Desperate to stop an avalanche of tax increases and fearful of police defunding, Chicago’s leading business groups on Monday endorsed Paul Vallas over Brandon Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff.
Johnson, meanwhile, touted endorsements from a variety of other groups.
The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Illinois Retail Merchants Association remained on the sidelines in round one of the mayoral sweepstakes.
They were disenchanted with Mayor Lori Lightfoot over violent crime and rising property taxes — but apparently concerned about taking sides against her.
The dynamics changed when Lightfoot was eliminated and Johnson punched his ticket to the runoff with 21.6% of the vote, second to Vallas’ 32.9%.
Remaining neutral is no longer an option for business groups determined to stop Johnson’s plan to increase taxes on wealthy residents and businesses to bankroll $1 billion in new spending on social programs.
“We need a mayor who will support and not hinder or defund the police,” Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jack Lavin told the Sun-Times. “We need a mayor who will grow the economy — not impose almost $1 billion in new taxes that will chase away businesses and families. And we need a mayor with experience in balancing budgets — not one who will learn on the job.
“Paul Vallas has a plan not to raise taxes,” Lavin continued. “He’s not talking about defunding the police. He’s talking about filling the vacancies and getting more police into the community. That’s what families and small businesses need. This is a historic election. The stakes have never been higher. We are at a crossroads. The stability of Chicago’s economy hangs in the balance.”
Johnson’s $800 million tax plan initially included a “Metra city surcharge” to raise $40 million “from the suburbs.”
The tax has since been dropped after a firestorm of controversy.
His plan still includes taxes on high-end home sales and financial transactions; a revived employee head tax; increased taxes on jet fuel and hotel rooms; and “new user fees for high-end commercial districts frequented by the wealthy, suburbanites, tourists and business travelers.”
Lavin opposes that approach — particularly the head tax.
“You’re telling the world, ‘I’m gonna charge you a tax to hire people. I’m gonna charge you a tax to create a job or retain a job.’ That is not the message we want to be sending out to businesses thinking of locating in Chicago or businesses that are already here and thinking of growing in Chicago,” Lavin said.
“We’ve had historic inflation, skyrocketing property taxes, the lingering effects of a once-in-a-century pandemic. We’re trying to get people back downtown. We’re trying to get neighborhood retail corridors up and running again. We can’t afford to have all of these taxes that are gonna stunt our growth,” said Lavin.
Michael Jacobson, hotel association president, noted Chicago’s 17.4% hotel room tax already is among the highest nationwide. Johnson’s plan would raise it to well over 20%.
“When you’re a convention planner, and you’re bringing 10,000 people here for four days at a time, and that’s all coming to one company’s bill, you better believe that meeting planner is making that conscious decision because it could cost them millions of dollars just for one single convention,” Jacobson said.
Johnson’s campaign manager, Jason Lee, said business groups endorsing Vallas “doesn’t mean much” in an election that will be decided by the “overwhelming majority” of Chicagoans who “believe the city is headed in the wrong direction.”
“We can’t keep doing the same things and expect to change the direction of the city. And some people, despite knowing that we need change, are afraid of it. That’s the terrible irony that we see. But the good news is that thousands and thousands of Chicagoans know different,” Lee said.
“When Brandon’s mayor, he’s gonna work with the business community to make sure that we have a better, stronger, safer Chicago. They see it differently now. But we know that we have to change the direction of the city. And that’s what Brandon Johnson will do,” said Lee.
Johnson spent much of the day celebrating other endorsements and support from Polish community leaders, Black legislators, retired Black firefighters and paramedics and from retiring 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins and 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin, chair of the City Council’s Black caucus.
“As an African American growing up in this city, we’ve all faced many challenges. And as chair of the Black caucus, I believe that he is the one that’s going to move this city forward in a direction that is going to benefit all of Chicago,” said Ervin, husband of City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who already was in Johnson’s camp.
“We may not agree on everything 100%. But, I know his heart is in the right place when it comes to dealing with the needs of this city,” Ervin said.
Vallas countered with an endorsement from the Latino Leadership Institute, a group founded by vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
Last week, Garcia endorsed Johnson.
Leadership Institute Chairman David Andalcio vowed to help Vallas win the “overwhelming majority” of the Hispanic vote on April 4.
“We need someone who can hit the ground running. Our city is in crisis. We need a steady and proven hand. We need a workhorse and not a show horse,” Andalcio said.
“With a track record of inclusion, Paul will partner with the Latino community and ensure that we have a spot and a voice at the table,” said Andalcio. “Latino voters are centrists who share Paul Vallas’ immigrant values. We want safe streets, world-class schools and a thriving business opportunity. Like Paul, the Latino community values family, is hard-working and has a strong entrepreneurial spirit. We do not want a handout. We want a hand up.”