Chicago mayoral candidates speak at Black, Latino communities forum as they earn more endorsements

Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Mayoral candidates attend forum focused on Black, Latino communities
Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas spoke at the Chicago History Museum.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The candidates for Chicago mayor are gearing up for the final two weeks of campaigning as they look to lock down more support and build what they hope will be a winning coalition.

The two remaining contenders spent Monday night inside the Chicago History Museum.

They separately answered the same set of questions on education, economic development, immigration and, of course, crime.

In a race pitting former Chicago Public School teacher Brandon Johnson against the district's former CEO, Paul Vallas, candidates were asked about the contentious topic of option schools.

"I'm a strong supporter of expanding option schools, of adult high schools," Vallas said. "We could transform some of those schools that are vacant or underpopulated to option schools in those buildings if the community is willing to allow that."

Brandon Johnson also weighed in.

"Why are we asking parents in city of Chicago to apply for something that should be free?" he questioned.

Johnson's point resonated with Cortney Ritsema, a mom of three public school students.

"The neighborhood schools - public education is a right for all of us, and we all deserve fully-funded public education," Ritsema said.

Before a largely Black and Hispanic audience, each candidate committed to keeping Chicago a sanctuary city. But, as crimes like carjackings and robberies on public transit hit nearly every neighborhood of the city, voters are keyed in on public safety.

"You need local beat cops. You've got to get rid of privatized security on CTA, get police on CTA," Vallas said.

Johnson and Vallas have vastly different approaches.

"It takes two years to get police officers on the front line. You promote and train 200 more detectives," Johnson said. "It was worse with more police officers. We spend more on policing than anywhere else in the world. It's not working."

That answer, Monday night, helped to make up Paul McKinley's mind.

"I live in a low income community and to be talking about this, to not fund the police, is insulting, and it's downright irresponsible," McKinley said.

Both candidates know that how well they do in turning out their supporters will be critical in determining who wins on April 4th. The broad coalitions they both speak about continue to grow as the time until the election shrinks.

Brandon Johnson's whirlwind Monday included picking up endorsements in the Polish community, getting praise for his commitment to protecting the environment.

Johnson's whirlwind Monday included picking up endorsements in the Polish community, getting praise for his commitment to protecting the environment.

"Paul Vallas does not have any endorsements from environmental champions or from anyone who has received high marks from the Illinois Environmental Council," said Susan Zimny, 38th Ward Democrats.

Johnson also nabbed endorsements from a number of Black elected officials, including Ald. Jason Ervin, chairman of the city council's Black caucus.

Johnson later joined a group of mostly Black retired firefighters who endorsed him. They broke ranks with the firefighters union, which previously endorsed Vallas.

"We can't go for what they think is best for the Black community, because we do know that the past have not represented us well," Retired Chicago Fire Dept. Capt. Ezra McCain said.

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Vallas got his own counter endorsement Monday from the Latino Leadership Council, which had backed Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in the first round. Last week, Garcia announced he was endorsing Johnson.

Brandon Johnson's whirlwind Monday included picking up endorsements in the Polish community, getting praise for his commitment to protecting the environment.

"We're going to get our people out to vote," said David Andalcio, chair of the Latino Leadership Council. "We're going to make sure that everyone knows the reason why we need a leader like Paul Vallas to represent us in this community. Too long we've been neglected."

The endorsements came in as early voting is now underway across the city and the candidates are looking to marshal as much support as possible with the election two weeks away.

"Clearly, early voting is important, you know, we did well in the early voting obviously in the primary, but we anticipate having a very, very robust ground game in all 50 wards," Vallas said.

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Also on Monday, Vallas picked up the endorsement from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and other influential business groups which are critical of Johnson's $800 million tax hike plan. Johnson called it a budget plan providing services people want.

"Good paying jobs, affordable housing, fully-funded neighborhood schools have reliable transportation, that's what's in the plan," Johnson said. "And who would have a problem with that, you know who has a problem with those kinds of plans are extreme right wing Republicans."

It will be a busy week for the candidates with three forums coming up this week alone, including one Monday night focusing on Black and Latino equity concerns.