Chicago Sun-Times


Rejected in previous runs for gov, Lt. gov and mayor, candidate aims to win over city ‘in crisis’ — promising to get it ‘back on track’

- BY MITCHELL ARMENTROUT, STAFF REPORTER marmentrou­ | @mitchtrout

More than two decades after his first run for public office, the fourth time was the charm for Paul Vallas.

So why is Vallas’ message landing now with city voters who have roundly turned him down in the past?

“I think it’s because the city is in crisis,” Vallas told the Sun-Times Wednesday as he strode through the Loop, shaking hands and stopping for selfies the day after voters emphatical­ly sent him to the April 4 runoff election against Cook County Commission­er Brandon Johnson.

“The city really needs the type of leadership that can bring people together, and can assemble the type of leadership team that’s drawn from the community,” said Vallas, who took nearly 34% of the citywide vote, more than 13 percentage points ahead of the runner-up, Johnson. Outstandin­g mail ballots aren’t expected to cut far into that margin of victory.

“That’s what I’ve always been able to do, and that’s why I had success when I was city budget director and school chief here, and it’s been the key to my success elsewhere,” Vallas said. “To get this thing working for everyone — I think that’s been my message, that’s been my history, that’s been my record.”

But his history also includes being edged out by Rod Blagojevic­h in the Democratic primary for Illinois governor in 2002, coming up short again as former Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate in 2014 — and then finishing a distant ninth in his first campaign for Chicago mayor in 2019.

Now Vallas argues his ability to bring people together will enable him to turn his first political coup into a winning streak in next month’s runoff.

His tough-on-crime strategy remains the same — the former Chicago Public Schools CEO vowed during his victory speech Tuesday to “make Chicago the safest city in America” — as he tries to win over voters who chose outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot, businessma­n Willie Wilson or any of the five other vanquished candidates in the first round of voting.

“I seek everyone’s endorsemen­t,” Vallas told reporters outside the Thompson Center. “More importantl­y, I’m seeking the voters’ endorsemen­t, and I think I’m off to a pretty good start.

“It really kind of validated my approach that I’ve taken during this campaign, and really even before this campaign started, and that’s been to talk about the issues, offer solutions to the biggest challenges that the city is facing, particular­ly public safety, and really offering what I feel to be pathways to ensure that all communitie­s are safe and secure.”

Vallas asserted that “voters want a mayor who’s going to get the city back on track and who’s going to address its most pressing issues, and obviously, the issue of public safety is front and center.”

His looming matchup with Johnson presents perhaps the most polarizing runoff imaginable from the initial nine-person mayoral field. Vallas is backed by the farright Fraternal Order of Police, and Johnson was carried to victory with the far-left heft of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Vallas has long been painted as a villain by the CTU, which points to his expansion of charter schools as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s CPS chief as “laying the groundwork” for neighborho­od school closings under former Mayor

Rahm Emanuel.

Johnson is a member of the CTU. But even some of the more moderate candidates in the first round of this year’s mayoral contest slammed Vallas’ CPS tenure, which saw the district stop fully funding teachers pensions, causing fiscal damage that critics say is still strapping city schools to this day.

All that came before the latebreaki­ng controvers­ies hitting Vallas’ campaign in the weeks leading up to the election. Those included questions over whether his Bridgeport apartment was enough for him to be considered a Chicago resident while his wife lives in the southwest suburbs — and whether his campaign’s social media “likes” of offensive, racist posts were really the result of hackers, as the candidate has maintained.

Vallas went on the offensive Wednesday, saying Johnson has “got a lot of questions to answer, too.”

“Individual­s who really have no track record, or are trying to hide their track record, are generally going to get nasty. But Brandon still has to explain his so-called ‘taxthe-rich’ plan, that doesn’t look like a tax-the-rich plan to me,” Vallas said, arguing his opponent’s ideas would put the squeeze on smallbusin­ess owners and a hotel industry still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And Brandon is going to have to answer for his long advocacy for defunding police, or the statements that he’s made … basically justifying the rioters downtown who almost destroyed the central business district,” Vallas said, noting that Johnson didn’t win “a single Black ward” Tuesday night.

In many of those wards, Johnson was also often outperform­ed by Wilson, the candidate who took 9.5% of the citywide vote and who said during numerous forums that police should be able to hunt criminals down “like a rabbit.”

“He [Wilson] is not exactly considered to be a far left liberal, and so at the end of the day, I anticipate I’m going to do really well,” Vallas said.

 ?? ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES ?? Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas greets constituen­ts Wednesday outside the Thompson Center in the Loop.
ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas greets constituen­ts Wednesday outside the Thompson Center in the Loop.

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