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Emanuel fires back at Vallas on City Colleges job-training plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel . | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday ridiculed former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas for proposing to undo the colleges-to-careers makeover that has given each of Chicago’s seven city colleges a specialty focus to prepare students for jobs in a particular growth industry.

Vallas wants to dismantle the laser-like focus at individual colleges in favor of providing a “series of core programs accessible to everybody.”

The mayoral challenger questioned whether jobs in transportation, distribution and logistics, the focus at Olive-Harvey College, will even be “in existence” in 10 years.

Vallas argued there is far more potential growth for jobs in nursing and health services and argued that Malcolm X College should not be the only place where that specialty training is offered.

On Friday, Emanuel, who is famous for political staging, had a ready-made opportunity to fire back.

He was joining City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado to tour the twice-stalled, $45 million transportation, distribution and logistics center at Oliver-Harvey College that was starting up again, thanks to the deal that resolved the marathon state budget stalemate.

“Are we gonna have a world-class educational system that ensures that the companies that are moving to the city of Chicago — not only their headquarters, but their operations — are they gonna have workers that come from Indiana or the city of Chicago?” the mayor said.

“Companies have confidence in the community college system — both in the education, the training the skills and the workforce. What we offer the people of the city of Chicago with these modern investments is not just a job, but a career path into the middle-class.”

Emanuel noted that truck driving jobs “start at $50,000” a year, with health care and benefits and that UPS “today has 2,000 openings.”

“Simple question: Kids in the suburbs? Kids in Indiana? Or the youth of the city of Chicago? I vote for the kids in the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

“A high school diploma, while good, is not good enough. They have to have a modern community college system. The World Bank called the Chicago community college system the best college-to-career program in the United States of America. I’m not for dismantling that progress. I’m for building on [that] progress.”

Vallas tried to have the final word. He argued that the mayor’s claims about saving for Chicago jobs that would otherwise go to the suburbs or Indiana “has nothing to do with providing high-quality vocational training choices for Chicagoans wherever they live.”

“Why does Emanuel get to decide which people from which side of Chicago get to train for which jobs? I will not discriminate against certain communities…by not offering the same high quality vocational and occupational training at each of the City Colleges,” Vallas was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

Emanuel has a longstanding tradition of ignoring potential challengers. But Friday marked the second time he has made an exception to attack Vallas.

The first time was after Vallas accused the mayor of “punting” Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis during his first term in office, making the problem dramatically worse.

Emanuel was so incensed by the attack on the area he views as his greatest strength, he branded Vallas “the architect of kicking the can down the road” and said the city is not returning to those bad old days.

In 2012, Emanuel announced plans to build the training center at Olive-Harvey to prepare students for 28,000 jobs in the fields of transportation, distribution and logistics over the next decade and give them, what he called a “meal ticket to the middle class.”

The 200,000-square-foot building will replace 112,000 square feet of temporary classroom space adjacent to the main Olive-Harvey building at 10001 S. Woodlawn.

The project was supposed to be completed three years ago and bankrolled by $31.6 million from then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s capital construction program and by $10.6 million in funds built into the five-year, $479 million capital plan at City Colleges.

Instead, the marquee project twice fell victim to the marathon state budget stalemate that ended last year over Gov. Bruce Rauner’s objections.