Paul Vallas vying to be City Council’s independent financial analyst, but will Lightfoot allow former rival to get job?

Sources said Vallas has telegraphed interest in the job; he formerly was city budget director, city revenue director and head of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission. But it’s not known if the mayor would accept Vallas in a role that could be a platform to embarrass her.

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Vanquished mayoral challenger Paul Vallas in the Sun-Times news room on the night he finished ninth among fourteen candidates vying to replace now-former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Paul Vallas in the Sun-Times news room.

Rich Hein/ Chicago Sun-Times

Paul Vallas is maneuvering behind the scenes to become the City Council’s $111,144-a-year financial analyst, fueling questions about whether Mayor Lori Lightfoot would allow the job to go to her former rival or whether aldermen should make their own choice independent of the mayor’s office.

Five years ago, the City Council voted to create a $301,216-a-year independent budget office to provide aldermen with expert advice on fiscal issues.

The reform was stuck in the mud for nearly two years; the stalemate was over whether former Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) had the independence and policy expertise to lead the office. Shiller ultimately withdrew.

Now, that same kind of debate is likely to rage around Vallas, who finished ninth among 14 mayoral candidates on Feb. 26.

Sources said Vallas has telegraphed his interest in the job, citing his background as a former city budget director and city revenue director and as head of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission before that.

But it’s not known if Lightfoot would accept Vallas in a role that could be used as a platform to embarrass the mayor or sit in judgment of her tax and spending policies and her painful solution to a massive budget shortfall.

As Schools CEO under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Vallas was viewed as a headline-machine who did his own thing without seeking prior clearance from the mayor’s office. Daley ultimately got so tired of playing second-fiddle to Vallas, he got rid of the wildly-popular schools CEO.

Dean Vallas, who managed his brother’s mayoral campaign, argued that the City Council’s financial analyst “needs to be independent” from the mayor’s office.

“Besides having headed and transforming a similar commission in Springfield, Paul’s understanding of Chicago politics, while disliking it, and his passion for non-partisan/ideological policy makes him the best choice,” Dean Vallas wrote in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Paul would be perfect for this position, especially transforming it into the New York model” with a $5.5 million-a-year budget and a staff of 38, compared to the $282,216-a-year budget in Chicago with a staff of four — and three of those jobs are now vacant.

Paul Vallas refused to say “what I might be interested in or not interested in.”

Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) said he has known Paul Vallas for years and, he’s “always been a numbers guy” with “recommendations for everything.”

“I’d love to see him interviewed for the job. It’s gonna be a rough season. The more viewpoints we can get on various ideas, the smarter we will be,” the alderman said.

But Tunney noted Lightfoot likely will have a say in the matter, adding, “He was a candidate for mayor. There’s politics involved in that, too.”  

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment.

Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) said she hasn’t heard from Paul Vallas directly so, “There’s nothing for me to think about.”

Dowell said she’s “in the process of hiring additional people” for the City Council’s budget office and hopes those employees are “in place by the time the budget” process begins.

She’s also drafting an ordinance to be introduced in September to “strengthen” the office. She refused to reveal specifics.

It won’t be the first time the anemic office was beefed up.

Last year, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) won a year-long power struggle over that very same issue with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  

Reilly initially wanted the City Council’s hand-picked financial analyst to do a “fiscal impact statement” for all ordinances that propose to “add, eliminate, increase or decrease” the city’s annual city budget by $10 million, excluding grant funds.

Same for the “sale or lease of any city asset, including revenue streams from that asset” if the city’s take was greater than $10 million.

Emanuel balked and insisted on a $25 million threshold; the two sides settled on $15 million. At Reilly’s insistence, the mayor agreed to yet another provision mandating that the fiscal impact statement be presented to council members at least 72 hours before a vote on the proposal.

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