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Chicago Decides: Brandon Johnson vs. Paul Vallas in race for mayor

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Chicago Decides: Vallas vs. Johnson in runoff as Lightfoot concedes
Chicago Decides: Vallas vs. Johnson in runoff as Lightfoot concedes 18:53

For the third straight municipal election, the race for mayor is coming down to a runoff, with Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson facing former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.

Vallas took first place in the first round of voting in Chicago, with 32.9% of the vote, and Johnson came in second with 21.6%, denying a second term to incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who finished with 16.8% of the vote.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov interviewed both candidates in the closing days of the election to get their final thoughts about some hot-button issues; Johnson on his ties to the Chicago Teachers Union, and Vallas on whether he'd consider closing schools at CPS.

And, based on earlier interviews, she examined where they stand on four key issues: public safety, revitalizing downtown, reversing the city's population loss, and how they plan to pay for their policy plans.

Continue reading below for her coverage of the issues, leading up to Election Day on April 4.


How will Brandon Johnson assure voters of his independence from the Chicago Teachers Union? A final pre-election interview

An intense and often-heated Chicago mayoral race is in its home stretch - Tuesday is Election Day.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov talked with both candidates to get their final thoughts about some hot-button issues. Among the topics she discussed with Brandon Johnson was a lawsuit filed by members of the Chicago Teachers Union who are upset that a portion of their union dues went to his campaign.

On Friday, Johnson was seen surrounded by supporters outside a voting supersite before making himself available for a 10-minute interview.

"No one wants a dictator," Johnson said. "They want a collaborator. That's what I bring."


A final interview with Brandon Johnson before the mayoral runoff election 02:41
By Dana Kozlov

Would Paul Vallas consider closing more CPS schools? A final interview before the mayoral election

We're in the home stretch of the mayoral runoff - with polls set to close in just over 24 hours.

Issues driving voters include crime, taxes, and education.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov sat down with mayoral finalist Paul Vallas for one last time before the election. Vallas indicated closing public schools - in their current form - may be on the table.

"If you have a school with a fraction of the enrollment that they should have, what I'm saying in the simplest terms is to sit down with the community, and ask the community how that school can be repurposed," Vallas said.


A final interview with Paul Vallas before the mayoral runoff election 02:52
By Dana Kozlov

Johnson and Vallas face off at CBS 2 debate

One week before Election Day, Johnson and Vallas faced off in their final televised debate on CBS 2. You can watch the full debate below:

Chicago Decides: Brandon Johnson, Paul Vallas square off in CBS 2 debate 58:07
By Todd Feurer

How will Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson work to reverse Chicago's population loss?

The candidates for mayor in Chicago are gearing up for one of their final debates before the runoff election a week from Tuesday.

Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas will meet on CBS 2 Tuesday night. On Monday, Johnson visited the City Club of Chicago – while Vallas appeared with leaders from more than 20 labor organizations.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov took a look at what the candidates plan to do about another pertinent issue – the city's declining population. It is a serious issue, because when people exit, they take their tax dollars with them.

Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson on stemming the exodus from Chicago 03:10

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 50,000 people left Chicago in just two years – from April 2020 to July 2022. It is a trend that concerns both mayoral candidates – and both Vallas and Johnson want to reverse it.

"I want more teachers," Johnson told Kozlov in January. "I want more nurses."

But how does Johnson plan to entice professionals back to the city, or keep them from leaving altogether? For one, he wants to create programs to make it easier for public employees to own a home.

"So we can rehab homes, put them back on the market, incentivize public employees – whether you are a community college professor, a bus operator," to buy those homes, Johnson said.

Johnson also pledges not to raise property taxes – which, as they spike, have driven many homeowners out of the city. Johnson also wants to invest in and remove barriers to creating affordable and public housing.

Some ideas for that includes freezing Chicago Housing Authority land from being used for anything but housing, and giving vacant properties to community groups and developers.

He also wants students, seniors, and disabled residents to be able to ride the CTA for free.

"I'm ready and willing to negotiate the details of the plan, as long as we could agree on the values," Johnson said at the City Club of Chicago recently.

Vallas would also target raising property taxes, by capping them. Kozlov asked Vallas what that would look like in practice.

