Chicago mayoral candidates, including U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, activist Ja’Mal Green, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Ald. Sophia King (4th), mayor Lori Lightfoot, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and businessman Willie Wilson attend a mayoral forum organized by Health and Medicine Policy Research Group and Chicago Women Take Action Alliance at the Chicago Temple in the Loop, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, where eight candidates discussed their stances on issues affecting women. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Mayor Lori Lightfoot seized an opportunity Saturday to attack one of her most vocal critics, Paul Vallas, at a forum that focused on issues important to Chicago women, accusing the former Chicago Public Schools CEO of staying “silent on this for seven months” about his support for abortion rights.
In a statement ahead of the debate, organized by the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance, Vallas promised that if elected mayor he would work to “ensure that Chicago remains a reproductive safe haven.”
Responding to a question about the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, Lightfoot said she had safeguarded reproductive rights by preventing Chicago police from assisting out-of-state law enforcement with investigations into people who traveled to the city for an abortion and took the opportunity to criticize Vallas for not speaking publicly about protecting reproductive rights in the aftermath of the repeal.
“Paul Vallas has been silent on this for seven months until today at this forum,” Lightfoot said. “Shame on you, Paul, for not talking about women’s rights till today.”
Vallas responded that he has always supported the right to abortion and promised to protect access “for anyone coming to Chicago.”
“Lori likes to invent new facts to suit her narrative,” he added. “That dog doesn’t hunt in this game.”
Eight of the nine candidates in the race attended the forum, which was held at Chicago Temple in the Loop and attended by more than 600 people. State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) was absent.
In addition to questions about abortion access, candidates were asked about their positions on issues ranging from protecting women from domestic violence and providing women with more economic opportunities.
Asked what immediate steps they would take to address gender-based violence in Chicago, most candidates spoke about implementing proactive measures to help protect women at risk of being harmed by an intimate partner.
“Women are the most unprotected people in the city of Chicago, especially when it comes to domestic violence and gender-based violence,” community activist Ja’Mal Green said.
Green said he would implement polices to prevent instances of domestic violence from escalating, but didn’t share specifics. Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said he would prioritize providing services immediately to people who call 911 and ask for help.
Candidates were also asked how they’d help recruit more women to fill jobs in the construction industry, where women only make up 5% of the workforce in Chicago.
U.S. Rep. Jesus ‘‘Chuy’’ Garcia said the Infrastructure and Jobs Act that he voted for would provide opportunities to close the gender gap in construction work.
“We need more people of color and women in those jobs,” Garcia said.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) King said she would promote trade schools as an option for students and work to provide more apprenticeship programs.