Florida Gov. DeSantis now a factor in Chicago’s mayoral race

The GOP governor will be headlining an event for police in Elmhurst on Monday. Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas distanced himself from the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed him, after it promoted the event.

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GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis headlines a law and order event in Elmhurst on Monday.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, mulling a 2024 presidential run, is emerging as a factor in the crowded Chicago mayoral race, with his Monday visit to Elmhurst – promoted by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police though not organized by them – forcing Paul Vallas, a frontrunner, to distance himself from the union that endorsed him.

The event was publicized on the FOP website with a message to “Chicago Lodge 7” members inviting them to a DeSantis’ “Back the Blue” event, open “to law enforcement members only, spouses are not included” with the location in Elmhurst to be disclosed to registrants over this weekend.

A casual reading of the DeSantis invite on the FOP site could leave an impression that somehow the FOP was a host or organizer, but that is not so.

A GOP source told the Sun-Times the DeSantis political team was organizing the law enforcement event in the western suburb – not anyone in Illinois.

FOP Lodge 7 President John Catanzara Jr. – an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump and up for re-election next month – told the Sun-Times he was contacted by “some people” with DeSantis, who he declined to name, to help promote the visit.

Catanzara said “obviously” there “are people in Illinois that are interested in him running for higher office,” and since DeSantis was “coming to town to do a police speech,” Catanzara was asked, “Could I pass that information on to my members?”

Catanzara’s reply: “Absolutely.”

In a video posted Friday on YouTube, Catanzara said the DeSantis event “is not being hosted by Lodge 7” and that “all we are simply doing is promoting a speech that he is coming to town to give in support of the men and women of law enforcement in this state and in this country.”

That the FOP was publicizing the DeSantis visit was enough for Vallas’ chief rivals, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., to jump all over Vallas and to try to make him wear the jacket for the DeSantis cultural warrior platform – a big minus to many Chicago voters.

It also fueled Lightfoot’s campaign strategy to paint Vallas as a closet Republican in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

DeSantis’ views and actions he is taking as Florida governor clash with many voters in liberal Chicago.

As Gov. J.B. Pritzker – who has been jabbing DeSantis - said in a Thursday tweet, “Ron DeSantis’s dangerous and hateful agenda has no place in Illinois. Banning books, playing politics with people’s lives, and censoring history are antithetical to who we are. Every candidate hoping to hold public office in the land of Lincoln should condemn this event.”

Law enforcement officials are a crucial part of the Vallas base. Crime in the city is a major issue. If no candidate wins more than 50% on Feb. 28, the election for mayor heads into an April runoff.

Vallas denounced DeSantis on Friday and criticized the FOP, saying in a statement he “wholeheartedly” agrees with Pritzker “that there is simply no place in Chicago for a right-wing extremist like Ron DeSantis, and I am disappointed in FOP leadership for inviting him to speak to officers.

“DeSantis’ record of trying to erase the LGBTQ community, banning books on Black history and much more is not in line with my values, the values of our community, or the values of the rank and file police officers who I believe have no interest in getting swept up in culture wars and national Republican Party politics,” Vallas said in his statement. “I want to build trust between all of Chicago’s communities and the police by holding everyone accountable, because that is the only way we can make our city safer. This decision by the FOP leadership makes that job harder.”

In a statement issued Friday night, Lightfoot told the Sun-Times, “Vallas has wrapped his arms around the far-right fringe of the Republican Party, and no awkward attempt to back away now from Ron DeSantis — a racist, homophobic demagogue — can change the fact that Paul Vallas is fast on his heels.

“This is who Paul Vallas is: A man who’s appeared at Awake Illinois fundraisers and courted the endorsement of bigoted FOP President John Catanzara,” the mayor said. “With friends like DeSantis who are right at home with the FOP, he has no business representing Chicagoans.”

After Vallas posted his statement, Garcia said in a tweet, “Nice statement @PaulVallas but did you tell this to John Catanzara when he was at your fundraiser last night?”

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