Three weeks away from Chicago’s municipal election, eight candidates vying for the mayor’s office lobbed numerous personal attacks against each other Tuesday night during a combative televised forum covering their stances on public safety, education and more.
The hourlong forum hosted by WTTW News saw a steady stream of testy sidebars, including when a question over whether to fire a Chicago police officer with documented ties to a white supremacist group devolved into unintelligible bickering among several of the contenders.
“Of course we should not hire, we should not support, we should not retain any officer that is associated with any hate group,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said of the officer, who was suspended but not fired for his involvement with the far-right Proud Boys — a move that has been blasted by the city inspector general.
When Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson interjected, Lightfoot brushed him off for trying “to mansplain up here.” Then millionaire entrepreneur Willie Wilson called the mayor “confused” and tried to silence her back-and-forth with former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.
“Don’t try and treat me like I’m some child, trying to tell me to quiet down,” Lightfoot said.
The cross-talk escalated from there until Ald. Sophia King (4th) tried to position herself as the voice of reason: “This is exactly what the people of Chicago don’t want: people up here bickering. They want to hear our solutions to the problems. They want us to solve the safety issues, to have better schools. … We have to stop this nonsense.”
Vallas, King and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) each said they would fire the officer affiliated with the Proud Boys.
“I would have fired him immediately,” Sawyer said. “I don’t care what the unions would do. I don’t care what collective bargaining would do.”
Most of the direct attacks were aimed at Vallas and Lightfoot — often at each other.
“Why don’t you allow the community to decide whether or not they want to bring some of those public charter schools [into vacant CPS buildings] — whose 96% of their student enrollment are Black and Latino?” Vallas asked the mayor. “Why don’t you allow them to occupy those buildings and enroll kids in the neighborhood?”
In response, Lightfoot took a shot at the length of time that has passed since Vallas was the schools chief under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“I know you’ve been gone from the school system for a long time, but everything you said — why don’t we do [this], why don’t we do [that] — we’re doing it, Paul,” Lightfoot said, listing off a series of alternative high school initiatives under her watch.
State Rep. Kam Buckner slammed Vallas for saying “he’s gonna do what he did before” at CPS.
“Please, let’s not do that. What Paul did before was take pension payments and use them for operating costs in our schools. I was a kid who was in the district when he was running it. It’s not OK, let’s not go back to the future,” Buckner said.
Wilson stood by his controversial remark last month that police should be able to hunt criminals "like a rabbit."
“My kid was lost to gun violence. A lot of people right now [have] kids lost to gun violence. … If you commit a crime, you hurt somebody, you kill somebody — they should be hunted down like a rabbit. That’s what I said, that’s what I meant.”
Johnson got the biggest laugh of the night when he explained why he would abolish a city database of gang affiliations, which he voted to do at the county level.
“There was a 108-year-old in the gang database. That is the oldest G in America,” he quipped. “And it’s proven to fail. … I’ve released one of the most comprehensive public safety plans that not only gets at the root causes of violence, but we actually can promote, from within the ranks, 200 more police detectives.”
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was not at the forum because he was in Washington for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, prompting tongue-in-cheek praise from community activist Ja’Mal Green.
“He’s doing his job in Congress. And I wish a lot of the folks here would do so,” Green said. “We want to see some urgency right now in the city of Chicago when it comes to public safety.”
Mail voting is already underway for the Feb. 28 election.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire & Chicago Sun-Times 2023. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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