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Four days before mayoral election, Paul Vallas embroiled in controversy over Twitter 'likes'

Paul Vallas embroiled in controversy over Twitter 'likes'
Paul Vallas embroiled in controversy over Twitter 'likes' 03:07

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There are only four days to go until Chicago's mayoral election day, and people have already been voting early. 

Nine candidates want the job, and some of them – the frontrunners – are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As CBS 2's Sabrina Franza reported Friday, candidate Paul Vallas is now facing a controversy involving his Twitter account.

Given that people are already casting their ballots early and have been for some time, the controversy has become critical.

There is a history of offensive "likes" on Vallas' Twitter account dating back to before he launched his campaign. On Friday, he told us his account was hacked.

"It's obvious we got hacked," Vallas said, "and in fact, even though we shut down our system; changed our password, they're still trying to hack us."

As Vallas addressed recent allegations of offensive Twitter activity, he said he has already apologized – and his campaign said they were investigating.

"We just have to be a little bit more careful and a little more vigilant about policing who's trying to access our systems," Vallas said.

In a statement, Vallas' campaign said: 

"Paul does not personally manage the campaign's Twitter account and he was shocked when this was brought to his attention because this kind of abhorrent rhetoric does not represent his views. He had nothing to do with liking these posts, but the campaign takes responsibility and we have taken steps to restrict access to the account. 

"The campaign is working to identify who is responsible for liking these tweets as many volunteers have had access to the account in recent years, including some who are no longer with the campaign. But we have still seen unusual activity on the account as recently as last night which raises additional questions about access since passwords were changed for security purposes. As a result, the campaign is investigating a possible breach of the account as well."

Some of the tweets Vallas' account liked seemed to refer to Mayor Lori Lightfoot as "Larry" and taking issue with the mayor's appearance.

Others support the idea that "stop and frisk" – a controversial police tactic that allows police officers to stop and interrogate people because of "reasonable suspicion" – makes a city safer.

"It's because people are trying to change the subject," Vallas said. "It's because we're ahead in the poll. And why are we ahead in the polls? Because we've been talking about the issues."

The revelations raise concerns about racist language seemingly endorsed by the account of a mayoral frontrunner.

"The R word - people are throwing the R word around. I don't know what you mean by that," Vallas said. "Look, people who are playing that game are people who don't want to talk about the issues, so they have to make up things."

Former CBS 2 Political Reporter Derrick Blakley, now of the Center for Illinois Politics, said this is no small matter.

"This is a major political challenge for Paul Vallas," Blakley said. "Voters will have to try to determine whether they think that his explanation for this is credible."

With just four days until Election Day – and after a campaign largely focused on public safety – experts believe this news could change voters' focus, if not on Tuesday, then during a possible runoff in April.

"As long both as the African American and Latino community can coalesce around another candidate, they would pick up enough of a white vote that Vallas would not have a path to victory," said Dick Simpson, a former alderman and a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Simpson has endorsed Mayor Lightfoot for reelection.

We did ask for more information from Vallas' campaign about what he meant when he said his account was "hacked." As seen in the aforementioned statement, they told us Vallas does not personally mange the campaign's Twitter account, and this rhetoric does not represent his views.

Again, some of the tweets were written before Vallas launched his campaign.

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