted by the My Community Plan Foundation at the DuSable Museum of Black History. The session was largely cordial for the first hour until the two challengers, who just last week advanced to the April 4 runoff, were asked if they supported a third airport in the Chicago area. Both said yes.
Johnson, the Cook County commissioner, then raised the issue of support for Vallas from “dangerous” Citadel employees, referring to the hedge fund led by Republican billionaire Ken Griffin, who recently told Bloomberg News he was backing Vallas for mayor.
“Look, Citadel is gone, but they’re back in the race,” Johnson said of the firm’s move to Miami. “Ken Griffin is going to spend (money) against black people because I believe in black people. This is the same man who said Rahm Emanuel should have closed 125 schools.”
This was a link to comments Griffin made at the Economic Club of Chicago in 2013, the former mayor should close more than 100 schools, rather than the more than 50 proposed at the time. Griffin did not donate to the mayoral race.
[ Paul Vallas Facebook account liked posts that called Chicago ‘hell hole’ and panned Democratic governor ]
Wallace, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, brushed off the attack.
“Let me try to answer the question without scaring you,” Wallace said. “First of all, I’m in favor of a third airport.”
Johnson went on the offensive again in response to a question about raising minority- and women-owned businesses, prompting a heated exchange.
“I’m the only person on that stage that’s ever been elected, the only person on that stage that’s ever won,” Johnson said. “And as a result of that, I had the opportunity to actually hand over multibillion-dollar budgets.”
Johnson then nodded a Activist-backed Fall 2020 Budget for Black Lives Matter proposal. cut $157 million from the sheriff’s office and invest in social services.
“I’m the only person on this stage who built the entire budget around black people,” Johnson said. “As a result of that, (Cook County) President (Toni) Preckwinkle used that as a benchmark for her equity plan: eliminating medical debt, preventing violence, working with the formerly incarcerated, making sure we’re investing in economic development.”
The sheriff’s office never saw a cut to its 2021 budget of $157 million. Instead, the office took a modest 4% cut amid the COVID-19 budget deficit, which has since been more than recovered. However, the county has steadily increased funding for community investments and programs in recent years thanks to federal stimulus dollars.
Although Wallace lost a mayoral bid in 2019 and ran for statewide office twice, he served as city budget director and ran school districts in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Connecticut, as well as Chicago.
Johnson also criticized Wallace for the makeup of his campaign’s donors, a significant number of whom are conservative businessmen and hedge funders, arguing that “the thing is, when we talk about the global economy and make sure we have full participation, you you can’t have people funding your campaign who don’t believe in the existence of black and brown people.’
“Obviously the rhetoric is flowing,” Wallace replied. “The bottom line is that I’ve focused on the issues and he’s focused on everything else but the issues.”
A woman in the audience shouted, “Race is an issue!”
“First of all, voting on the budget is not managing the budget,” Vallas continued, referring to Cook County’s budget process, in which the board president prepares a spending plan that then goes to the county board for a vote. “Rhetoric is no substitute for leadership. I managed multi-billion dollar assets in four different cities. I rebuilt the entire school system in New Orleans where every child went to either a new school or a school that was 100% renovated. So the bottom line is that I’ve been dealing with these crises for years.”
In response, Johnson dismissed Wallace’s mixed results in the four cities where he worked.
“This dude can’t count,” Johnson said. “Wherever he went, he managed budgets badly. The point is that budget voting is budget management. I think it’s dishonest of you to say that a black man can’t come and run it because I’m voting for the budget.”
Valas did not react to the remark.
Chicago is a deeply segregated city with racial politics. Wallace mostly won conservative white voters on the northwest and southwest sides, while Johnson won progressive white voters. Both earned some black support, though Mayor Laurie Lightfoot won nearly all of the city’s black wards.
Since emerging as the two candidates in the runoff, Wallace and Johnson have worked to expand their support, paying particular attention to black voters. Wallace ran a commercial featuring popular former Secretary of State Jesse White and touted an endorsement from businessman Willie Wilson, while Johnson rolled out endorsements from Preckwinkle and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.