Defensive Vallas responds to controversies

“I’m the frontrunner. That’s the reason. They know I’ve got momentum. They know I’m rising in the polls. They know that I’m a threat. And this time, they’re gonna try to attack me personally as opposed to challenge me on the issues,” mayoral challenger Paul Vallas told the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Chicago mayoral candidate former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas participates in a mayoral forum at the University of Illinois Chicago, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidate former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, shown at a mayoral forum at the University of Illinois Chicago earlier this week.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

It’s a good thing former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has developed a “thick hide” in more than 40 years in public service.

He needs it — and a flak jacket — with all of the political heat he is getting in the nine-way race for mayor of Chicago.

“I’m the frontrunner. That’s the reason. They know I’ve got momentum. They know I’m rising in the polls. They know that I’m a threat. And this time, they’re gonna try to attack me personally as opposed to challenge me on the issues,” Vallas said Friday.

“My wife says, ‘Stop complaining. Four years ago, no one was paying attention to you. ... My hide is pretty thick. I’d like to think I can withstand just about anything.”

During a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, a defensive Vallas confronted each of the recent controversies head-on.

The conversation started with a WTTW story that could set the stage for a residency challenge similar to the one that nearly knocked Rahm Emanuel off the ballot in 2011.

Since 2009, Vallas has claimed a home in Palos Heights as his permanent legal residence, the address of his consulting business and listed the home as his personal address when he made a recent campaign contribution to Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

That’s even though Vallas has been registered to vote from an apartment in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood for the last year.

Vallas explained by saying that he and his wife, Sharon, have “lived apart” for decades.

“When I left Philadelphia to go to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, my wife did not want to go with me. She wanted to move back to where she was most comfortable. She bought a home right next to her aged parents in the same house where she grew up. … My kids were still relatively young, and she thought that’s where she could be most easily supported,” Vallas said.

“Sometimes, people stay married because they make certain arrangements. … I’ve always lived where I’ve worked. This has been our understanding. I wanted my wife to be in her most comfortable setting with her friends and family ... while she allowed me to do what I do: rescues, turnaround projects, crisis management.”

Vallas said he listed Palos Heights as his home address when he contributed to Giannoulias because his wife, who cares for her parents and his 94-year-old mother, “pays the bills and handles the finances.” They have one credit card between them, and it’s in her name.

Yet another controversy struck a raw nerve with Vallas. It involved the fatal shooting of a 28-year-old Black man in San Antonio last March by three police officers there, one of whom was Gus Vallas, the candidate’s son.

After losing another son, 24-year-old Mark Vallas, to opioid addiction in 2018, Paul Vallas was not about to let the shooting involving Gus become a campaign issue by those seeking to portray the fatal shooting as a San Antonio version of the Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“My son is a tactical officer in San Antonio. He’s put in harm’s way practically every single day. They were involved in a shooting and they were cleared. All of the officers were returned to duty. ... My son is an outstanding police officer. That’s all I’m gonna say on the matter,” Vallas said.

“My conversations with my son, what he tells me in private, his private pain. Whether it’s my middle boy, who’s a tactical officer on very dangerous assignments in San Antonio, or my older boy, who was a combat medic for five years in Afghanistan and certainly went through his own post-traumatic stress. It’s not fair for me to talk about my sons. That’s a private matter. That’s a family matter.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Ald. Sophia King (4th) have been trying to portray Paul Vallas as an anti-abortion, pro-voucher Republican who is a threat to women’s rights, workers’ rights and funding for public schools.

Vallas once again tied his personal opposition to abortion to his Greek Orthodox faith.

“Personal religious conviction is unrelated to my public position supporting women’s reproductive rights. It’s like asking Joe Biden as a Catholic, ‘Are you for abortion?’ Or Rich Daley. Or John Kennedy,” he said.

Vallas made no apologies for his support for school vouchers — a position that has infuriated a Chicago Teachers Union that’s bankrolling CTU organizer Brandon Johnson.

“If parents want to send their kids to parochial and private schools because they believe their local school is unsafe and not up to academic standards, parents should have the opportunity to participate in a scholarship program and receive tuition support to go to the schools of their choice,” he said.

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