Prayers up with election countdown: Chicago mayoral candidates canvass churches in final push — and warn of ‘false prophets’

Nine candidates for mayor made some of their final pitches, trying to get souls to the polls across the city with two days to go before the balloting ends.

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Chicago mayoral candidate, entrepreneur Willie Wilson, greets a supporter Sunday during a campaign stop at Friendly Temple COGIC Church on the South Side. He donated $10,000 to the church and urged congregants to vote.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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With the clock winding down on Chicago’s municipal election, the field of nine mayoral candidates fanned out across the city Sunday to deliver some of their final pitches to win over undecided voters and to push those who have made up their minds to follow through with a ballot.

The late-stage political ground game before the polls close Tuesday sent fifth floor City Hall hopefuls to bistros, bars, bungalows, bus stops and beyond — but not before church. Nearly every candidate started their run into the home stretch at a house of worship.

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That was true of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose political prayers for a second term could depend on winning over voters in majority-Black wards on the South and West sides.

Lightfoot visited two churches before speaking to dozens of supporters at Q’s Lounge in the Ashburn neighborhood, where the mayor shimmied to a live soul band, stopped for dozens of photos with supporters — and warned them against falling for “false prophets” on the campaign trail.

“They’re gonna tell you what you want to hear, but when you hear them, you ask yourself: What have they actually done?” Lightfoot said, saving her sharpest barbs for fellow perceived front-runners Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

“What have they actually done in all their time as politicians in office to lift up the fortunes of people who look like us?” asked Lightfoot, who finds herself in a different electoral situation compared to her surprise trip to the runoff four years ago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens to a band perform during a campaign stop Sunday afternoon at Q’s Lounge in Ashburn on the South Side.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens to a soul band perform during a campaign stop Sunday afternoon at Q’s Lounge in Ashburn on the South Side.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Then a relative unknown emerging from a field of 14, Lightfoot went on to sweep Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle citywide.

But with several polls showing her in a statistical dead heat that could prevent the incumbent from even advancing to the April runoff, she remained on the attack Sunday as much as she ever did during her first run.

“Don’t tell me, Paul Vallas, that you have an answer to solve this [crime] problem, because you don’t have an answer,” Lightfoot said. “You don’t have any experience, but you’re good at stoking people’s fears.”

As for Johnson, the Cook County Board member and Chicago Teachers Union organizer, Lightfoot dismissed him as a “nice guy, talks a good game — you can tell he’s a preacher’s son — but his ideas are out of touch with the reality of people in this city.”

“Brandon Johnson is one of the unrepentant de-funders of the police. He thinks that, in this time, we should have less police on the street taking care of people and keeping them safe,” she said.

Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools chief executive, fired back at Lightfoot during a campaign stop with supporters at a Greek restaurant in Lincoln Square.

“Every problem that the city is facing ... it’s all a product of bad leadership, and bad leadership from the fifth floor,” Vallas said. “And it didn’t begin with this mayor. But it certainly has gotten worse,” he said.

“The only thing that this great city ... lacks is quality leadership — quality leadership on the fifth floor. It is my intention to bring back quality leadership,” he said.

Chicago mayoral candidate former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas speaks to supporters during a campaign stop Sunday afternoon at a Lincoln Square neighborhood restaurant on the North Side.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas speaks to supporters during a campaign stop Sunday afternoon at a Greek restaurant in Lincoln Square on the North Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Vallas did not address the most recent controversy dogging his campaign — that his Twitter account allegedly has “liked” racist posts over the last few years, as documented by the Chicago Tribune — something his campaign chalked up to “hackers.”

“There’s nothing to clear up,” Vallas told reporters at Barba Yianni Grecian Taverna, 4761 N. Lincoln Ave., as a protester chanted outside.

“I’ve run an issue-oriented campaign, and I’ve avoided being detracted by petty attacks and things like that,” Vallas said, urging voters to “avoid the noise.”

“My wife said the other day when I was complaining: I said, ‘You know, I’m getting tweaked here, people are attacking me here, attacking me there.’ She says, ‘You’re in first place. What do you expect?’”

For his part, Johnson said his campaign has avoided the “divisive, distractive forms of fear,” instead focusing on the “hopes and dreams of people.”

Before he gave a rousing speech to supporters at a house party in North Lawndale, he said he’s run a “ multiracial, multigenerational” campaign.

“The structural inequality that Black, Brown, white and Asians want to see dismantled — they see that through our candidacy,” he said.

Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at a house party Sunday afternoon in North Lawndale on the Southwest Side.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at a house party Sunday afternoon in North Lawndale on the Southwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Johnson — attacked by opponents for being CTU-funded — embraced his progressive bona fides during his speech.

“One thing that Lori did get right: Yes, this is a movement full of radicals. When you get a compliment from Lori, you better take it,” he said to applause.

