Paul Vallas, one of the leading candidates for mayor of Chicago, has claimed a home in south suburban Palos Heights as his legal permanent residence since 2009, according to documents obtained by WTTW News that raise questions about whether he is qualified to lead Chicago.
Vallas, who has been registered to vote in Chicago at an apartment in Bridgeport for less than a year, declined to answer questions about his residency directly from WTTW News. Instead, a spokesperson for his campaign issued a statement saying he lives in Chicago while his wife, Sharon, lives in Palos Heights to care for her elderly parents and 93-year-old mother-in-law.
“The couple has made this sacrifice so that their elderly parents can be cared for in their residences,” according to the campaign, which said Vallas visits the Palos Heights home “when his schedule permits.”
However, when Vallas contributed $250 to Democrat Alexi Giannoulias’ successful campaign for secretary of state in September, Vallas listed his address as his Palos Heights home, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. A spokesperson for Vallas said that was an error and would be corrected.
Vallas also uses the address of his home in Palos Heights for his consulting business, according to documents on file with state officials. A spokesperson for Vallas said that was done when Vallas was living in New Orleans more than a decade ago.
Vallas moved from Lincoln Park to Bridgeport in January 2022, using that address to register to vote in March 2022 and to form a new campaign committee, Vallas For Mayor, with the Illinois State Board of Elections in April 2022. Vallas moved to the second floor of a Bridgeport apartment building because it was more convenient for his “work and family,” his campaign spokesperson said.
Between mid-2017 and January 2022, including when Vallas ran for Chicago mayor in 2019, he lived in a Lincoln Park apartment he rented from Tressa Pankovits, an employee and campaign volunteer. Pankovits, who initially answered a request for comment from WTTW News and promised to call back, did not answer subsequent calls and messages.
During the time that Vallas was renting Pankovits’ Lincoln Park apartment, Pankovits was living and working in California, according to the Vallas campaign.
“(Pankovits) returned to Chicago to volunteer on the Vallas campaign in January of 2019 and lived at the residence of a friend,” according to Vallas’ 2023 campaign spokesperson.
Records filed with Cook County officials show Pankovits, who now lives in Washington, D.C., claimed the apartment Vallas was renting from her as her primary residence, earning property tax breaks. Vallas’ campaign spokesperson said he was not aware of that fact until informed by WTTW News.
Vallas’ campaign did not answer a question from WTTW News about whether it was appropriate for Vallas to rent an apartment owned by a female employee for nearly five years.
Vallas is not the only candidate for mayor of Chicago not to own property in the city. Businessman Willie Wilson owns a home in south suburban Hazel Crest and rents a penthouse apartment along Wacker Drive downtown. Mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green initially challenged Wilson’s Chicago residency, before dropping the matter.
To run for mayor of Chicago, candidates must have been a resident of the city for at least a calendar year before Election Day. Former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who has investigated residency cases, told WTTW News that Vallas’s candidacy would likely have defeated a challenge filed by one of his opponents. Since none did, Vallas’ place on the Feb. 28 ballot is secure.
“Where does he sleep, where does he vote?” Ferguson said. “Where does he go back to every night to watch movies? It boils down to that. And if that is any place in Chicago for an extended period of time, then he's a resident.”
In response to inquiries from WTTW News, the Cook County Assessor’s Office opened an investigation Thursday into whether Vallas’ Palos Heights home properly received tax breaks during the past four years totaling $5,507.61.
Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, owns the home with his wife, Sharon, through a trust formed in 2007. That same trust owns another property in Monee, 40 miles away from Chicago in Will County, according to a statement from the Cook County Assessor’s Office.
Both properties claimed they were occupied by their owners, which would entitle them to an exemption. However, that is an apparent violation of state law that prohibits homeowners from earning the tax break on their primary residence on multiple properties.
“Within the next 30 days, the owner of the Palos Heights property must verify the property ownership and whether it maintains the property as a primary residence,” according to a statement from a spokesperson for the Cook County Assessor’s Office. “If the property owner is unable to do so, the owner will be billed back for homeowner’s exemptions it did not earn.”
A spokesperson for Vallas declined to comment on the record about the probe opened by the Cook County Assessor's Office.