Vallas says he’s running for mayor because ‘our house is on fire’

“Our downtown is half-vacant, a ghost town in the middle of the workweek. Our schools have lost a year of learning or more. Test scores have plummeted. Every public agency is facing a financial cliff,” Vallas told the City Club of Chicago.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas greets the crowd during his election night party on Feb. 28.

Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas greets the crowd during his election night party on Feb. 28, when he finished on top in the first round of voting.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times-file

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Paul Vallas on Tuesday portrayed himself as the “public administrative version of a first-responder” and said he’s running for mayor of Chicago because “our house is on fire.”

“Our downtown is half-vacant, a ghost town in the middle of the workweek. Our schools have lost a year of learning or more. Test scores have plummeted. Every public agency is facing a financial cliff,” Vallas told the City Club of Chicago. “And crime is simply not under control. Chicago is failing in its basic promise to the people of Chicago, a promise of safe streets, quality schools, affordability and equal opportunity.”

Vallas, 69, served as revenue director and budget director under former Mayor Richard M. Daley before being dispatched to the Chicago Public Schools as CEO, then moving on to run school systems in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and New Orleans after that school system was decimated by Hurricane Katrina.

On Tuesday, Vallas felt the need to explain what he called “this latest call to duty.”

“Paul Vallas, the wonk, is a public administrative version of a first responder. And right now, our house is on fire and its occupants are in danger — both figuratively and literally,” Vallas told his audience of movers and shakers.

“I can’t help it. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. ... My record of public service is not about wonky wizardry. It’s about bringing people together to produce programs of action that deliver.”

On Monday, Vallas’ opponent, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, told the City Club he won’t cut “one penny” from the Chicago Police Department’s $1.94 billion budget. He said Vallas is “lying” by telling people Johnson wants to defund the police.

That didn’t stop Vallas from repeating the charge during his turn at the City Club podium.

With polls showing the runoff headed for a photo finish, Vallas called it the “most important election in a while, if not in our lifetime.” Chicago voters have a “choice between two pathways that could not be more dissimilar,” he said.

“My opponent wants to defund the police and further jeopardize the safety of families across the city. While we both have plans to get at the underlying causes of crime, there is no substitute for effective and accountable policing in our city,” Vallas added. “Failing to fill police vacancies and defunding our police will make our city more dangerous.”

The cornerstone of Johnson’s anti-violence strategy is making “investments in people,” bankrolled by $800 million in new or increased taxes. Johnson has maintained that asking “wealthy corporations to pay their fair share” is a fundamental Democratic value.

Vallas argued Johnson’s plan is not “tax the rich” but instead will “pummel working families and small businesses.”

The mayor of Chicago “indirectly controls” $28 billion in total spending by agencies of local government and another $1.1 billion in property taxes diverted to tax increment financing districts, he said.

“I’m not going to ask the people of this city for another penny until I’ve scoured every one of those budgets to make sure that the money is being spent thoughtfully, intentionally and equitably in ways that prioritize what Chicagoans need, but also in ways that invest in those communities that have long been underinvested in,” Vallas said.

Johnson is a paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union whose mayoral campaign is being bankrolled and staffed by the CTU, SEIU Locals 1, 73 and Healthcare and AFSCME Council 31.

“I’m really running against the Chicago Teachers Union leadership. … Eighty percent of his funding actually comes from the Chicago Teachers Union and affiliates,” Vallas said.

Vallas has accused Johnson and CTU President Stacy Davis Gates of distorting his record of rebuilding public school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia, Connecticut and New Orleans.

On Tuesday, Vallas confronted that criticism head-on, particularly comments from New Orleans residents showcased by the Johnson campaign.

“Show me a public rescue project with no critics, and I’ll show you an omelette that was made without breaking a single egg,” Vallas said.

“Public administration, like life, is messy. But the outcome in lives saved and futures built is, like life, very beautiful,” he said.


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