Mayoral candidates take aim at Brandon Johnson at NBC5 forum on Black community
Mayor Lori Lightfoot questioned Brandon Johnson’s commitment to funding Chicago police. Activist Ja’Mal Green accused Johnson of being a fraud.
Brandon Johnson was the main target of attacks at a mayoral candidates forum Monday on issues affecting the city’s Black community, but the Cook County commissioner said the pile-on showed he was now the front-runner in the race.
All nine candidates participated in the forum — the last before the Feb. 28 election — which was hosted by NBC5 and moderated by anchor Marion Brooks and WVON’s Matt McGill. Candidates answered questions on topics such as housing, public safety, education, community investment and public transit.
But Johnson was repeatedly criticized by two of his opponents, activist Ja’Mal Green and incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot. At one point, moderator Brooks said to Johnson, “Everybody seems to be piling on to you.”
Green took aim at Johnson after the commissioner mentioned that he lives with his family in Austin on the West Side, something Johnson has brought up in previous instances to portray himself as an everyday father of three living in a dangerous community.
“The reality of the situation is he’s faking his way through this race. He is lying and trying to make progressive white people on the North Side believe that he cares about Black people,” Green said. “Look on the West Side. Almost half the people are living in poverty, including children, and don’t have the resources that they deserve. Stop lying to people and be honest.”
Later, answering a question on public safety in the city, Lightfoot suggested Johnson was going to make the city unsafe by cutting the Chicago Police Department’s budget.
“If he’s not willing to commit to not defunding the police he’s going to have less officers on the street, and our communities are going to be less safe,” Lightfoot said.
Johnson said Lightfoot was being disingenuous and that no one had “more of an incentive for the city of Chicago to work for Black people than someone who is married to a Black woman, raising Black children on the West Side,” Johnson said, adding that he was living the experience of an everyday resident of the city.
Green called Johnson a “fraud.”
“Brandon Johnson, please stop lying about the lived experiences because you don’t have any, and I’m actually living them each and every day, and you are a fraud. So please stop lying to the public and the city of Chicago,” Green said.
Earlier in the forum, the mayor said that Johnson’s tax plan would increase taxes, not just on the wealthy, but for many teachers making $100,000 or more.
Johnson is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, a staunch opponent of Lightfoot.
He accused Lightfoot of lying, saying that his tax plan was aimed at the wealthy. Lightfoot then challenged Johnson directly, asking him to promise voters that he would never support a plan to raise taxes on working people.
“I just said that, Madam Mayor,” he responded.
Johnson, after being singled out numerous times, said that it showed that he was now the favorite among voters.
“I’m happy to have a multigenerational, multicultural movement that has obviously prepared me and has propelled me into front-runner status,” Johnson said. “I appreciate the attacks because it’s going to make Chicago stronger.”
A Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 poll conducted earlier this month showed Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas essentially locked in a statistical dead heat when respondents were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today.
Garcia led with 20%, followed by Vallas with 18% and Lightfoot with 17%. Businessman Willie Wilson trailed with 12%, and Johnson with 11%.
Other than the exchanges between Green, Lightfoot and Johnson, candidates were mostly cordial during the forum, even agreeing on the elimination of cash bail.
Vallas said he supported getting rid of cash bail, but authorities had to make the distinction between violent and nonviolent offenders. He said judges are not making the right determination all the time and releasing some violent people.
“There’s a real problem with this, and if you look at the individuals that are being released right now, a lot of times they’ve been arrested for multiple felonies,” Vallas said.
Garcia also was in favor of eliminating cash bail, saying that people who are arrested for violent crimes shouldn’t be able to be released simply because they have the cash when others who don’t have money stay in jail.
“It’s about fairness, and it gives judges still the ability to decide on every individual case,” Garcia said. “It is about ending the school-to-prison pipeline business and industry.”
Mail voting is already underway for the Feb. 28 election.