Mayoral candidate Gery Chico on Thursday released a digital ad highlighting his six-year tenure as school board president without mentioning that mayoral rival Paul Vallas was his partner, drawing a sharp rebuke from Vallas.
Chico served as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s go-to-guy, with stints as chief of staff and president of the Park District and City Colleges boards.
After Daley’s 1995 school takeover, Chico was dispatched to CPS as part of a dream-team pairing with Vallas as schools CEO.
They raised test scores, reduced class sizes, expanded after-school and tutoring programs and embarked on a $3 billion school construction spree that built 16 new schools, 27 school annexes and 29 school additions.
They built Gwendolyn Brooks and Jones College Prep, along with two of the state’s most highly-acclaimed selective enrollment high schools: Walter Payton and North Side Prep. North Side came to be known as “Chico High” because it was built in time for Chico’s daughters to attend.
Chico’s slick, 90-second digital ad running on Facebook, Google and on his campaign website takes credit for all of that and more without ever mentioning the role Vallas played.
“In 1995, when the Legislature threw the schools into the lap of the mayor and said, `You figure it out,’ buildings were literally falling apart. … There was constant labor strife between teachers and management. So you can imagine there weren’t a lot of people jumping at the opportunity,” Chico says in the ad.
At the time, Chico’s kids attended Chicago Public Schools. He was a Kelly High School graduate whose parents were Gage Park High School alums.
“I knew what those schools had given my parents, me. I saw it with my children. And I figured they have to do this for everybody. I didn’t believe it was a lost cause. I thought it was a hard job. It was a very complicated job to resuscitate the system. But we jumped in and did it,” Chico says in the ad.
“We put it on financially-sound footing. We re-did a lot of physical stock of the buildings, including building brand new schools [in neighborhoods] that hadn’t seen schools in decades. We started to turn the academic profile around where people were hopeful again that these scores were gonna continue to rise and that parents would have an opportunity to send their kids to a good school. And there was respect for teachers and principals… responsible for making that system go.”
The ad closes with the word CHICAGO dissolving to CHICO in a sign that mimics the Chicago Flag above his campaign slogan: “Safer, Stronger, Together.”
That same campaign slogan is featured in a new digital billboard for Chico that faces east on the Eisenhower Expressway at the Harlem exit. More than 250,000 vehicles pass the sign every day, according to the Chico campaign.
“We’re just getting rolling,” Chico said Thursday.
Chico said he was “happy to recruit” Vallas to join him at the helm of CPS and said their partnership was a “very productive” one.
But, he made no apologies for a digital ad that ignores that partnership while taking a bow for their mutual accomplishments.
“While we’re campaigning, we’re working to highlight what we’ve done. I’m sure Paul has and will put out things that don’t include me. I’m fine with that,” Chico said.
“The fact of the matter is I was one of the major forces on the construction program that I believe very powerfully in for rebuilding neighborhoods.”
Vallas, whose brother helped manage Chico’s 2011 mayoral campaign against Rahm Emanuel, said Chico has been “an extraordinarily successful lobbyist” in Chicago for the last 20 years.
But, Vallas argued that it is “extraordinarily dishonest” for his former partner to “take credit for my nationally-recognized record of success” as CPS CEO.
“According to published reports, clients of Chico’s law firm received over $500 million in contracts from the school board during his tenure. As a lobbyist for the now-defunct law firm of Altheimer & Gray during his tenure as board president, Chico abstained from over 500 votes that affected his clients,” Vallas said in an emailed statement.
“Despite his abstentions, Chico’s clients received $577 million in contracts from the school board through February 2000. In 1995, Altheimer clients had received $505,000 in school board business; by 1999, that figure had grown to $259 million.”
Since joining the race after Mayor Rahm Emanuel dropped out, Chico has raised $1.25 million from 460 donors. He still trails Bill Daley, who has already topped the $2 million mark, including a $500,000 donation to himself.
But Chico said he has two more fundraisers over the next 24 hours and hopes to continue raising money at a frenzied pace through the end of the month and well into December.