By Lulu Anjanette
Candidates Paul Vallas, Lori Lightfoot and Chuy Garcia engaged in a lively — and at times
heated — discussion over crime and other topics. (Photo/Lulu Anjanette)
With less than three weeks to election day, five of the nine Chicago mayoral candidates gathered at UIC’s East Campus on Wednesday to answer questions and share their plans if elected. And to no surprise, crime took center stage at the forum.
The hour-long event was moderated by WBEZ’s Sasha-Ann Simmons, who presented questions from listeners about issues such as crime, transportation and education.
The forum featured three of the four frontrunners in the race — Mayor Lori Lightfoot, former CPS Superintendent Paul Vallas and Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — along with Illinois Rep. Kam Buckner and Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward). Election day is Feb. 28.
After talking about their short-term plans to tackle the issue of crime in the city, candidates discussed policing and policies. Crime rates have soared in Chicago since the start of the pandemic, including violent crimes, carjackings and theft.
In his short-term plan, Garcia called for the firing of the police superintendent.
“Talking about the most serious issue facing Chicagoans today, here’s what I would do,” Garcia said. “One, I would get rid of the present superintendent and name a new superintendent who’s familiar with Chicago, preferably Chicago born and raised.”
Garcia was calling for CPD Superintendent David Brown, who is eligible to retire later this year when he turns 63.
Garcia also said that convening a summit to discuss community development plans and standing the mayor’s Office of Public Safety. He also shared his plan to convene a summit to initiate a $10 billion youth jobs program that he previously proposed in Congress.
Discussion on crime dominated the first half of the panel, touching on robberies, break-ins and mass shootings. Vallas and Lightfoot argued about how the current administration has handled it.
“They talk about record clearance rates, but they point out that only half of those cases cleared actually resulted in arrest,” Vallas said. “You can collect all the guns you want and if you’re not making an arrest, you’re not accomplishing anything.”
Vallas criticized the arrest rates under Lightfoot’s administration. In response, Lightfoot called out Vallas for making untrue statements.
“Mr. Vallas, I know you’ve been gone from the city of Chicago for a long time, but almost everything you said is categorically untrue. And probably because you’re getting your public safety advice from John Catanzara,” Lightfoot said. “Let me actually bring you up to speed on what the facts are. The facts of the matter is our clearance rate it’s about 50 percent, which increased remarkably over my time in office when it was in the teens.”
Lightfoot and Vallas have been regular adversaries at panels and debates, including one the night before at WTTW. A Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 poll conducted last week showed three out of five voters disapprove of the job the mayor has done in her first term, more than half hold an unfavorable opinion of her and that 71% think the city is on the wrong track.
The poll also showed Lightfoot in a dead heat with Vallas for second place behind Vallas. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the February election, the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff on April 4. If Lightfoot doesn’t make the runoff, she would become the first sitting mayor to do so since the runoff was started in 1999.
Another issue that arose during the conversation was the safety and reliability of the Chicago Transit Authority. The city is seeing an increase in crime in the city’s public transit as well as an increase in wait times.
Buckner said he related to the issue, adding that he was “ghosted” by the bus he was supposed to take to UIC earlier that morning. The comment drew laughs from attendees.
“I know I’m a regular CTA rider and I actually planned on riding the bus here but I got ghosted,” Buckner said. “Where this system is right now, we are falling behind the market because we haven’t done the planning and there hasn’t been any leadership with the CTA.”
Another hot topic was the issue of bike safety in a city where many commuters want to drive.
“We have done a number of things, particularly around alternative forms of public transportation,” Lightfoot said. “We put in literally hundreds of new miles of bike lanes across the city. What we’re doing now and we started last summer, we’ll continue to do over the course of this next year and make sure that all those bike lanes are actually protected by concrete barriers.”
Lightfoot addressed the nationwide issue of speeding. She talks about lowering the overall speed limit for vehicles across the city and being more aggressive to make sure that people are being held accountable. King agreed on the speed limits.
“Lowering speeds in all communities is something that I would do. Thirty miles per hour in neighborhoods is just too fast.” King said. “I would also like to institute what New York does. No turn on red, especially downtown.”
Candidates field a question from the moderator (from left): Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward),
Ill. Rep. Kam Buckner, Paul Vallas, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chuy Garcia. (Photo/Ricardo Brum)
After transportation, the conversation swiftly transitioned to education. The candidates focused on boosting enrollment and population loss. Garcia was the first to address his plans, which quickly turned into a jab at Vallas.
“I understand schools, I helped build them in Little Village, elementary schools and high schools as well, one that we had to fight Paul Vallas because he stole our money. It took a hunger strike to build that school,” Garcia said. “Having said that, we need to turn every stone possible to find as many children that fell through the cracks during the pandemic.”
Read more: Social media coverage of the mayoral forum, including video.
With this accusation from Garcia, Vallas was given the opportunity to respond by the moderator.
“What the congressman [Garcia] doesn’t tell you is that he got in a fight with the daily administration over the location of a school, so that delayed the opening of the school,” Vallas said.
Said Buckner: “This is not a business, this is an education system. Unfortunately, in 1995, the Republican legislature changed the ball so that Paul, who was unqualified to be a superintendent, could actually run the school system. Let’s stop treating our babies like commodities and give them the respect they deserve.”
As a former educator, King agreed with Buckner, saying, “Listen, if we don’t have safety and good school, people are going to continue to leave Chicago and not come to Chicago.”
The forum ended with a lightning round in which the candidates can only give a yes or no response to each of the questions. The last question asked was whether or not they believed in ghosts, which lightened the previously tense atmosphere.
Shots from before and after the forum. Photo credits: Lulu Anjanette.
Chuy Garcia, a former DJ during his days at UIC, tries on a headset prior to the forum.
Paul Vallas chats with attendees at the forum.
Lori Lightfoot prepares for the panel discussion.