Vallas, Johnson offer contrasting ideas at forum on issues affecting Black and Latino communities

Paul Vallas said he would simplify CPD police foot-pursuit policy. Brandon Johnson says he would keep current policy. Both agree to appoint Blacks, Latinos to their teams.

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Brandon Johnson answers a question from the moderators at a forum on issues affecting the Black and Latio communities at the Chicago History Museum.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayoral challengers Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas offered differing visions on education, public safety and community investment at an event Monday focusing on issues affecting Black and Latino communities. 

Billed as a “discussion” with the community, the candidates did not appear on stage together at the Chicago History Museum. Instead, they had 30 minutes each to answer the same set of questions from moderators Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, and Hugo Balta, executive editor of the Chicago Reporter. 

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Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson did not face each other directly in Monday’s candidates’ forum, but instead took questions separately on issues affecting Black and Latino communities. The city’s leading business groups endorsed Vallas, while Black legislators, firefighters and paramedics backed Johnson on Monday. Early voting is underway for the April 4 municipal election.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Vallas and Johnson didn’t launch attacks on each other during their time, as they have in recent debates, choosing instead to focus on delivering their plans for the city to the dozens in attendance on the day early voting began in the April 4 runoff. 

But despite the lack of direct criticisms, it was clear that the two represent different visions for Chicago, particularly on policing. 

Johnson said he supports the Chicago Police Department’s new foot-pursuit policy, which bars officers from chasing someone simply for fleeing police, unless that person is potentially committing a felony or certain other crimes. Johnson said he wouldn’t change the policy. 

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“I agree with it. I believe Adam Toledo would be alive if he wasn’t chased down and gunned down and killed,” the Cook County commissioner said. In March 2021, 13-year-old Toledo was shot and killed in a chase by a CPD officer who was responding to a report of shots fired.  

But Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, was less clear on whether he supported the policy or not, saying that he thinks it’s too complicated and needs to be simplified for officers. 

“They can still chase, but they have to go through like an encyclopedia checklist to determine when to chase and when not to chase,” Vallas said. “I’ve said that the rules need to be understandable and simple. You can hold people accountable, you need to make sure that the rules they are being held accountable for are simple and standardized.”

Both Johnson and Vallas have said they would invest in communities and community organizations to help solve the underlying causes of crime, but they also disagreed on what some of that investment would look like. 

Johnson said he was in favor of making a permanent version of Chicago’s Resilient Communities Pilot Program, which currently distributes $500 a month to 5,000 residents for a year, no strings attached. He noted that an overwhelming amount of people receiving that guaranteed income are Black and Brown women. 

“So not only am I committed to it, we’re going to expand it, we’re going to make it permanent,” Johnson said. 

For his part, Vallas didn’t commit to expanding the program, saying that he is in favor of bolstering a family’s income but through other means, such as capping property taxes or providing property tax relief grants. He added that guaranteed income programs don’t serve a lot of people and don’t accomplish much. 

“It’s a nice headline, and people talk about the program,” Vallas said. “They make political points, but at the end of the day what do they accomplish? You have to look at multiple ways of providing people with income support.” 

One area of agreement between the two candidates was on the issue of asylum seekers arriving in the city, Both said their administrations would continue to provide resources and housing for new arrivals, but they would engage with community members before making any decisions affecting their neighborhoods. 

A few months ago, the city’s decision to turn a shuttered school in Woodlawn into a temporary shelter for migrants was met with controversy. Residents opposed the plan and felt like the city hadn’t taken their concerns into account before moving ahead. 

“You’ve got to talk to communities before you impose things on them,” Vallas said. ”And if you let the community know that this building is going to be available to the community … I think that can ease the tension.” 

“You take the conversation right to the community,” Johnson said. “It’s about having direct conversations to let people know that there’s more than enough in the city of Chicago. We can fund those who have been here and those who we are welcoming here.”

Vallas and Johnson committed to hiring Blacks and Latinos in leadership roles in their administrations. 

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