Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas started Wednesday to make the case in earnest against re-electing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and suggested that Emanuel may have engineered Vallas’ embarrassing exit from Chicago State University.
Earlier this week, Chicago State trustees terminated Vallas’ contract and eliminated the chief administrative officer’s job he held.
They angrily accused Vallas of using the chronically-troubled university as a springboard to run for mayor. Vallas’ contract was supposed to expire in July. He had already given the board 60-days notice.
On Wednesday, Vallas hinted strongly that Emanuel may have been the heavy hand behind the board’s decision to cry politics.
“It is a little coincidental that one of the state reps who got $46,000 in campaign contributions from Rahm Emanuel the year before last should just suddenly wake up one morning and decide that Chicago State University is a major issue and send a letter to the president concerned about me running for office while I’m at Chicago State after I had already decided to resign and … simultaneously send it to the media,” Vallas said, after attending a City Club of Chicago luncheon on taxes.
Vallas said he wants to enter the 2019 mayoral race and intends to do just that, so long as he can raise enough money to get his message out and introduce himself to voters who don’t remember his widely-acclaimed tenure at Chicago Public Schools.
He refused to put a price tag on that effort, but said he won’t be intimidated by Emanuel’s legendary fundraising muscle.
“When I ran against Rod Blagojevich in 2001, what did I have — $2.5 million to run a statewide race. What did he spend — $14 million? And I came within 1.5 percentage points of winning. I don’t think you’re gonna need that much,” Vallas said.
“Chicago is a much smaller arena than the state of Illinois. I already have good name recognition. People already know my record. A lot of people have interacted with me over the years. … Money isn’t everything.”
Emanuel points with pride to the progress he has made in solving the city’s $36 billion pension crisis, reforming school funding and identifying dedicated funding sources for all four city employee pension funds.
Vallas doesn’t see it that way.
“You had Quinn as governor for four years. You had a veto-proof House and Senate. You could have addressed the pension issue. You could have addressed school funding reform. You could have passed a permanent increase in the income tax,” Vallas siad.
“They punted for four years and, after the election, suddenly the sword of Damacles comes crashing down. What’s gonna happen in the next four years? The long-term structural problems … have not yet been addressed. They’re talking about major post-election tax increases. The question is, who are you gonna trust to navigate the city through those troubled financial waters?”
Vallas questioned whether Chicago has the “financial infrastructure to sustain” Emanuel’s two-year police hiring surge. He noted that rookie salaries are low, but rise fast.
“You go out and hire  police. But, what happens after the election when the city’s financial crisis continues? Do you begin not filling the police vacancies? … Those shell games have been raised before. Approaching election, you fill vacancies. After the election, you don’t fill vacancies,” he said.
Emanuel’s campaign strategist Peter Giangreco was quick to respond to the Vallas blast.
“For seven years, Mayor Emanuel and the taxpayers of Chicago have been trying to dig out of the massive pension hole Paul Vallas dug when, as city budget director and head of Chicago Public Schools, he was the architect of the pension disaster, skipping pension payment after pension payment,” Giangreco wrote in an email.
“For him to now criticize is sort of like an arsonist chiding the fire chief for not putting out the flames he set fast enough.”
As for Vallas’ claim the mayor tried to embarrass Vallas at Chicago State, Giangreco said: “The truth on Chicago State is Bruce Rauner appointed Paul Vallas to a $200,000 job that never existed before and one that Vallas lasted in for less than a year. If that’s not a Republican make-work job, I don’t know what is. He and Garry McCarthy can now run in, what will be a de-facto Republican primary for mayor.”
Vallas also addressed a few of his own political liabilities — like this week’s claim by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) that Vallas “privatized public education in New Orleans” after Hurricane Katrina.
“The Legislature created the recovery school district … because of the level of corruption in New Orleans. The mandate was to create a district of independent schools. That was the legislative mandate, so that’s what we did,” he said.
Notoriously thin-skinned, Vallas also tried to explain away the close ties he developed with now-convicted education consultant Gary Solomon.
Solomon worked with Vallas at schools in Philadelphia and New Orleans. In Chicago, he’s better known for master-minding a contract kickback scheme with then-Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Both Solomon and Byrd-Bennett are now in prison.
“Gary Solomon did business with hundreds of school superintendents. He was the chief salesman for Princeton Review, a very prominent education company. … We didn’t give him a no-bid contract to provide principal training when they could have easily done that in-house,” Vallas said.
“You do business with a lot of people. You can’t predict what they’re gonna do with their lives five, six, seven years down the road.”