Tempers flare in final TV debate between Vallas, Johnson in Chicago mayoral race

Tempers flared as Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas met for their final televised debate Tuesday night.

Chicago starts counting the votes for mayor in one week.

"We're going to retire you in three days!" Johnson declared, after Vallas invoked a controversial state law that gives taxpayer paid pensions to teachers union employees, including union organizer Johnson.

"He'll actually retire with a teacher pension despite the fact he's only been a teacher for four years," Vallas complained.

Earlier Tuesday, Northwestern University released a voter opinion survey conducted by BSP Research which found that, among voters who say they're certain to cast a ballot for mayor, 47% support Vallas, 43% Johnson, with 10% undecided. Since that is within the survey's margin of accuracy, the two men could be tied.


The survey also found evidence that Chicago’s pattern of racial bloc voting is fading. In the 1980s, it was typical for 80% or more of both Black and white voters to support a candidate of their own race. The survey reported that 42% of whites support Johnson; 28% of Blacks back Vallas. Hispanics favor Vallas by an 11-percentage point margin, 46% to 35%.

In another challenge to racial stereotyping, the survey found 53% of Black voters said Chicago’s rising rate of violent crime is their number one issue; slightly more than the 50% of whites and 49% of Hispanics.

The issue dominated parts of tonight's debate, including the several minutes it took a moderator to get Johnson to acknowledge his previous outspoken support for defunding police.

The moderator quoted a series of recorded statements by Johnson.

"In 2020 you said, quote, ‘defunding this failed system of incarceration and policing is not just admirable, but necessary.’"

Johnson responded several times, "I’m not going to defund the police!"

After he eventually acknowledged his previous comments, the moderator said, "It seems there's been an about face and now you're saying you're not going to take a penny away."

Johnson then insisted, "I never said we're going to take money away from police!"

Johnson noted that his West Side Austin neighborhood has endured more homicides than several North Side neighborhoods combined, arguing his family has a personal stake in reducing the bloodshed.

Vallas’ turn on the hot seat came when he was asked about the Fraternal Order of Police union's endorsement of him.

Earlier in the day, at a City Club of Chicago luncheon where Vallas spoke, reporters also pressed him. They asked Vallas about FOP President John Catanzara's statement to the New York Times that Johnson’s election as mayor would provoke police resignations and, quote, "blood in the streets."

"I condemn his comments," Vallas said. "I think his comments are absolutely irresponsible. Period."

During the debate, Johnson pressed Vallas about a Chicago police official calling Vallas’ police hiring plan "naïve." Vallas said there are 300 former Chicago officers who’ve already indicated they might return to the Chicago PD. Vallas said it would take 18 months to hire hundreds more, in part by running two cadet classes at a time through the Chicago Police Academy.

Despite how close the mayoral contest appears to be, elections officials said there is no indication turnout will be any higher than it was last month, when a disappointing 36% of registered voters cast ballots.