"What that looks like in practice is you're a homeowner, and you know, you're never going to see your property tax rise by more than 3 percent a year."

Vallas, like Johnson, would also make it easier for people to convert unused spaces like basements and attics into apartments – in Vallas' platform, for seniors.

Vallas also wants to create pathways toward developing vacant land into homes – and both candidates agree safe city streets are critical.

"What I'm about is ensuring that public safety is a human right," Vallas said at a recent event.

Both Vallas and Johnson also want to increase mental health and other supportive services to further meet the needs of Chicago residents. Johnson, though, is particularly focused on the city's long-underserved Black and brown communities.

By Dana Kozlov

What would Vallas, Johnson do to reverse downtown retail exodus? Both are short on specifics

Crime in Chicago is dominating the mayoral race – and it is also one of the big reasons many businesses are moving out.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov dug into what candidates Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson plan to do about the crisis.

Spring has officially arrived, and Chicago's tourist season is about to get under way. Parts of State Street downtown, for instance, are lined with vacant storefronts where a thriving shopping area was once found.

The sum of storefront emptiness on State Street – and also along the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue – is almost staggering. Businesses are leaving at a rate faster than new ones are opening.

But when it comes to revitalizing such areas, Kozlov found both candidates are short on specifics.

What would Vallas, Johnson do to reverse downtown retail exodus? 03:21

The COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting shutdowns arguably exacerbated the exodus. Looting and civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in late May 2020 – and another all-night looting incident in August 2020 – only hastened it.

"It's just not downtown – it's also business corridors on the South and West Side – because they were also impacted by the looting and rioting," said Vallas.

That is true. But the Loop and the Mag Mile have long been tourist attractions – critical to the city's tax base. Vallas says the first step in luring new businesses is making the city and the Chicago Transit Authority system safer.

"This is what the businesses tell me – the first thing they tell me is you've got to make our community safe," Vallas said.

But what, beyond policing and capping property taxes, does Vallas plan to do to revitalize downtown? One plan involves an overhaul of city departments impacting development and new business – making it easier to get things like permits and licenses.

"Michigan Avenue may have a vision for how they can revitalize – but yet the city regulatory department seems to be an obstacle," Vallas said.

Is Vallas short on specifics? Yes. But so is Johnson.

"I've thought about this a lot," Johnson said at a mayoral question-and-answer session earlier this week. "This is really about attracting innovative corporations to the city of Chicago."

Johnson is more focused on bringing companies to the city than the downtown retail issue. He does not address retail revitalization on his mayoral campaign website at all.

Johnson pledges not to raise property taxes. But he also told Kozlov in January that he is not concerned that his plan to reinstate an employee head tax for companies that do more than half their work in Chicago – or a banks, securities, and specialty tax – will keep businesses from coming to the city.

Johnson: "No, no – corporations have said it themselves. You know what corporations are concerned about? Big business?"

Kozlov: "Tax breaks."

Johnson: "Safety."

Both candidates also want to use TIF, or Tax Increment Financing, funds to help spur business development. Often criticized as a slush fund for elected officials, the city's TIF program provides hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenue to projects in designated districts across the city.

But TIF funds would be more for underserved areas – not downtown.

Coming up on Tuesday, March 28, at 6 p.m., CBS 2 Chicago, along with our partners – the Business Leadership Council, Chicago Urban League, National Association of Black Journalists Chicago, and WVON – will host debate with Johnson and Vallas.

You can stream our debate on all of our platforms and watch it on TV.

By Dana Kozlov

Brandon Johnson, Paul Vallas' proposals on how to pay for their policy plans

Johnson and Vallas each have big ideas on how to make the city better and safer – but that means money.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov examined how the mayoral rivals each plan to pay for their ideas.

Johnson has a specific refrain when it comes to his policy plans – which he repeated again at a mayoral debate on public safety Tuesday at the UIC Forum.

"I believe in investing in people," Johnson often says.

Johnson wants to do so by greatly expanding mental health, education, housing, and youth employment programs.

Vallas also wants to expand mental health services – while beefing up police ranks. To accomplish that goal, Vallas plans to hire new officers and bring back retired cops by extending their health care.

