Paul Vallas came out of his technocratic shell and fired back at Brandon Johnson Thursday in a passionate debate that put Johnson in the shoes of his past support for the idea of defunding police and his current plans to raise $800 million in taxes to “invest in people.”
During their first televised debate last week, Johnson was the undisputed aggressor.
He accused Vallas of supporting “right-wing extremists” and setting the stage for an avalanche of property tax hikes with “accounting gimmicks” and a raid on Johnson's pension fund accusing Vallas of being the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
That night, Vallas played it safe by trying to stay above the fray. His primary response to Johnson's flyer was to call the criticism “bullshit”.
On Thursday, a dramatically different Vallas appeared to debate his second-round opponent on ABC7 Chicago.
With races tightening, even in his own campaign's internal polls, Vallas brought the verbal equivalent of boxing gloves to battle.
Answering the first question of the night, Vallas threw a verbal jab at Johnson's history of speaking positively about the political goals of defunding the police.
Johnson said no more. But, he still won't commit to fully funding the Chicago Police Department's $1.94 billion budget. In fact, he promised to cut the CPD's budget by at least $150 million, in part by reducing the number of supervisors.
“My opponent wants to defund the police. He didn't want to fill 1,100 vacancies. He does not want to bring back retirees or invite other officials who have left to come back without losing seniority,” said Vallas.
‘Smart policing' or defunding the police?
Johnson fired back, “I'm not going to strip the police. Never said it.”
Instead, the Cook County commissioner highlighted his plan for “smart policing,” which includes promoting 200 detectives to solve violent crimes and relieving police officers of the burden of responding to 40% of 911 calls for mental health and other non-police emergencies.
“We are asking police officers to not only do their job, but that of others. They are not social workers. They are not a marriage counselor (or) therapist. I served on the front lines as a public school teacher in the city of Chicago. I have seen firsthand what that trauma can do,” said Johnson.
“We have to free up law enforcement to focus on the more violent offences. But, we also have to have someone as a police inspector who realizes that you can't have a proctor watching oversighters. Most police officers have no idea who they report day in and day out.”
Vallas stood up straight.
“Smart policing doesn't defund the police. Smart policing didn't (didn't) fill 1,100 vacancies. Smart policing doesn't promote 200 detectives thinking it will solve the problem. … Smart policing fills the void and pushes police officers down to the local level, so they can respond to a 911 call within minutes,” said Vallas.
Business, budget and billionaires
Vallas is also aiming for a cornerstone of Johnson's non-violence strategy: $800 million in tax increases to help finance $1 billion of “investing in people.”
“You wouldn't promote business by reintroducing the head tax, which taxes small businesses. It's not a rich man's tax. You're not going to be helping business in general by increasing taxes on hotels by 66% which, of course, is part of my opponent's $800 million tax plan. Hotels and motels are already paying the highest taxes in the country and they are barely afloat, if they are barely recovering from COVID,” said Vallas.
Johnson said $1 billion in social service investments is “what it takes for better, stronger cities.” He argued that his tax plan was based on “fundamental Democratic principles”.
“Democrats across the country believe that the rich in this city and this country should be braver in the game and pay their fair share of taxes. President Biden said that a teacher and a firefighter should not pay the same tax rate as a billionaire,” Johnson said.
“The reason why Paul Vallas avoids this dynamic is because he is backed by billionaires. The way we get out of this structural deficit is to do what works: Eliminate the deficit it created. Create new investments of up to $1 billion. And do it without raising property taxes.”
Vallas didn't take the attack lying down either.
“My God. I haven't been a budget director in 20 years. I'm surprised he didn't criticize me for being behind the grassy hills in Dallas,” said Vallas, referring to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
After Johnson criticized Vallas's handling of school budgets in work across the country, Vallas replied, “I debated someone who had never managed a budget. … So please don't lecture me on managing a budget.
Johnson fired back: “Here's what I know about budgets: Paul isn't good at it.”