If nothing else former Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas is a valiant campaigner. This time will the payoff reach the mountaintop of Chicago politics?
Historic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is clawing for her political life, crime and other issues major concerns.
A recent voter poll shows Vallas, the only non-minority in the race, leading a nine-candidate field for mayor. The top two finishers in February’s voting will square off in an April runoff election.
Labeled an education fixer including stints in Philadelphia and Chicago, Vallas stormed into Bridgeport more than a decade ago after the mayoral administration of Bill Finch engineered a state takeover of beleaguered city schools, with the backing of the local school board, eventually overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Vallas lasted about two years in Bridgeport. In 2014 he ran for lieutenant governor of Illinois losing on the ticket of incumbent Pat Quinn. In 2019 he fell short running for mayor of Chicago. Prior to that in 2002, he lost a tight Democratic primary for governor. He’s well schooled in Chicago politics.
Tall, policy driven, residing Downtown a few blocks from his City Hall office, the media savvy Vallas’ tenure in Bridgeport, though short, was loaded with personality conflicts and controversies.
While Vallas was on the job, city voters rejected a Finch-proposed charter amendment question in November 2012 authorizing the mayor authority to appoint school board members. Black voters in particular, with Barack Obama on the ballot for a second term, eschewed the call for a mayoral-appointed, rather than elected, body.
In November 2013, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed a ruling by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis that Vallas lacked the qualifications to lead Bridgeport schools. Read the decision here. The Supremes validated the authority of State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the Connecticut Board of Education to qualify Vallas who was hired for the school system in December 2011, and subsequently given a three-year contract by the city school board.
Vallas announced days prior to that decision his departure as chief of Bridgeport schools to run for lieutenant governor in the state of Illinois. The lawsuit was brought by retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, a Vallas critic, who had declared that Vallas’ legal fees should not be covered by the Board of Education irrespective of this case involving the performance of his duties. Appellate specialist Steven Ecker, now a state judge, represented Vallas.
Ecker said a lot of taxpayer money was wasted because the plaintiffs (Lopez) did not follow the proper administrative remedy as cited in the Supreme Court decision. “A lot of arrows have been flung at Vallas by folks. That he wasn’t following the law,” Ecker said. “Guess who wasn’t following the law? This lawsuit never should have been filed.”
In the two years he led city schools Vallas leveraged his relationships in Hartford to bring back millions of dollars that had escaped the city in the past: school security, school construction, technology in classrooms.
As Chicago mayoral candidate, Vallas is marrying crime and education as key issues.
Could this be the one?