Video: Candidate for Mayor of Chicago Paul Vallas joins “Chicago Tonight” after announcing his candidacy. (Produced by Paul Caine)
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas announced Wednesday he will run for mayor, saying Chicago faces a “crisis of leadership” under Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Vallas finished ninth out of 14 candidates in the 2019 race for mayor, garnering 5.4% of the vote during the contest’s first round. Although Vallas endorsed Lightfoot in the runoff against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, he quickly became a frequent critic of the mayor’s, writing numerous columns in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times blasting her handling of the city’s finances, the public schools and public safety.
“The situation in Chicago is much more dire than it was four years ago,” Vallas told “Chicago Tonight” Wednesday night. “There has just been a breakdown in law and order.”
Vallas said Chicago’s schools were in “free fall” with students leaving the district and the city facing a “serious financial cliff.”
Vallas’ announcement emphasized his years of public service, which included stints as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s budget director and schools’ chief. After running school districts in New Orleans and Philadelphia, Vallas lost the 2002 Democratic primary for governor to Rod Blagojevich, who was later convicted of corruption. In 2014, Vallas ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor.
“Chicago is ready for a leader to guide them with more than poll-tested rhetoric and empty promises; one with specific plans, and the know-how to execute those plans,” Vallas said in a statement.
Vallas, 68, is the fourth candidate to join the 2023 race for Chicago mayor and the second candidate to try again after a failed bid in 2019. Like Vallas, businessman and philanthropist Willie Wilson ran in 2019, endorsed Lightfoot and regretted it. Also in the race are Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) and state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago.
While Lightfoot has yet to formally announce her bid for a second term, she is widely expected to seek re-election.
When contacted by WTTW News, Lightfoot's political organization shared a statement from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), the chair of the City Council's Finance Committee.
“Paul Vallas running and losing has become a stunt," Waguespack said. "Chicago doesn’t want his failed experiments that closed schools, hurt already struggling neighborhoods and ignored police misconduct that cost the city millions. He hasn’t been taken seriously by voters because his outdated and destructive ideas would only make the most challenging issues facing the city worse.”
In 2017, former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, appointed Vallas to serve on the board of Chicago State University. In 2018, Vallas became the chief administrative officer of the Far South Side university, which was beset with financial problems. The university’s board fired Vallas in 2019 as he prepared to run for mayor.
During Vallas’ 2019 run for mayor, he often appeared at news conferences brandishing a broom to illustrate his vow to clean up City Hall and rid it of corruption. However, his 2019 run for mayor was perhaps best known for sending unsolicited text messages to Chicagoans touting his campaign.
Those texts cost Vallas $885,357, according to documents filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. When Vallas closed the committee he used to raise money for his 2019 race, he still owed the firm that sent those texts a total of $535,357, according to state records.
Vallas opened a new campaign committee in April for his 2023 mayoral run, and has not reported any contributions through Wednesday morning, according to state records.
Vallas served on the contract negotiating team for the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, which represents the city’s nearly 11,000 rank-and-file officers. After more than four years without a new contract, the City Council ratified an eight-year deal that gave officers annual average raises of approximately 2.5% — while imposing new rules on officers suspected of misconduct.
Like Lopez, Vallas has called for Chicago Police Supt. David Brown to be fired.
Vallas’ announcement brought an immediate response from Stacy Davis Gates, the newly elected president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Davis shared a 2013 statement from former union President Karen Lewis blasting Vallas for launching “an era of massive expansion of standardized testing; the privatization of public schools through outsourcing and charter school expansion; and the devastating policy of school turnarounds, which resulted in the firing of scores of black and veteran teachers.”