During a televised debate on Thursday night, the two candidates vying for the position of Chicago Mayor in the upcoming April 4 runoff engaged in a heated discussion about public safety, reflecting the growing concern among voters about crime and policing in big cities. One of the candidates, Paul Vallas, accused his progressive opponent, Brandon Johnson, of supporting the “defund the police” movement, while Johnson countered by criticizing Vallas’ plan to increase police hiring as slow and impractical.
Competing in a nonpartisan election, Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson, both of whom identify as Democrats, emerged as the top candidates in the February 28 primary, beating incumbent Lori Lightfoot who finished third and lost her reelection bid. While Chicago is predominantly Democratic, with 83% of its voters supporting President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Vallas and Johnson differ on police policies, reflecting the divide within the Democratic party on this issue.
The subject of public safety took center stage in a televised debate between the Chicago mayoral candidates on Thursday night. With the April 4 runoff approaching, this election has become the newest metropolitan mayoral race to evaluate the public’s stance on policing and crime. pic.twitter.com/Fe2U4SLuPy
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) March 17, 2023
Contrasting Campaign Messages of Chicago Mayoral Candidates
Paul Vallas, a former public schools chief with more conservative views, has received backing from the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and has built his campaign around a pro-police, tough-on-crime platform. He has promised to tackle the issue of police attrition while also proposing increasing police officers on Chicago Transit Authority buses and trains. On the other hand, Brandon Johnson, a progressive Cook County commissioner who enjoys the support of the Chicago Teachers Union, has expressed his support for the “defund the police” movement. However, he has since clarified that he would not reduce police funding.
During the Thursday night debate aired on ABC 7, Paul Vallas repeatedly pointed out Brandon Johnson’s previous statements in which he had expressed support for reallocating public funds from the police department to community-based programs. Johnson, however, clarified that he does not support the “defund the police” movement and emphasized his record of passing multi-billion-dollar budgets repeatedly. Instead, Johnson intends to redirect some of the funds to underserved areas in Chicago.
Proposed Plans of Chicago Mayoral Candidates to Address Public Safety
Brandon Johnson has outlined his plans to address violent crimes, including promoting 200 new detectives. He also expressed his intention to strengthen the implementation of “red flag” laws, allowing courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals considered dangerous to themselves or others, as a measure to curb gun violence. In contrast, Paul Vallas has pledged to swiftly fill thousands of police vacancies and assign those officers to public transit and community-based policing. According to Vallas, the presence of police officers on platforms and stations is crucial in maintaining public confidence in public transportation safety.
The mayoral race in Chicago has revolved mainly around the crime issue, which has been a significant concern for the city in recent years. While there has been a decline in shootings and murders since 2020, other types of crimes, such as theft, carjacking, robberies, and burglaries, have increased in 2021, as per the 2022 year-end report released by the Chicago Police Department.
Vallas Breaks His Silence, Goes on the Attack in Chicago Mayoral Debate
During their previous debate, Paul Vallas had largely avoided confrontation, while Brandon Johnson took a more aggressive stance. However, on Thursday night, things took a contentious turn in the race when Vallas abandoned his earlier approach and went on the offensive within the opening minutes of the debate. This change in strategy suggested that the contest could become more combative, particularly since there are still three more debates and three candidate forums remaining before the election.
During the Chicago Mayoral debate, Paul Vallas criticized Brandon Johnson’s plans to raise hotel and jet fuel taxes, a $4-per-head business tax, and a higher sales tax on high-end properties. Vallas questioned the feasibility of Johnson’s proposals and argued that they would hurt the city’s economy. In response, Johnson accused Vallas of not providing a clear plan to fund his public safety spending proposals. Johnson added that small-scale fundraising efforts could only sustain the city’s budget.
School Closures During the Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic and school closures also became a point of contention between the two candidates during the debate. Vallas proposed opening public schools during typically closed periods to provide a safe place for students, including weekends, summers, and holidays. He also criticized Johnson, a teacher who supported a union that disagreed with Lightfoot over in-person learning, for school closures that lasted for 15 months. Vallas argued that such a long period of school closures is not a good investment in people.
Johnson accused Vallas of echoing Republican rhetoric in criticizing school closures during the pandemic. He argued that such criticism reflected the opposing party’s stance as opposed to the Democrats’ position. Johnson’s approach attempted to portray Vallas as too conservative for the predominantly Democratic city. The current president, Joe Biden, and other high-ranking Democratic officials, including Senators Dick Durbin, Tammy Duckworth, and Governor J.B. Pritzker, have refrained from endorsing either candidate in the runoff.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina are the few national figures who have endorsed candidate Amara Enyia Johnson. In a recent statement, Sanders praised Johnson for advocating for working families in Chicago. Johnson’s opponent, Paul Vallas, has garnered the support of influential local figures such as several city aldermen and former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the top Democratic vote-getter statewide on four occasions. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has thrown her support behind Johnson.
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