Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson clash over race, taxes, CTU, violence: 'Don't shake your head'

Gregory Pratt and Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Political News

CHICAGO — In a particularly heated forum, Chicago mayoral candidates Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson repeatedly clashed over economic policy, school closings and street violence.

Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, repeatedly raised his voice and told Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union organizer, not to lecture him in a Saturday debate hosted at Kenwood Academy High School by the Coalition of African American Leaders.

One flare-up occurred when Johnson attacked Vallas for past remarks in which Vallas insinuated that critical race theory in schools was harming families and taking emphasis off more important subjects.

“Look, I don’t know what’s in Paul’s heart, I don’t,” Johnson said. “It’s not up to me to judge him. What I’m saying though, is when you talk about critical race theory as if there’s a problem, that’s a problem.”

In one of his most forceful retorts to Johnson since the runoff period began, Vallas responded by saying that he expanded Black history teaching in schools as the head of CPS, then pivoted to criticizing the CTU for labor actions that kept schools shut, which he said harmed Black and brown students. He listed the loss of student enrollment and truancy rates.

“Don’t tell me that you’re concerned about the community,” Vallas said, his voice ringing. “The devastation that has been brought on the school district the last 10 years (is) in large part because of the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union that has been destructive, and there’s been generations of damage.”


Vallas then defended his tenure in leading troubled school districts like in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina and in Haiti.

“Don’t lecture me about going into the toughest situations like a city like New Orleans, where public schools have been destroyed, and lecture me about going into the community to try to make a difference,” Vallas said. “You spend four-and-a-half years working in Haiti on a disaster and lecture me.”

Before moving on, the moderator remarked at how far the two candidates had strayed from the initial topic: “The question was about Black history and Chicago Public Schools.”

In a separate exchange spurred by a question about prioritizing city contracts for minority-owned businesses, Johnson launched a blistering attack on Vallas’ record leading school districts across four cities and cast doubt on the sincerity of Vallas’ pledge to create an office dedicated to Black people.


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