"Every budget can be re-prioritized," Vallas said in an interview with Kozlov in January.

Paul Vallas speaks after coming in first in mayoral race 16:03

But all of it takes money. Johnson will not raise property taxes, while Vallas wants to cap them.

So how will they pay for everything?

"We're going to raise the revenue," Johnson said recently at the Women's Forum.

Johnson's ideas for raising that revenue include raising the jet fuel, hotel accommodation, and real estate transfer tax on homes worth more than $1 million.

Johnson also wants to implement a big banks, securities, and specialty tax on trades – and to reinstate the employee head tax for companies that do more than half of their work in Chicago.

In January, Kozlov asked Johnson if he was concerned that adding taxes like this would further drive businesses and residents out of the city – thereby making it almost a regressive tax – as some opponents have charged.

Johnson's response was, "No."

Vallas does not agree. Instead, he wants to tap into Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, surpluses.

Often criticized as a slush fund for elected officials, the city's TIF program provides hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax revenue to projects in designated districts across the city.

TIF districts freeze the amount of money that goes to schools, parks, and other taxing bodies for 23 years. Any increase in tax revenue generated by the district over those 23 years is funneled into a TIF fund that can be used for redevelopment projects in that area.

Vallas also wants to "reprogram" $28 million in city spending. Legalizing video poker and using that money, and sports betting cash, are revenue streams he is also considering.

"Plus, if you are billing properly - Medicaid reimbursement, private insurance companies, et cetera – you can actually fund the restoration and reopening of mental health services," Vallas said at the UIC Forum Tuesday.

Vallas and Johnson say they will also cut government waste and inefficiencies – which both say would free up tens of millions of dollars. One thing Johnson does not want is a new city income tax – despite claims in a pro-Vallas ad.

One revenue source both agree is not a good idea is privatizing city services. Mayor Richard M. Daley did that with several such services – including parking meters.

Meanwhile in runoff campaign headlines Wednesday, each candidate also picked up another high-profile endorsement. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul endorsed Johnson, while mayoral runner-up Ja'Mal Green endorsed Vallas.

By Dana Kozlov

Where Brandon Johnson, Paul Vallas differ on public safety

On March 13, we put public safety in the spotlight in the race between Vallas and Johnson.

A Vallas attack ad is quick to claim that Johnson wants to "defund the police." While Johnson's campaign calls that an outright lie, the progressive candidate has been clear that he will not increase the budget of the Chicago Police Department either.  

Johnson's public safety plan is, in fact, very different from Vallas' in many ways. For one example, Johnson would not say if he plans to beef up the CPD ranks when Kozlov spoke with him in January – despite their dwindling numbers.

Where Brandon Johnson, Paul Vallas differ on public safety 01:58

When Kozlov asked Johnson if he wants to recruit more police officers actively, or if his priorities were elsewhere when it comes to public employees, Johnson replied, "The question is, how do we keep our communities safer?"

To do that, Johnson wants to hire mental health professionals to respond to 911 crisis calls instead of having sworn officers do it. He also wants to promote 200 current officers to detective to help solve crimes.

Johnson says both actions would help support the remaining officers on the street.

"There are children dying in the streets of Chicago," Johnson said at a recent event.

Johnson also wants to establish a new CPD illegal guns department, and use more civilians in jobs currently held by sworn officers. But much of Johnson's public safety plan focuses on programs combating trauma, offering victim-related services, and carrying out police reform.

Vallas is more focused on specifics. He wants to hire at least 1,000 more officers and rehire retired and former officers to help beef up the ranks.

"I would submit to you that perhaps as many as 200 officers would want to return," Vallas told Kozlov in January.

Vallas also wants to increase CTA patrols by 300, and rework some CPD policies, such as foot chases, to make them less restrictive. Vallas said such moves will make policing more proactive.

By Dana Kozlov

What do Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson each need to do to win mayoral runoff?

A field of nine candidates for mayor has now been whittled down to two.

Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson took first and second place, respectively, in the first round of the mayoral election on Feb. 28 Tuesday. They will face off in the runoff election on April 4.

So what does each candidate need to do to win? CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov set out to answer that question.  


Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson begin campaign for mayoral runoff 03:17
By Dana Kozlov
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