Johnson, Vallas trade blows about schools, budget plans in a heated mayoral forum

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

Asked if they saw the second round represent a fight between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Fraternal Order of the Police, neither said they did, but each candidate took their chance to throw some punches.

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

Asked to name the issues he disagreed with the FOP, Vallas blasted the “rhetoric” coming from its leaders and said he supported the approval decision. Asked the same about CTU, Johnson dodged the question and said he would be mayor for all Chicagoans.

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

Johnson, Cook County commissioner and CTU organizer, and Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, have had the most heated conversation on questions related to the city's schools.

In response to a question about teaching Black history at a Chicago school, Johnson attacked Vallas over his earlier comments about critical race theory.

“When you talk about critical race theory as if there's a problem, it's a problem,” Johnson said.

Vallas responded in the affirmative, saying that as head of the CPS, “we make Black history more than history is taught in February, but every month. We also teach African history in world history, which has never been done before.”

Johnson also criticized Chicago's Vallas leading school district's record, saying “the biggest exodus of black teachers happened under your watch.”

“How do you create a business by firing black women and preventing them from patronizing the business?” said Johnson. “And as soon as you run from this city, the entire infrastructure is destroyed… You build economies out of sand, and once they collapse, you run.”

Vallas fired at Johnson for the 2019 teachers' union strike and school closures during the pandemic, which he said resulted in “disastrous consequences”.

The teachers' union, Vallas said, could negotiate “the richest contract in history” but he complained that it didn't add “one minute to the school day”.

The two also discussed economic issues, with Johnson calling for a system that would provide “micro-grant” to help small businesses get up and stimulate economic growth in lagging areas.

“Most small businesses, especially black small businesses, often do not have seed capital to start their business,” he said.

Vallas said he had cut red tape that he said made it difficult for black business owners to secure city contracts.

Johnson also reaffirmed his promise not to increase property taxes as mayor and instead he will raise needed funds for his program by increasing taxes on Chicago's rich and big business.

“We have imposed a property tax on our people, therefore I am committed not to increase it,” Johnson said. “I am committed to making sure the very wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. Those are Democratic values, which is why my opponent won't bring them up.”

Vallas denied that Johnson “had not arranged anything” beforehand.

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