Vallas, Johnson answer questions separately in latest forum

CHICAGO (CBS) — Early voting for Chicago’s runoff election is now officially under way – and that means the city’s two mayoral candidates are really on the clock when it comes to getting their message to voters.

The candidates had another opportunity Monday night at a forum at the Chicago History Museum.

This latest candidate event was originally supposed to be a debate between Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas. But over the weekend, staffers from at least one of the campaigns expressed concerns that some past meetings were becoming a bit too contentious.

So the format was changed to a question-and-answer session – meaning the candidates did not meet face-to-face.

They actually took questions one at a time – from CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker and the Chicago Reporter’s Hugo Balta.

Johnson took the stage first.

All the questions at the event were sponsored by 17 Black and Latino organizations – and were geared toward addressing concerns in those communities. People in the audience were given red and green cards to hold up – green cards for when they agreed with what the candidate said, red cards for when they did not.

The questions focused on a variety of subjects such as education policy, migrants, affordable housing, and ensuring Black and brown representation in city leadership roles. But perhaps not surprisingly, that cards shot up most frequently when both candidates answered questions related to public safety, crime, and policing.”A public safety plan that does not use data to prevent crime from happening is not a real plan,” Johnson said.

He called for a youth employment program that would both hire young people for municipal employment and in which private corporations would participate.

Johnson also said honesty is needed in Black and brown communities when it comes to violence and brutality from police.

He went on to reiterate his plan for promoting and training 200 more detectives to deal with the low clearance rate. But he said hiring 1,100 more officers as Vallas has advised would not serve a purpose, because “It takes two years to get a police officer on the front line. I live in Austin. I don’t have two years for police officers to shut up.”

Vallas said he has not called for expanding the Police Department, but rather for filling vacancies.

He emphasized among other things on the subject of public safety that people are now afraid to take the Chicago Transit Authority system. He said “unarmed security that do nothing and sometimes run away when there’s a conflict” is to blame, and called for CPD officers on the system.

Asked if he believed policing was the only answer to reducing crime, Vallas said identifying and dealing with the underlying causes of crime is also important. One idea he suggested for doing so was having schools open on evenings and weekends, on holidays, and in the summer – a proposal that Vallas brings up often.

Without schools functioning as community centers, Vallas suggested young people would be left aimless.

“Where are the kids going to go when they have days off? What?” Vallas said. “Michigan Avenue? There’s nothing on Michigan Avenue for them.”

In some cases, red and green cards were evenly split – including when Vallas discussed his thoughts on police foot chases.

“You can chase. You can chase, but there are rules that need to be followed,” Vallas said. “I basically said that the rules need to be understandable and simple.”

Only the panelists were slated to ask questions. But at the end of Johnson’s time, audience member Rafael Burgos stood up – wanting to ask Johnson about combatting crime.

“We are not safe in this city,” Burgos said.

Crime is an issue close to Burgos’ heart. He told Johnson and the crowd his daughter Alexandria’s murder from a stray bullet remains unsolved almost a decade later.

“It’s horrific. It’s gruesome what’s happening to our children in the city of Chicago,” Johnson said. “Brother, that’s not lost on me.”

Neither candidate really broke any new ground, but both were asked about the city’s pilot guaranteed income program – which gives monthly checks to low-income families who qualify.

Johnson said he would expand it. Vallas said, “You’ve got to look at multiple ways of providing people with income support.”

There will still be more face-to-face meetings. On Tuesday, March 28, at 6 p.m., CBS 2 will be partnering with several organizations to host a debate.

CBS 2’s Irika Sargent will be moderating that event, and we will be carrying live on our CBS News Chicago stream.

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