Asked about how he would address crime, Johnson said he would address the root causes.

“When people talk about holding criminals ... accountable, what we should start with is how do we hold the systems accountable first,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — running among the top four contenders, according to recent polling — spent most of the day canvassing with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky along the lakefront and North Side, an area Garcia likely needs to make the runoff.

“We think we have an excellent chance of picking up a lot of votes here — especially undecided voters,” Garcia said outside the Kit Kat Lounge, 3700 N. Halsted St., which was hosting a drag show during his visit.

Asked if he’s concerned about a low Latino turnout, Garcia said: “It can be improved, but we think a lot of folks will be waiting until Tuesday.”

Garcia said he thinks his Spanish TV and radio ads could help.

Chicago mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia greets supporters Sunday afternoon during a campaign stop outside Kit Kat Lounge in Northalsted on the North Side.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia greets supporters Sunday afternoon during a campaign stop outside Kit Kat Lounge on the North Side. He campaigned with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

After giving former Mayor Rahm Emanuel a run for his money in 2015, Garcia said voters “should consider experience” when picking a candidate.

“To move Chicago forward and to steer the ship and to be inclusive, it’s really critical that someone who’s been in local office and county office, as well as in federal office, bring those skill sets and relationships to work with Chicago,” he said. “I have those relationships.”

Businessman Willie Wilson spent the days leading up to the election canvassing African American churches.

“That’s my base,” he said Sunday morning at Friendly Temple Church COGIC, 7745 S. State St., the first of three churches he visited.

After shaking hands with congregants, he announced a $10,000 donation to the church and held up a check.

“Even if you don’t vote for me, get out and vote. Too many people have died for our right,” Wilson told the crowd.

Wilson said his campaign focused mostly on crime, supporting police officers and reducing taxes.

Asked if he’s considered who he would endorse if he doesn’t make the runoff, Wilson laughed and said, “I’m going to make it to at least the runoff. I’m very positive.”

Positivity was high, too, at Sunday stops for the four other candidates who are vying for an upset on Tuesday.

Ald. Sophia King (4th) told a cheering congregation at Bright Star Church in the Bronzeville neighborhood, “There is no better prediction of what somebody is going to do than what they have already done,” highlighting a series of developments she’s helped shepherd in her South Side ward.

Mayoral candidate Ald. Sophia King (4th) speaks during a campaign stop Sunday morning at Bright Star Church in Bronzeville on the South Side.

Ald. Sophia King (4th) speaks during a campaign stop Sunday morning at Bright Star Church in Bronzeville on the South Side.

Mitch Armentrout/Sun-Times

“All boats are rising. Cranes are flying on Michigan Avenue, in Bronzeville, in Hyde Park,” she said. “We can have a community where we come together, where there’s a leader who really brings us together.”

State Rep. Kam Buckner attended services at the demolished Antioch Missionary Baptist Church’s temporary Sunday home at Urban Prep Academy in Englewood.

“We’re expecting between 30-40% turnout, which means they’re still 60-70% of Chicagoans who won’t be making this decision. So what we really have to do is get those folks energized, get them engaged with them and get them out to the polls,” Buckner said.

Mayoral candidate state Rep. Kam Buckner attends a church service Sunday morning by the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church at the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men in Englewood on the South Side.

State Rep. Kam Buckner attends a church service Sunday morning at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church’s temporary home at the Urban Prep Academy in Englewood on the South Side.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Community activist Ja’Mal Green, commanding a tour bus emblazoned with his face, ferried voters to an early voting site in Austin, where he discussed engaging young voters. Only about 2% of early votes cast so far have come from people 18 to 24, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.

Green said he expects that to improve, which could work in his favor.

“I’m speaking in a language everybody can understand, and that’s what’s really reaching the young people —‘Oh, this is somebody that’s like us because he’s speaking like us,’” Green said.

Chicago mayoral candidate activist Ja’Mal Green congratulates a voter and greets supporters Sunday afternoon on his campaign bus outside of West Chicago Public Library in Austin on the West Side.

Activist Ja’Mal Green congratulates a voter and greets supporters Sunday afternoon on his campaign bus outside the West Chicago public library branch in Austin on the West Side.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) read from Psalm 100 at St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church, the Park Manor house of worship where he was baptized.

Sawyer said he was seeking “some spiritual, spiritual encouragement” in the place he considers home.

“I want people to know my truth and not to be swayed by media, not by social media likes — to do research, look into the individual candidate, look at what they’re really about before making a decision,” Sawyer said. “It’s about who’s going to be there for the long haul. … That’s what makes me different.”

Mayoral candidate Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) attends a church service Sunday morning at St. Mark AME Zion Church on the South Side.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) attends a church service Sunday morning at St. Mark AME Zion Church on the South Side, where he was baptized.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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