Calling Chicago a ‘city in crisis,’ Vallas reprises campaign for mayor
“I’ll tell you who my constituency is. It’s anyone who feels that the city is becoming increasingly unsafe and wants to ensure that, wherever you live, you’re safe and secure,” former CPS CEO Paul Vallas told the Sun-Times in announcing his second run for mayor.
Declaring Chicago a “city in crisis” and himself the idea-machine solution, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas on Wednesday will formally enter the race for mayor to unseat incumbent Lori Lightfoot.
Vallas, 69, becomes the fourth candidate to enter the mayor’s race with the election now just nine months away. Others in the field are state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) and millionaire businessman Willie Wilson.
Two better-known and potential candidates — former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) — took a pass, even though their private polling showed the race against Lightfoot was winnable.
Without revealing specifics, Vallas claims to have similar polling.
It shows what he called a “clear path to victory” against an unpopular incumbent whose public approval rating is “lower than” Rahm Emanuel’s was when he chose political retirement over the uphill battle for a third term in the furor following his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
The fact that Vallas finished ninth in his 2019 mayoral campaign, with just 5.43% of the vote, is irrelevant now, he said.
“I’ll tell you who my constituency is. It’s anyone who feels that the city is becoming increasingly unsafe and wants to ensure that, wherever you live, you’re safe and secure. It’s anybody who believes that the schools are not providing adequate school choices for their children and wants the option to pick the best school for their child,” Vallas said.
“And my constituency is anybody who believes that we’re literally taxing and fining people out of their homes [and that] we’re handicapping and destroying businesses with this ever-increasing tax-and-fee burden.”
Buckner has argued Lightfoot “has a personality that a lot of folks don’t like” and that her combativeness is getting in the way of solving Chicago’s intransigent problems.
But in a wide-ranging interview with the Sun-Times, Vallas said Lightfoot’s abrasiveness is of no consequence to him and should be of no consequence to Chicago voters.
“My issue with her is her competency. She cannot manage the city. She has no clear vision. She does not have the management skills. When it comes to her own personnel, she doesn’t inspire the type of loyalty [needed]. She certainly doesn’t empower her people to make decisions,” Vallas said.
“We elected somebody who never had the experience managing anything even remotely this size and she has demonstrated the fact that she is simply ill-equipped. The city is suffering for it with a rapid degrading, if not disintegration, of our police department. We see it in the free-fall that is our public schools that people are finding any way to exit. And we’re seeing it in this tax-and-waste cycle that constitutes her budget process.”
Vallas said there is a “danger” to Chicago if Lightfoot somehow is re-elected. But “equally dangerous” would be electing a candidate who is, as he put it, “equally incompetent” just because they are more likable.
“The city cannot afford to turn this $28 billion enterprise over to an individual who doesn’t have a vision and doesn’t have the management skills or experience to do what needs to be done to address these critical issues that I’ve identified,” he said.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), the mayor’s hand-picked chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, responded to Vallas’ candidacy in a blistering statement released by the Lightfoot campaign.
“Paul Vallas running and losing has become a stunt. Chicago doesn’t want his failed experiments that closed schools, hurt already struggling neighborhoods and ignored police misconduct that cost the city millions,” Waguespack was quoted as saying. “He hasn’t been taken seriously by voters because his outdated and destructive ideas would only make the most challenging issues facing the city worse.”
Vallas’ prescription for the crime, education and financial illnesses plaguing Chicago are nothing short of radical for a city that has long resisted anything more than incremental change.
To fill 1,600 police vacancies and reverse the mass exodus of officers, he wants to fire CPD Supt. David Brown and Brown’s entire senior leadership team; end “friends-and-family” promotion practices; restore “beat integrity” and pro-active policing; and reverse policies on foot and vehicular chases that, he claims, have tied officers’ hands.
“You need guidelines and you need training and effective supervision. But these rules and regulations are, in effect, rendering vehicle chases and foot chases a police action of the past. Criminals know that they can commit serious crimes and not be chased,” Vallas said.
“Why would you want to chase anybody … with the rules and regulations being so cumbersome that there’s all sorts of things you can get gigged and reprimanded for? ... They’ve handcuffed the police department and police are voting with their feet. Chicago is not only losing people to early retirement. They’re losing some of their best young officers who are being gobbled up by other departments that are gonna be more supportive of their rank-and-file officers.”
With CPS enrollment down 25,000 over the last two years — “lower than it was before the start of World War I” — Vallas wants to stop the bleeding by mandating that CPS spend a healthy chunk of its annual share of a tax increment financing surplus on a school voucher program.
He also wants to lengthen the school day and school year, “radically de-centralize” the school bureaucracy to push decision-making down to the local level and bankroll a dramatic increase in paid work-study programs by phasing out what he called “irrelevant electives.”
The Chicago Teachers Union has fought tooth-and-nail with Lightfoot, is almost certain to back Buckner and will, no doubt, oppose most, if not all of those changes.
But Vallas is undaunted.
As for the “financial disaster that awaits” Chicago after federal stimulus funding runs out, Vallas said he would start by canceling many Lightfoot giveaways — gas and Ventra cards, bicycles, surveillance cameras, motion-detector systems and a guaranteed minimum income pilot program.
He would also cancel the Lightfoot-championed automatic escalator that locks in annual property tax increases at the rate of inflation.
He noted the mayor has increased city spending 60% over the last two budgets “with no corresponding increase in revenue.” The only exception is Bally’s $1.7 billion River West casino that, Vallas boldly predicted, will not come even close to generating enough money to save police and fire pensions.
“If they’re going to increase property taxes, the City Council should have the courage to vote for that property tax increase, then explain to the public why,” he said.
In 2002, Vallas came within an eyelash of defeating Rod Blagojevich in the Democratic primary for governor.
But then he was at the pinnacle of his popularity, having come off a highly acclaimed five-year partnership with Gery Chico running CPS.
Now, an entire generation of Chicagoans don’t even know who Paul Vallas is. And those who do know the name remember him as a back-of-the-pack mayoral challenger.
To “re-introduce himself to Chicago voters and win,” veteran political operative Victor Reyes said Vallas will need to “raise and spend closer to $8 million.”
“The good news is there’s a whole generation of people he needs to introduce himself to and they don’t have a notion of who he is. So he has a clean slate. ... And many of those people are not happy with the current situation,” Reyes said.
“Yes, a lot of voters who knew him from before may not be around. But he does have an opportunity to present himself in a fresh way to people. More than anything, he’s got to raise money. He knows policy. Nobody’s ever accused of not understanding government policy. But he’s got to raise money to introduce himself to the new voters. Then convince older voters that he’s the guy who can get this public safety crisis under control.”
Reyes said Vallas would be wise to focus his strategy on getting “into the run-off with whoever.” If he does that, “he will attract institutional money” for Round 2.