Paul Vallas says voters should focus more on competency over likability

Vallas, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said his years of experience at the top of CPS and other major school districts around the country make him well-suited to fix the city’s problems.

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Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas says Chicago is a “city in crisis.”

And he said his years of experience at the top of major school districts around the country make him well-suited to fix the city’s problems — unlike Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Who should vote for him?

“Anyone who feels that the city is becoming increasingly unsafe and wants to ensure that, wherever you live, you’re safe and secure. ... 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,” he said.

Multiple candidates have said that Lightfoot’s combativeness is getting in the way of solving Chicago’s intransigent problems.

Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is making his second run for mayor of Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

But in an interview with the Sun-Times, Vallas said Lightfoot’s abrasiveness should be of no consequence to Chicago voters. Rather, voters should ask whether she has demonstrated the competency to run the city.

“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.

He added: “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 reelected. But “equally dangerous” would be electing a candidate who is, as he put it, “equally incompetent” just because that candidate is 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.

To fill 1,600 police vacancies and reverse the mass exodus of officers, he wants to fire Chicago Police Supt. David Brown and Brown’s entire senior leadership team; 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.

With CPS enrollment down 25,000 students in the last two years, Vallas said he wants to mandate 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 decentralize” 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.”

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas waves to supporters as he files nomination petitions for the 2023 municipal election at the Chicago Board of Elections in the Loop.

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas on Nov. 21, as he files nomination petitions for the 2023 municipal election at the Chicago Board of Elections.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Meanwhile, Chicago is on the verge of a “financial disaster” after federal stimulus funding runs out, Vallas said. He said he would cancel many Lightfoot giveaways, including gas and Ventra cards, bicycles, surveillance cameras, motion-detector systems and a guaranteed minimum income pilot program.

He would also cancel an automatic escalator that locks in annual property tax increases at the rate of inflation.

He said 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 casino in River West that Vallas predicted will not come close to generating enough money to save police and fire pensions.

Vallas will have to convince voters — many of whom aren’t familiar with his past — that he is the right person for the job.

In 2002, he came within an eyelash of defeating Rod Blagojevich in the Democratic primary for governor. At the time he was at the pinnacle of his popularity, having come off a highly acclaimed five-year partnership with Gery Chico running CPS.

But after he left Chicago to run school districts out of state, including in Philadelphia and Louisiana, his name recognition here plummeted. He finished ninth in the 2019 mayoral campaign, with just 5.4% of the vote.

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