Paul Vallas focus of attacks at WBEZ/Sun-Times mayoral forum

Former CPS CEO Paul Vallas has blanketed airwaves with commercials on the crime issue, and recent internal and external polls show him leading the pack or near the top.

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Chicago mayoral candidates (from left) Ald. Sophia King (4th), state Rep. Kam Buckner, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia participate in a mayoral forum at the University of Illinois Chicago on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidates (from left) Ald. Sophia King (4th), state Rep. Kam Buckner, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia participate in a mayoral forum at the University of Illinois Chicago on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas took most of the shots at another mayoral candidate forum Wednesday from competitors determined to stop him from rising to the top of the nine-candidate field.

Five of the nine candidates in the field, including incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, plowed much of the same ground during a forum at the University of Illinois Chicago sponsored by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times and moderated by Sasha-Ann Simons, host of WBEZ’s “Reset” program.

Simons asked her own questions, along with some posed by listeners and readers, in a “Peoples Agenda” survey that drew 2,000 responses.

With millions of dollars in business contributions pouring into his campaign, Vallas has been blanketing the airwaves with commercials hammering away at his law-and-order platform to reduce violent crime.

All recent polls, both public polls as well as others conducted for the campaigns, show Vallas leading or near the top of the field. That includes a poll released Wednesday by the Sun-Times, WBEZ, Telemundo Chicago and NBC5.

That could be why Vallas was the biggest target at Wednesday’s forum.

His role as a political pinata started when Lightfoot maintained “almost everything” Vallas said on crime in one answer — including plummeting arrests, homicide clearance rates, protecting witnesses, filling police vacancies, bolstering detective ranks and opening schools at nights and on weekends — is “categorically untrue.”

That’s “probably because you’re getting your public safety advice from [Fraternal Order of Police President] John Catanzara, who you hosted a fundraiser for just two days ago,” she added.

“Our clearance rate is about 50%. That’s increased markedly over my time in office from when it was in the teens. ... We do have more police. We hired 956 police last year. We promoted to the detective ranks over 300 officers in the last two years. ... This is the first administration in the history of the city that actually has full-time witness coordinators,” she said.

Also, “99% of our elementary schools and a huge percentage of our high schools are open every single day for after-school programs. We put our money where our mouth is: $100 million that we put into young people for jobs, for after-school activities. ... You should know that if you want to be the mayor of Chicago.”

Chicago mayoral candidates (from left) state Rep. Kam Buckner, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia at a mayoral forum at the University of Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 8, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidates (from left) state Rep. Kam Buckner, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia at a mayoral forum Wednesday at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Vallas responded that “all the data that I’ve put out is factual” and “comes directly from the inspector general’s reports and the police department itself.”

He explained the joint appearance with Catanzara by saying he comes from a police family and has attended police retirement lunches for the last decade.

Not to be outdone, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia also took aim at Vallas — over Garcia’s crusade for a Little Village high school.

“We had to fight Paul Vallas because he stole our money, and he sent the money to other schools downtown. That was in 2001. It took a hunger strike to build that school,” Garcia said.

When Vallas claimed he “actually funded” the Little Village high school, Garcia interrupted.

“Arne Duncan funded the Little Village high school,” Garcia said, referring to the former CPS CEO who later served as U.S. secretary of education. “That’s why he was invited to the groundbreaking.”

Vallas accused Garcia of leaving out an important fact.

“He got into a fight with the Daley administration over the location of the school. So that delayed the opening,” Vallas said.

Throughout the forum, Vallas agreed with Ald. Sophia King (4th) on a variety of issues.

That did not sit well with King, who chairs the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

“Paul and I are two totally different candidates. He believes in law and order. There are candidates who believe in defund the police. I’m right [in the middle] where people stand. And I’m not waffling on a woman’s right to control her body like Paul has done,” she said.

King then broke from the pack, proposing reduced speed limits “in all communities” and a ban on right turns at red lights, particularly downtown.

State Rep. Kam Buckner joined the anti-Vallas brigade when explaining why he introduced a bill requiring that CPS be run by an educator.

“The reason that CPS is the way it is today is because of the things that happened during Paul’s tenure and after Paul’s tenure,” Buckner said.

“We have to stop the corporatization and privatization of CPS. … This is not a business. This is an education system,” said Buckner. “Unfortunately, in 1995, the Republican Legislature changed the law so that Paul, who was unqualified to actually be a superintendent, could run the school system. Let’s stop treating our babies like commodities and give them the respect that they deserve.”

Garcia and Vallas agreed on one thing: The CTA is in danger of “going bankrupt” when federal stimulus money — now propping up a system that has lost half its pre-pandemic riders — dries up.

A noticeably more animated Garcia did not pull his punches in explaining the drop in riders.

“I am deeply disappointed and pissed off that buses are dirty, that trains are filthy,” he said. “People doing all kinds of things that didn’t happen just a few years ago.”


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