CHICAGO — Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson faced off in their first head-to-head televised debate before the runoff election.
Johnson and Valas clashed on public safety and the budget.
First, Johnson went after Vallas’ tenure as the city’s budget director under mayor Daley, accusing him of implementing policies that triggered property tax hikes.
“We’re in this predicament because of the bad accounting measures of Mr. Vallas,” Johnson said. “The truth of the matter is he has not put forth a budget plan because when he put forth a budget plan four years ago, he came in ninth place.”
“When I was budget director,” Vallas said, “I actually passed budgets and put 13,500 police officers on the streets without raising property taxes once.
Johnson went on the offense after taking heat during the campaign for his $1 billion investment plan paid for by various new taxes.
On public safety, the candidates articulated their plan for the Chicago Police Department.
“Public safety is a human right,” Vallas said. “Everyone deserves to be able to live in a safe and secure neighborhood. We need to return to community-based policing where we have beat integrity.”
“We have to make sure that we’re providing the support on the front lives,” Johnson said, “so that we can alleviate police officers so that they can deal with the more violent, serious crimes.”
Johnson used a question about crime to knock Vallas for receiving support from wealthy Republicans, like GOP mega-donor Ken Griffin.
“Paul Vallas is supported by someone, Citidel, Ken Griffin that is trying to manufacture and put more guns on the streets,” Johnson said.
Vallas said he has received contributions from people who are part of Citidel.
“I haven’t been brought up to date on what the latest contributions are.”
On education, Vallas punched Johnson for multiple work stoppages during the Chicago Teacher’s Union feud with Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“Brandon was partly responsible for the shutting down of one of the poorest school systems in the country with devastating consequences for 15 consecutive months.
Johnson, a former teacher and CTU activist, who has being bankrolled by teacher’s unions, was asked how he plans to remain independent if elected.
“Once I am mayor of the City of Chicago, I will no longer be a member of the Chicago Teacher’s Union,” Johnson said. “I will no longer pay dues to the Chicago Teacher’s Union. I will have the best job in the world to be an ambassador for a world-class city, especially as we address the critical issues.”
Before the highly anticipated matchup on, the two candidates showed off their new endorsements.
Vallas has won support from pro-business, pro-law enforcement philanthropist Willie Wilson.
“He’s the best person for the job,” Wilson said. “Anybody that wants to deal with crime and not raise taxes as well, they’re my guy.”
Wilson’s endorsement could help Vallas in his effort to reach Black voters, who overwhelmingly chose incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Wilson during the Feb. 28 election.
Johnson’s also aggressively courting that constituency and on Wednesday, he got a boost from the powerful Service Employees International Union Local 1. He already has support from the influential Chicago Teacher’s Union and United Working Families.
“We have an opportunity to elect a mayor who will build a Chicago that works for all of us,” Genie Kastrup, SEIU Local 1 president, said.
Elsewhere, allies of Johnson in the LGBTQ community questioned Vallas’ commitment to issues that they care about.
“We cannot trust Paul Vallas to lead on our city values, we can’t trust him to create a city that works for everyone that welcomes and embraces everyone,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa said.
Wednesday’s actions set the stage to begin highlighting key differences at debates if voters watch.
“Debates matter if people see them,” WGN Political Analyst Paul Lisnek said. “So part of the issue is you’ve got to tune in.”
While unions with massive political bank accounts flock to Johnson, the business community is writing large checks to Vallas, who has raked in more than $1 million in new reported cash over the last week.
Starting March 20, votes will be able to start voting early in the April 4 runoff.