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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
25 Mar 2023


NextImg:Johnson, Vallas make policy commitments to community coalition at mayoral town hall

In front of an audience of more than 700 people, the two remaining mayoral candidates spent Saturday morning at UIC’s Dorin Forum making commitments to the 30 different Chicago community groups that make up One Chicago for All. 

Both Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas promised to work with the coalition on a spectrum of issues, but the crowd had a clear favorite: Johnson.

Audience members flashed green or red cards to signal approval and disapproval — along with occasional cheers or murmurs — for each answer from the candidates, who took the stage one at a time.

Aside from Johnson mentioning his West Side address — a nod to questions over Vallas’ city residency status earlier in the campaign — the candidates didn’t take many direct shots at one another.

Vallas took the stage first to scattered applause, spending much of his 30 minutes talking about his plan for a universal work-study program for high school students, as well as expanding alternative schools for job training aimed at Chicagoans exiting the criminal justice system.

“We are going to have universal paid work study for high school students and individuals who attend community colleges so they can be introduced to the trades,” Vallas said. “In too many communities we have huge populations of individuals who at one point were part of the criminal justice system, and we need to be welcoming to them too.”

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Chicago mayoral candidate and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas adjusts his tie during the One Chicago for All forum, where he and opponent Brandon Johnson individually answered questions about education, housing, public safety and other issues at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum in the Little Italy neighborhood, Saturday, March 25, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Scattered red cards flew into the air as Vallas defended his education background, though the crowd warmed back up when he mentioned using city property — such as schools when they’re closed on weekends, and vacated properties he wants to obtain through eminent domain — as community centers, domestic violence shelters and housing for immigrants and Chicago’s houseless.

Vallas also earned green cards by asserting that 3% of the city’s budget being dedicated projects created by local organizations wasn’t enough. He later exited to more applause than he entered, committing again to meet with the coalition in his first 30 days in office.

“We need to defer to the people who know what needs to be done and who have made this their life’s blood,” Vallas said, finding common ground with his opponent who later said the same groups were “leading the charge every day.”

Johnson enjoyed a more boisterous welcome and sendoff.

“Economic opportunity shouldn’t be confined to your ability to borrow $100,000 to prove to professors you know what a comma splice is,” Johnson said to a sea of green cards cheers. “We just need someone on the fifth floor that’s willing to pull the lever on Black and Brown people’s behalf.”

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Chicago mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson answers questions while members of the audience raise green pieces of paper, which are meant to replace clapping, during the One Chicago for All forum, where he and opponent Paul Vallas took the stage to individually answer questions about education, housing, public safety and other issues at the the University of Illinois Chicago’s Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum in the Little Italy neighborhood, Saturday, March 25, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Johnson got one of the larger showings of audience support shortly after saying he wants to ensure the city provided “true sanctuary” to immigrants regardless of legal status, including by “not working” with law enforcement tracking Chicago’s immigrants.

Closing out the forum, Johnson talked about his plans for Chicago’s kids, during which he pledged to double the number of students hired by city offices and making youth engagement efforts year-round instead of holding them to summers.

“We have to do what works,” Johnson said. “The failed strategies of old that have left our families behind, we’re going to disrupt that structure.”

Early voting for the April 4 election is underway.