Vallas and Johnson fire off familiar attacks at latest debate

CHICAGO (CBS) – Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson reiterated widely known talking points while also throwing familiar brickbats at each other in their latest debate on Tuesday night.

The candidates also each shrugged off some controversies that have not often arisen in debates.

WGN-TV Channel 9 moderated the debate, with presenters Tahman Bradley and Lourdes Duarte moderating. Moderators noted that while Johnson has repeatedly said he would not disappoint police, he introduced a resolution as Cook County Commissioner in 2020 calling for “efforts to divert funds from policing and incarceration to public services.” that are not managed by law enforcement.” They asked if he would take money out of the Chicago Police Department’s budget.

“I will not disappoint the police. I made that very clear,” Johnson said. “What I’m going to do is make sure we implement a smart plan.”

Johnson continued to reiterate his plan to hire 200 more police officers to improve crime-solve rates, focus on implementing the federal compliance decree mandating reform of the Chicago Police Department, and focus on long-term solutions to deal with crime root causes eliminate by focusing on issues such as youth employment.

When asked if there would be less spending on police officers, Johnson reiterated, “I will not disappoint the police.”

Meanwhile, Vallas was asked about his call for a strategy to arrest all criminal suspects and how he would ensure the outcome would not draw more black and Hispanic Chicagoans into the criminal justice system.

Vallas said he is not calling for arrests for petty crimes, but to ensure arrests are made for serious crimes – such as destroying public or private property, public trespassing, and intimidating and assaulting people.

“The bottom line is that arrests are down 76 percent since 2019, even as crime has escalated,” Vallas said.

Vallas was also asked if his call for “proactive policing” would amount to a stop-and-frisk policy — a topic that has become a source of heated controversy in New York City in recent years, particularly under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The ACLU published a study in 2015 alleging that the Chicago Police Department follows a similar practice.

But Vallas said Chicago has never had a stop-and-frisk policy, and he said the focus will be that proactive policing would ensure people are held accountable for crimes. Vallas said police made 2 percent arrests for auto theft, 5 percent for shootings and 6 percent for auto theft.

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The candidates repeatedly back-to-back on public safety policy. Vallas said Johnson’s plan to promote 200 officers to detective would do no good since there are now 1,700 fewer police officers in Chicago than there were in 2019.

“We bleed officers out at 80 to 90 a month because they just resign,” Vallas said.

Johnson countered that only 8 percent of the Chicago police force consists of detectives, while in Los Angeles that number is 15 percent. He said Vallas is “not ready to lead” unless he believes in adding more detectives.

Meanwhile, Johnson confronted Vallas for calling for officers to be hired now – reiterating that it would take them two years to complete the training.

“We can’t afford to wait two years for public safety,” Johnson said.

In a previous debate, Vallas said Johnson was wrong and that it only takes an officer six months to complete training, but that was not discussed this time.

Johnson also said he didn’t think officers would come out of retirement and go back to work after 25 years or more in the job, as Vallas has suggested.

“That’s ridiculous.” said Johnson.

Meanwhile, the candidates were each quizzed about specific controversies that have emerged in their campaigns – including a live interview in which Johnson appeared hours after an overnight period of civil unrest and looting downtown and on the Magnificent Mile early in the morning of August 10, 2020. Johnson had said in the interview that people are “acting out of desperation”.

Bradley said Johnson “appeared hesitant to condemn the looting” in the interview and asked how he would persuade businesses to stay in Chicago “if the mayor sides with rioters and looters.”

Johnson said he has never hesitated to condemn looting.

“What I’m saying is that we really need to understand people’s pain,” Johnson said. “No one will agree with a society that is under control. I don’t hesitate to say that.”

He said the problem is that crimes need to be solved and if burglaries aren’t solved there will be no deterrence. He returned to his call for 200 more detectives.

Vallas was asked about his record as head of the Philadelphia school district from 2002-007. Duarte pointed out that Vallas handed over 45 schools to private managers and restructured 21 others, eventually ending the district with a $72 million shortfall — according to Pennsylvania Treasury Secretary Vallas “didn’t keep track of the books properly.”

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Vallas said he told Philadelphia officials he wouldn’t go there if another school was privatized, and he said the 21 schools that were restructured “failed.” He said these schools continued to outperform the privatized schools – which had been privatized by the administration before him.

He attributed the $72 million shortfall to three times the number of employees who took early retirement as expected, along with late returnees. He also said he left his successor with a balanced budget.

Vallas was also asked about past controversies on social issues from his time as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools — including the decision to ban April Sinclair’s coming-of-age novel Coffee Will Make You Black in 1996. In a February 1996 article, Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky wrote that the book was required reading for freshmen at Percy L. Julian High School but was denounced as “garbage” and “junk” by some clergy. It had a sexually explicit scene, Joravsky wrote at the time.

Bradley also said that the Vallas administration conducted limited gay awareness training for CPS directors and said he was accused of preventing Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education in public schools. He was asked about his position on book bans, gay awareness training and sex education.

Vallas said CPS actually funded Planned Parenthood with half a million dollars when he was in charge.

He added that he didn’t remember the specific book in the 1996 controversy, but he said: “We actually had committees of teachers as well as principals that would make recommendations — so at the end of the day we had a curriculum review committee.” , and they would make the decisions about which books to offer and which books not to offer.”

Vallas said he also included domestic partners in all city school contracts and supported marriage equality when he ran against Rod Blagojevich in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary — at a time when few officials took such a stance.

“My record of supporting the LGBT community is one reason I have such strong support from the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and from people like Tom Tunney,” Vallas said.

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Vallas was also asked about “likes” that had appeared under his name on social media, including a Facebook post that called Chicago a “hell hole.” He reiterated previous statements that others had access to his Twitter account and that appropriate action should be taken to ensure this does not happen again.

“We weren’t really sure who was doing it because people are freely moving in and out of campaigns,” Vallas said.

Returning to a disagreement that arose in previous debates between the two candidates, Vallas argued that test scores in Chicago public schools have “slumped” — and violence among school-age youth has “skyrocketed.” He said it was because schools were closed and remote for 15 months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – despite objections from then-CPS CEO Janice Jackson – and he blamed leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union for it.

“The leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has devastated Chicago public schools,” Vallas said.

Johnson said the point of Governor JB Pritzker’s closure of schools and most other indoor spaces was to save lives at the height of the pandemic, and he said Pritzker did the right thing. He accused Vallas of saying, “Teachers are responsible for the violence in the city of Chicago.”

Meanwhile, Vallas called Johnson a “100% subsidiary” of CTU and returned to claiming that Johnson really wanted to disappoint the police.

Johnson responded by calling Vallas a Republican: “The Republicans said President Biden would disappoint the police. Republicans said Governor Pritzker would disappoint the police. Republicans said Nancy Pelosi would disappoint the police. And now it’s up to the Republicans to say I’m going to disappoint the police.”

Vallas reiterated earlier in the debate that he is a lifelong Democrat.

Next Tuesday, March 28 at 6 p.m. CBS 2 will host a debate with Johnson and Vallas along with our partners – the Business Leadership Council, the Chicago Urban League, the National Association of Black Journalists Chicago and WVON. You can stream it on all our platforms and watch it on TV.

Early voting in the mayoral election campaign began on Monday. The election is Tuesday, April 4th.


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