Johnson, Vallas tour South Side churches in final weekend campaign push before mayoral runoff

Two days out from Election Day, Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas focused largely on African American wards where Mayor Lori Lightfoot performed well in the general election.

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Pastor John F. Hannah prays for Chicago mayoral candidate former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas at the New Life Covenant Church at 7621 S Greenwood Ave in Grand Crossing, Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Pastor John F. Hannah prays for Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas at New Life Covenant Church at 7621 S Greenwood Ave. in Grand Crossing, Sunday, April 2, 2023. Both candidates crisscrossed the South Side on Sunday. Ten percent or more of Chicagoans remain undecided, according to polls.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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The mayoral campaign trails crossed each other Sunday as Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas visited a series of South Side churches with 48 hours to go before Election Day, taking stages before especially large congregations for the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter.

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Johnson and Vallas both focused largely on African American wards where Mayor Lori Lightfoot performed well in the general election, as the runoff contenders vie for the nearly 17% of voter support that went to the outgoing mayor Feb. 28 — and the 10% or more Chicagoans who remain undecided, according to most polls.

“I started teaching 15 years ago, seventh and eighth graders in Cabrini Green — yeah, you can’t make me doubt Him,” Johnson quipped from the pulpit of Apostolic Faith Church. “My father and grandfather were pastors in the Church of God in Christ, and though that wasn’t my calling, the next best thing is to teach middle school.”

The Chicago Teachers Union organizer received a warm but not overwhelming welcome from congregants of the Bronzeville church. It’s located in the 3rd Ward, where Lightfoot led in the first round of mayoral voting with 25.4% of the vote, compared with 25.3% for Vallas and about 21% for Johnson.

He was accompanied at Apostolic Faith by city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who previously endorsed Lightfoot before throwing her support behind Johnson.

Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin and Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson listen to the service at Apostolic Faith Church at 3823 S Indiana Ave in Bronzeville, Sunday, April 2, 2023.

City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin and Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson attend Sunday services at Apostolic Faith Church at 3823 S Indiana Ave. in Bronzeville, Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

During a short stump speech, Johnson called back frequently to his upbringing “in the Church of God in Christ, which only means I preach in A-flat,” he joked before returning to the major themes of a progressive campaign.

“If we want a safe city, we have to do what safe American cities do, and that’s invest in people. That means a fully funded neighborhood school, reliable and safe transportation, good paying jobs, access to health care, including mental health care,” Johnson said to applause.

Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is prayed for by Bishop Horace E. Smith at Apostolic Faith Church at 3823 S Indiana Ave in Bronzeville,

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson is prayed for by Bishop Horace E. Smith at Apostolic Faith Church at 3823 S Indiana Ave. in Bronzeville.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It was his second church visit of the day with Conyears-Ervin, following services at New Life Covenant Southeast.

A few hours later, Vallas visited that same church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of the 8th Ward, which Lightfoot swept with 42% of the vote in February, compared to 18% for Johnson.

Vallas took just 9% in the ward, but he’s got the backing of millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who came in second with 20%.

With another critical backer by his side — former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, one of the most prolific vote-getters in state history — Vallas shook congregants’ hands in the church lobby and stopped to look at volunteers’ artwork, before taking the stage while Pastor John F. Hannah prayed for him.

Chicago mayoral candidate and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas greets members of the congregation at the New Life Covenant Church at 7621 S Greenwood Ave in Grand Crossing, Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidate and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas greets members of the congregation at New Life Covenant Church in Grand Crossing, Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The former schools chief didn’t speak at the service, but he let loose during a boisterous news conference with supporters later in the day at Ann Sather, the Lake View restaurant owned by another key Vallas backer, retiring Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).

“We wanted to take this opportunity to remind voters that they have a dramatic choice to make in this election. My opponent and I do agree on important issues, such as supporting and protecting a woman’s reproductive rights,” Vallas said. “But my opponent is trying to create differences where none exist, because he wants to distract voters from the issues at hand. Crime is going up, and crime will be my No. 1 priority.”

He hammered his public safety message — and asserted his Democratic Party identity — in front of other key backers, including retired Rep. Bobby Rush, former Gov. Pat Quinn and Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez.

“The next mayor is not a solo act. The next mayor has to be the type of leader that assembles the type of team that can get the city back on track,” Vallas said.

With meteorologists predicting severe weather in the Tuesday afternoon forecast, officials at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners are urging residents to cast ballots at early voting sites on Monday, or early in the day Tuesday.

Early voting sites in all 50 wards will be open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday. Two downtown sites at 191 N. Clark St. and 69 W. Washington St. will stay open until 7 p.m.

The polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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