CHICAGO — An element drifting into Chicago is stirring up an already volatile nine-way mayoral race here — and its name is Ron DeSantis.
The mere mention of Florida’s governor’s visit to the state next week sets off a fierce storm of condemnation and criticism among the claimants. And it created a new opening for candidates to tee off — one of the polling front-runners — Paul Vallas, who is backed by the same powerful Chicago Fraternal Order of Police group that DeSantis is speaking from before Monday.
A mayoral candidate, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia asked Vallas to publicly disapprove of DeSantis’ visit, saying that the Republican Florida governor presented a “threat” to Illinois. Gov. JB Pritzker called on “every candidate hoping to hold public office in the Land of Lincoln” to condemn Monday’s incident.
Amid the uproar, Vallas issued a statement on Friday “Right-wing extremists” including the LGTBQ community have rejected DeSantis and his views outright.
That still wasn’t enough.
On Friday, incumbent Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is competing against Vallas in the February 28 election, went further in an interview with NBC News.
Lightfoot charged, “Ron DeSantis has perfected being a bigoted, racist leader. But Paul Vallas is making rapid strides.”
Lightfoot blasted Vallas for embracing the Chicago FOP, whose conservative leader, John Catanzara, has danced in and out of controversy over the years. She also criticized Vallas for appearing before the conservative group Awake Illinois last year, for which Vallas later apologized.
“So he can say whatever he wants,” Lightfoot said. “His actions speak volumes, and his actions show that he is playing footsie with the far right wing of the Republican Party.”
DeSantis descended upon the suburbs here on Monday to speak before the Chicago FOP. For Vallas, the trip to DeSantis is not a good time. Vallas has attempted to dispel any notion that he is actually a Republican—a four-letter word in a city where political leanings are usually measured in shades of blue.
The election, scheduled for February 28, is officially nonpartisan, although all candidates are Democrats.
The kind of hubbub that DeSantis’ visit will generate is a testament to the Florida governor’s national rise as a leader within the Republican Party and the polarizing nature of his politics. Best known for waging the kind of culture wars he has dismissed in left-leaning Illinois, DeSantis is widely expected to launch a campaign for president. The Chicago trip is one of a busy schedule in the coming weeks as DeSantis takes his message outside Florida.
In an interview on Friday, Garcia doubted Vallas’s sincerity in rejecting DeSantis.
“He probably feels uncomfortable doing it,” Garcia alleged. Can you trust him that he’s not actually a Republican?
A spokesman for DeSantis had no comment.
Vallas’ campaign cleared the pile on Friday, saying it was indicative of a competitive campaign.
“Chicago crime is skyrocketing and taxes are rising and a desperate Lori Lightfoot is once again trying to change the subject by resorting to false personal attacks,” Vallas’ campaign said in a statement to NBC News.
Vallas too Friday released a lengthy statement disavowing DeSantis’ politics and calling DeSantis’ hosting of FOP problematic. With the issue of gun violence and overall crime dominating the mayoral race, Vallas has acknowledged his ties to Chicago’s police force, saying that gaining the support of rank-and-file officers would help Chicago’s police force. It can help in bridging the trust deficit. Police and Community.
“This decision by the FOP leadership makes that task more difficult,” Vallas said.
“I wholeheartedly agree with Governor Pritzker that there is no place in Chicago for a right-wing extremist like Ron DeSantis, and I am disappointed in the FOP leadership,” Vallas said in a statement Friday.
“DeSantis’ record of trying to erase the LGBTQ community, ban books on black history, and much more is not consistent with my values, the values of our community, or the values of the rank-and-file police officers I believe in. He has no interest in getting swept up in the culture wars and politics of the national Republican Party,” Vallas also said.