Johnson, Vallas exchange jabs about schooling, budget plans

In a heated debate Saturday on the city’s South Side, mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas could agree on at least one thing.

Asked if they saw the runoff as a fight between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Fraternal Order of the Police, neither said they did, but each candidate took the opportunity to throw a few punches.

The forum, hosted by the Coalition of African American Leaders at Kenwood High School, focused on issues facing black voters.

When Vallas was asked to name an issue on which he disagreed with the FOP, he condemned the “rhetoric” of the leaders and said he supports the consent decree. When asked the same about CTU, Johnson dodged the question and said he would be a mayor for all Chicagoans.

Johnson acknowledged that if elected he would face “tough decisions” in negotiations with the CTU and that the city would not be able to meet all their demands, but added: “So who better to deliver bad news to friends than a friend? “

Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and CTU organizer, and Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools executive director, engaged in their most heated exchanges on issues related to schooling in the city.

In response to a question about teaching black history in Chicago schools, Johnson attacked Vallas earlier comments on critical race theory.

“When you talk about critical race theory like it’s a problem, it’s a problem,” Johnson said.

Vallas reacted strongly, saying that as head of CPS, “we made black history more than a story that was taught in February, but in every month. We also taught African history in world history, which had not been done before.”

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Johnson also criticized Vallas’ record leadership of CPS, saying “the largest exodus of black teachers occurred under your watch.”

“How do you create businesses by firing black women and keep them from patronizing those businesses?” Johnson said. “And as soon as you ran out of this city, the whole infrastructure crumbled … you build economies out of sand, and as soon as they crumble, you flee.”

Vallas fired back at Johnson over the 2019 teachers’ union strike and school closures during the pandemic, which he said resulted in “catastrophic consequences.”

The teachers union, Vallas said, was able to negotiate “the richest contract in history,” but he complained that it hadn’t added “one minute to the school day.”

The two also differed on economic issues, with Johnson calling for a system that would provide “micro-grants” to help small businesses get off the ground and stimulate economic growth in disadvantaged areas.

“Most small businesses, especially black small businesses, often don’t have the initial seed money to start the business,” he said.

Vallas said he had cut red tape that he said makes it harder for black business owners to get city contracts.

Johnson also reiterated his promise not to raise property taxes as mayor, and that he would instead raise the funds needed for his programs by raising taxes on wealthy Chicagoans and big businesses.

“We’ve put burdens of property taxes on our people, that’s why I’m committed to not raising them,” Johnson said. “I am committed to ensuring that the ultra-rich pay their fair share in taxes. That’s a democratic value, and that’s why my opponent won’t promote one.”

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Vallas countered that Johnson “hasn’t managed anything” in the past.

“His tax plan is not a tax on the rich, but a tax on small businesses,” Vallas said.

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