EDITORIAL: Why the Tribune crush on Paul Vallas so early in the dance?
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Did we miss something? Like, the next nine months?
We’re asking because time travel to February 2019 seems like the only explanation for a Chicago Tribune editorial on Wednesday that painted the rosiest possible picture of Paul Vallas as Chicago’s next mayor.
We’ll restrain ourselves, and not leap on the bandwagon yet.
Vallas just jumped into the race for mayor two days ago, though he’s been hinting at it for months. And more challengers to Mayor Rahm Emanuel could emerge, including two accomplished women who’ve hinted at running: Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer and Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.
Before taking sides in the election, we’d much rather watch the trial-by-fire of a hard-fought race. Everybody in town will have a better idea then of who has best mix of credentials and temperament for the job.
Yet the Tribune has a definite crush on Vallas at this early stage. It gushed all over his “big, and appealing ideas” and swooned at the thought of the “transformational changes” he might bring.
Please. Vallas is going to have to tell us more, something concrete.
It’s not enough to hit Emanuel with “People don’t like you. You’re a bully.” Chicagoans came to grip with that — or not — a long time ago. There’s a reason they call him “Rahmbo.”
If Vallas aspires to an “issue-oriented” campaign, as he says he does, he might want to get going on that.
We welcome Vallas’ entry into the race. Let’s be clear about that. He is a veteran public servant whose promised priorities — to solve Chicago’s fiscal problems, once and for all, and resolve its worst social conflicts — sound awfully good. He says he likes to “fix things,” and we fully expect him to offer good ideas for doing just that.
The incumbent mayor, lord knows, has not earned a free ride to reelection.
But like Emanuel and every other candidate, Vallas has both strengths and weaknesses. He has accomplishments he can claim and missteps he’ll have to explain.
The Tribune sang Vallas’ greatest hits. He has worked in city government, has managed public school systems in Chicago and other cities, and has run for public office several times, including a failed Democratic primary bid for governor in 2002. (Vallas considered running as a Republican in the 2010 race for Cook County Board president but ultimately decided against it.)
Maybe best of all for Vallas in this election, his reputation is not tarnished by the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal, as it infamously is for Emanuel. Vallas doesn’t have to dig himself out of a hole with African-American voters.
But let’s add a little more realism to this portrait of Paul Vallas. Let’s make it a touch less Norman Rockwell and a touch more Ivan Albright.
Chicago’s financial outlook is improving, as reflected in recently improved bond ratings for the city and the public schools. Where, then, is the convincing evidence that Emanuel has moved too slowly to fix a massive problem that everybody knows he inherited from the last mayor, Richard M. Daley — even if Daley really hates to hear that?
And what exactly would Vallas do to speed that financial recovery up?
Vallas also should come clean that he was once part of the problem. He was Daley’s budget director for awhile — talk about kicking problems down the road. Then he and Daley ran the Chicago Public Schools, where they diverted money from the teachers’ pension fund to balance the books.
Vallas also will also have to account for leaving Philadelphia’s public schools with a financial deficit. While there, he reportedly never met a consultant whose pockets he didn’t fill with hefty fees. Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman that Vallas “never saw a dollar that he wasn’t willing to spend three times with three different people.”
And then there are Vallas’ ties to Gary Solomon, who was convicted in 2017 of scamming CPS out of $20 million in no-bid contracts. Vallas, while in New Orleans, gave Solomon $893,000 in contracts at a time when Solomon already had a sketchy reputation and shouldn’t have gotten them. Solomon had been ousted from his job in a suburban Chicago school district for sending sexually suggestive emails and engaging in other inappropriate behavior with students.
Vallas has issues, as they say. Emanuel has issues, too.
And so does every other declared or potential candidate for mayor of Chicago.
Let’s vet them all, up and down and all around.
Pat them all down, like we’re making an arrest. Run them through a scanner, like they do at O’Hare.
We can gush later, if we gush at all.
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated Paul Vallas ran for Cook County board president. The Sun-Times regrets this error.