New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT)

A winding path from Conn. to Chicago mayor

- HUGH BAILEY COMMENTARY Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor of the Connecticu­t Post and New Haven Register. He can be reached at hbailey@hearstmedi­

Paul Vallas, today the frontrunne­r to be the next mayor of Chicago, had a short tenure in Connecticu­t that may have marked the peak of the school reform craze here. Few people miss it. Or him.

He arrived as Bridgeport superinten­dent just as the state and nation were experienci­ng a periodic wave of changes sold as benefiting children, but that mainly serve to undermine public schools. This included a push for more charter schools, a drive for mayoral control of education and state takeover of “underperfo­rming” schools.

That wave has mostly subsided. Charter schools are still around, but few sell them as a large-scale answer to the state’s educationa­l needs. The idea of phasing out elected school boards has come full circle — where once New Haven was cited as a model for places like Bridgeport, now more people are saying that mayoral control denies accountabi­lity, and that only elections allow voters to have a say in how schools are run — exactly what reform opponents argued a decade ago.

Vallas came to Bridgeport in 2012 with a lengthy resume and a reputation — largely selfconstr­ucted — as miracle worker. He wasn’t. There isn’t any such thing. It’s not that he accomplish­ed nothing, it’s that he managed to alienate nearly everyone in his short time here — comparing yourself to Michael Jordan will do that — to the point that people couldn’t wait until he was gone.

Also, the board that hired him was itself illegitima­te, which is a long story.

Now, a decade later, Vallas is the favorite to be the next mayor of Chicago.

He’s best known for education, but that’s not what he’s running on. Vallas, in surging to the head of a crowded Chicago primary field, is following the time-honored tradition of trying to scare people into voting for him.

A sign waved around at his victory party after the first round of voting summed it up: “Putting Crime and Your Safety First.”

Chicago is, in certain circles, a nationwide shorthand for violent crime, and it’s true that by many measures crime was up during the pandemic. It’s dropped since then, and despite its reputation, Chicago is not far off on most measures from major cities around the country.

Still, as ought to be clear by now, perception of crime and the reality of crime are two different things, and often have no relation to one another.

Vallas is a Democrat, as is necessary to win in a place like Chicago. The era when Republican­s are competitiv­e in major cities appears over, but the result is that conservati­ve Democrats like Vallas and New York City’s Eric Adams fill that void. Selling themselves as a solution to the crime that ravages their cities (or doesn’t, depending on who you ask and where they live) is proving potent.

Even the president of the United States is getting in on the action, taking a “tough on crime” stance in Washington, D.C., that won’t make anyone safer, but might look good in campaign ads.

Connecticu­t is not immune to such appeals. An entire gubernator­ial election was just held under such auspices, with one party trying desperatel­y to convince voters it was unsafe to venture out of their suburban front doors. That the tactic failed does not mean it will hold less appeal next time.

That same party, fresh off an election where a crime-centric approach won them exactly nothing, is still making the same appeals. State Republican­s held a news conference recently criticizin­g the state for shortening the sentences of some violent offenders, calling on the governor to cease commutatio­ns until they get an explanatio­n. They didn’t say the practice was harming public safety — that much was just assumed. They also didn’t mention the staggering public costs of keeping people locked up decades after any threat to the public would have subsided. All that matters is keeping people in prison.

Fear works in city politics, too. The current mayor of Bridgeport fear-mongered his predecesso­r out of office in a 2015 primary with nonstop talk of crime (which, to be clear, has not gone away under present leadership).

Crime will always be a potent political topic because our inability to deal with poverty and unwillingn­ess to tackle lax gun laws means it will never go away. What we could do is take a lesson on what works and what doesn’t.

If “tough on crime” policies — things like longer sentences, tougher crackdowns, more police, more prisons — were the answer, the United States would be the safest country on the planet. No one locks up more people than we do — not China, which has four times our population, not anyone. Per capita, our rate of incarcerat­ing our citizens is among the highest in the world, alongside the likes of El Salvador and Turkmenist­an.

Despite all this, no one pays a political price for proposing we do more of what we’ve always done, whether that’s locking up more people for longer sentences or showering more money on law enforcemen­t. Proposing alternativ­es, though, gets you branded a radical, or unserious, or someone who doesn’t care about crime victims and only wants to coddle lawbreaker­s.

Paul Vallas is not about to solve crime in Chicago, any more than he solved education in Bridgeport. It’s up to voters to demand something different.

 ?? Getty Images ?? Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas holds a press conference on March 7 in Chicago.
Getty Images Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas holds a press conference on March 7 in Chicago.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States