Mayoral rivals Johnson, Vallas debate police, education, Kim Foxx, amid eye rolls, head shakes and charges of ‘dismissing people’

Their third runoff debate was more restrained than previous ones — but not without some big swings, as when Vallas said he has more teaching experience than Johnson. “You can’t keep just dismissing people, Paul,” Johnson responded. “It’s irresponsible.”

SHARE Mayoral rivals Johnson, Vallas debate police, education, Kim Foxx, amid eye rolls, head shakes and charges of ‘dismissing people’
Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson (left) and Paul Vallas participate in a roundtable discussion Wednesday at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios in the Loop.

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson (left) and Paul Vallas participate in a roundtable discussion Wednesday at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios in the Loop.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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As Chicago’s two mayoral contenders clashed Wednesday night over now familiar issues — police strategy, education funding and union alliances — Brandon Johnson landed one his most personal attacks yet against his rival, saying voters are more familiar with Paul Vallas than they might think.

“We all know someone like Paul, who has failed over and over again, and continues to be allowed to fail up,” Johnson said. “[Just] because you make the loudest noise, and you roll your eyes at everybody else, doesn’t mean that you know what’s best.”

That shot drew a shake of the head from the former Chicago Public Schools chief, who landed a few punches of his own during the candidates’ fourth televised debate, hosted by WFLD Fox 32.

Overall, it proved to be a more restrained affair than their previous few matchups — but not without some big swings, as when Vallas suggested he has more experience teaching than the Cook County commissioner, who’s running on his classroom bona fides and organizing experience with the Chicago Teachers Union.

“I was a teacher too, at all levels. In fact, probably I spent more time as a teacher at all levels, including in the military, than the four years that you spent at Jenner [Academy], in a school that I built in Cabrini-Green,” Vallas told Johnson in response to a question about school safety.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas participates in a roundtable discussion at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios on Wednesday.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas participates in a roundtable discussion at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“The point here is that I have presided over districts that have seen extraordinary violence in the community. ... We had police officers in our high schools, and we had trained security in our elementary schools because police officers deter active shooters,” Vallas said.

He also claimed that Johnson and the CTU “have been advocates for defunding the police and have been advocates for getting the police officers out of the schools.”

Johnson pointed out that the decisions by some schools to remove Chicago police officers were made by local schools councils, with “the autonomy to make a decision on whether or not it was … the best use of their resources.”

“I actually find it absolutely ridiculous, but all too familiar, that someone like Paul Vallas speaks to other people and believes that they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Johnson said. “It’s shameful, it’s ridiculous, but we’re familiar with that.”

As for Vallas’ claim to a lengthier teaching resume, Johnson said, “You can’t keep just dismissing people, Paul. It’s irresponsible.”

During one of Vallas’ familiar attacks on Johnson as a supposed proponent of defunding police, Vallas was asked how he’d get more officers on the street to fend off summertime violence.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson participates in a roundtable discussion at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios on Wednesday.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson participates in a roundtable discussion at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Vallas characterized it as an issue of strategy, not funding.

“I’ve talked about closing [police] vacancies. … They’re spending $175 million on overtime, probably over $200 million now, up about seven times the amount that they paid when I had 13,500 officers on the street,” Vallas said, referring to his tenure as city budget director. “We’re spending $100 million on private security on the CTA that could hire another 300 officers. So, the bottom line is, it’s not a funding issue.”

“It’s about a strategy that returns to community-based policing where there are cars covering all the police beats,” Vallas said.

Johnson pounced on his opponent’s claim that hundreds of retired officers would be motivated to rejoin the ranks if Vallas makes it to the fifth floor of City Hall.

“I’m a public school teacher,” Johnson said. “If we’re asking the city of Chicago to count on retirees to come back to teaching or retirees to come back to policing — that is a strategy that, quite frankly, has not worked anywhere in the world.”

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson (left) and Paul Vallas (right) participate in a roundtable discussionr at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios in the Loop on Wednesday.  Moderators were Fox 32 News Political Editor Mike Flannery, and anchors Anita Blanton (center) and Scott Schneider.

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson (left) and Paul Vallas (right) participate in a roundtable discussionr at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios in the Loop on Wednesday. Moderators were Fox 32 News Political Editor Mike Flannery, and anchors Anita Blanton (center) and Scott Schneider.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Asked if taxpayers should be concerned about a CTU organizer negotiating more favorably as mayor with the union that once employed him, Johnson said “They don’t have to be worried because I’m a part of the working class in the city of Chicago.”

Similarly, Vallas was asked if residents of a largely Democratic city should be worried about a candidate backed by billionaire Ken Griffin and other conservative supporters.

“The business community that’s supporting me have also supported Mayor [Richard M.] Daley. Many of them have given money to Rahm Emanuel, and many of them have given money to Lori Lightfoot,” Vallas responded.

The candidates landed far apart when asked for their opinion on the job done by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

The Fraternal Order of Police-backed candidate Vallas said Foxx “has not been aggressive at keeping dangerous criminals off the street, and the data clearly states it.”

The progressive CTU employee Johnson said the county’s top prosecutor has led with an incredible amount of integrity, calling her “a part of the type of reform that’s needed.”

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson (left) and Paul Vallas (right) participate in a roundtable discussion at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios in the Loop on Wednesday.

Chicago mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson (left) and Paul Vallas (right) participate in a roundtable discussion with Fox 32 News Political Editor Mike Flannery, Anita Blanton (center) and Fox 32 News Anchors Scott Schneider at WFLD Fox Chicago Studios in the Loop on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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