Indictment of Donald Trump kicks off last Chicago mayoral debate between Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas

Former President Donald Trump’s historic indictment by a New York grand jury was a flashpoint in Chicago’s last mayoral debate as Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas clashed over the criminal case.

In response to a question from WBEZ host Sasha-Ann Simons at the last scheduled debate between the candidates Thursday, Johnson immediately used the grand jury decision against Trump to attack Vallas for his connections to Republicans.

Saying the Trump administration was “one of the most corrupt” in history, Johnson immediately pivoted to say Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, “has inserted herself and her resources into my opponent’s coffers.”

DeVos has not donated directly to Vallas. But an advocacy organization she founded, American Federation for Children, has channeled money into a super PAC called Illinois Federation for Children. That group has spent roughly $60,000 on digital media supporting Vallas. DeVos has not led the group since 2016, but she and her husband continue to fund the group.

“I’ve never had any conversations or contact with Betsy DeVos, and our campaign has not received any money from her,” Vallas said. He added his oft-repeated line that he’s a “lifelong Democrat” and that Johnson is “still a paid lobbyist for the Chicago Teachers Union” — an organization Vallas later said has a “stranglehold over” Chicago Public Schools — and that a majority of Johnson’s campaign funds have come from the union and its affiliates.

Vallas separately released a statement supportive of the Trump indictment, saying the former president “repeatedly and shamelessly violated the rules and norms that govern the Office of the President, cheapening the most widely respected elected position in the world and demeaning our democracy. He must be held accountable.”

Later, Vallas said he would also keep the city’s current public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady. Johnson said “we have different views of public health, and so no, she will not stay on in my administration.”

The rivals otherwise broke little new ground during the hourlong debate. Vallas, a former CPS CEO, promised to hire police officers and accused Johnson of wanting to defund the police department. Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, said he will not defund the police but would also invest in programs that benefit people.

Asked what qualities they’ll seek in the next Chicago Police Department superintendent would select, Johnson said “the desire is to make sure they come from the rank and file … (someone) who actually knows what it’s like to be a police officer in the city of Chicago. It also has to be someone who is prepared to administer constitutional policing. We have a consent decree, of which my public safety plan spends $50 million to implement.” Johnson repeated that he would want his superintendent to be “compassionate, collaborative and competent,” and ready “to work with our district council members” and community groups.

Vallas said he would prioritize selecting a deputy mayor for public safety “who is drawn from the consent decree community” and he has already talked with “three or four people who have been involved and been engaged who would occupy that spot.”

He said he wanted to promote officers from within who have “credibility with the community.”

”I would promote, as interim superintendent, someone from the ranks,” Vallas said.

A North Side listener asked how each candidate would work with the CTU, given how “work stoppages and strikes (have interrupted) my education.” Vallas noted that he had “never, ever had a strike” while leading school districts and negotiating with teachers unions in four different cities. Despite Johnson’s close ties with the teachers union, he repeated that he would be the mayor “for every single resident in the city of Chicago” and he had a fiduciary duty to be responsible “for the interests of all taxpayers.”

“The bottom line is that you need someone who actually has the lived experience” of having children who attend CPS, Johnson said.

Vallas said he’d negotiated “with 26 different unions in my lifetime without ever having” a work stoppage.

”Paul, you left out something about all those so-called accomplishments: you got fired. Everywhere you’ve gone, you’ve gotten fired,” Johnson replied, also blaming Vallas for pension shortfalls that have led to rising property taxes.

Asked when he last rode the CTA, Vallas replied that he had that day, to the Cubs game. While he isn’t a “regular rider,” he said he has more frequently to talk to CTA workers. “Their overriding concern right now is public safety, because the ridership is significantly down,” and “it is the reason why they’re losing members left and right and it’s the reason why they can’t fill vacancies.”

Pressed on how he would address service efficiency and staffing, Vallas again said recruitment has been difficult because “people don’t want to work for the CTA” because of fear of crime.

Johnson says he usually rides three or four times a month to county board meetings.

Simons asked both candidates how they would address their respective “blind spots.” Johnson said he was already “hyper-critical of myself. I’m also a middle child, which probably explains a lot to people,” and was raised by a father who rarely took sick days.

Vallas said his blind spot “is really the fact that there’s a lot that I don’t know, but I think my great strength is knowing what I don’t know and going out and finding people who know what I don’t know, and then bringing them in and empowering them to make decisions.”

Feeds,News,Chi Trib,City: Chicago

via Chicago Tribune

March 30, 2023 at 07:20PM

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