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As campaign begins, Vallas pokes Rahm: People ‘don’t like you. You’re a bully’

Paul Vallas announced his campaign for mayor on Wednesday at the University Club in the Loop. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas on Wednesday dove head-first into the crowded pool of mayoral challengers- — and splashed Mayor Rahm Emanuel — by exploiting the likability factor that has dogged the two-term incumbent for decades.

“People don’t like the mayor. Sorry. They don’t like you. You’re a bully. You intimidate people,” Vallas said.

Vallas described himself as a bullying victim.

It happened after Vallas called to offer to help – “for free” – at CPS after then-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett was forced out because of the contract kickback scheme that would culminate in her criminal conviction.

“I was told I didn’t pass the loyalty oath. … Who the hell are they to question my loyalty?” Vallas said.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas announces his candidacy for mayor at the University Club in the Loop.

“That’s the D.C. way. It’s all about the next election. It’s all about loyalty. It’s all about fundraising. It’s all about intimidating quality people out of the race by flashing your fundraising potential. It’s all about pay-to-play.”

Vallas acknowledged meeting privately with millionaire businessman Willie Wilson and fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to talk about running an “issue-oriented” campaign.

But Vallas denied the purpose was to “collude or conspire” against Emanuel.

“Rahm would like to think that there’s a grand conspiracy. He wants to say it’s Rahm against the world. No. Maybe it’s the world against Rahm. But maybe it’s because of Rahm’s own doings,” Vallas said.

During a professorial news conference at the University Club that dragged on for well over an hour, Vallas zeroed in on another one of Emanuel’s Achilles’ heels: the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

“If he hadn’t seen the video … he should have asked to see it. And he should have disclosed the video before the election. Period,” Vallas said.

“When it comes time to taking responsibility … it’s always, ‘Somebody else has to take responsibility.'”

Sharon Vallas greets guests at the University Club in the Loop, where her husband, Paul Vallas, announced he is running for mayor of Chicago. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times
Sharon Vallas greets guests at the University Club in the Loop, where her husband, Paul Vallas, announced he is running for mayor of Chicago. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Vallas’ fearless needling is clearly getting under the mayor’s skin — again.

After announcing plans to build a Chicago Public Library branch inside the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, Emanuel joined State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) and three local aldermen in denouncing Vallas for telling the Chicago Sun-Times he did not support $175 million in publicly funded infrastructure improvements for the project.

“The state of Illinois today subsidizes. … the Lincoln Presidential Library. … That same good should be created here on the South Side,” the mayor said.

“This is one of the largest private investments for the South Side of Chicago in decades. It’s gonna create thousands upon thousands of jobs,” Emanuel said. “To all of a sudden turn your back on something that is unprecedented in scale and scope … [shows you don’t] understand … making sure all parts of the city are growing together.”

Mitchell said the entire $175 million could come from a long-awaited state capital bill.

“We did $250 million for the Lincoln Library. If it’s good enough for Springfield, it’s good enough for the South Side. Any serious candidate for any serious office should not be pushing that aside,” Mitchell said.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said she feels “insulted” by Vallas’ remarks.

“Maybe he doesn’t understand what kind of investment this means to the Greater South Side,” she said.

Emanuel also pointed to what former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told the Sun-Times about the “significant deficits” left behind by Vallas’ profligate spending during his tenure as schools CEO there.

Vallas “never saw a dollar that he wasn’t willing to spend three times with three different people,” Nutter said.

“Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia spoke of the legacy there,” Emanuel said Wednesday.

“We had to fix a structural budget that was out of whack by $600 some-odd million. Four pension [funds] that were upside-down … I’m glad we stabilized our finances and created investments that create jobs and economic opportunity.”

Vallas accused the mayor and his minions of twisting his words and his record.

“He’s gonna say that over and over again. He’s gonna tell the big lie. Very Trump-like, if you ask me. Repeat it. Repeat it. Repeat it. After a while, you begin to say, `Well, it’s got to be true. I’ve heard it on 10,000 commercials,” Vallas said.

Vallas said he’s “running to win,” but also to “generate ideas.”

“If what emerges … is a … discussion of the real issues — a campaign that seeks real solutions, and whoever wins, those solutions become reality — then it will have well been worth the effort,” he said.