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Politics Vallas in crowded field of Chicago candidates

September 6, 2018

There are about a dozen candidates running for mayor of Chicago, including Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s former interim superintendent of schools.

And the race became more intense this week when Mayor Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not not seek re-election.

Back in Bridgeport, not everyone saw Vallas’ Chicago candidacy as a good thing.

“Tell me what position Paul Vallas hasn’t run for,” Marie Pereira, a vocal Vallas opponent and a member of Bridgeport’s Board of Education, said Thursday. “He is a perennial politician. I don’t think he’s truly vested in anything he does.”

Residents of the Windy City will go to the polls on Feb. 26, 2019, to elect their new mayor. Should Vallas win, what would Pereira tell Chicagoans?

“Move,” she said.

Former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch was more supportive of Vallas, saying the candidate “would make an amazing mayor” and that he “has dogged determination and he’s able to take on hard-set ideology.”

Vallas is an education reformer who has led some of the nation’s most troubled school systems, including the New Orleans district after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city. In December 2011 he took on a new challenge: in Bridgeport, when the state took over the city’s school district, owing to budgetary woes.

Finch, who was Bridgeport’s mayor then and is now executive director of the Discovery Museum, had high praise Thursday for Vallas.

“Paul is a wizard with budgets — he walked into a very difficult situation here and a balanced the budget,” Finch said. “He has the ability to work with very different groups of people and he not afraid to tackle the status quo.”

Vallas also worked on rebuilding schools in Haiti after the massive earthquake there in 2010. And it was during that effort in Haiti that former Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor met Vallas, and soon asked him to come to Bridgeport to lead its school district during the time the state had taken it over.

Vallas, 65, had a rocky, two-year tenure in the Park City. He was never more than the interim superintendent because — according to state statutes — he lacked the proper academic credentials for the position. His critics charged that Vallas was trying to privatize the city’s school district by promoting charter schools.

In June, 2013, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ordered Vallas removed as Bridgeport’s superintendent over his lack of certification. The state, however, fashioned a fast-track process for Vallas to gain certification.

By November 2013, though, Vallas has mapped an exit, announcing he was leaving to run for lieutenant governor of Illinois along side Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn who subsequently lost the election.

Vallas had also run unsuccessfully for governor of Illinois in 2002. When he was Quinn’s running mate, the pair lost to Republican Bruce Rauner, who then tapped Vallas in 2017 to help turn around Chicago State University.

Vallas was already among the slew of 2019 Chicago mayoral candidates — more might enter the race — when Emanuel said Tuesday that he would not pursue a third four-year term.

“This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime,” Emanuel said in his press conference.

He has been on a rough ride. One issue in Chicago is a mess surrounding Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged with murder in the October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke was caught on video shooting McDonald 16 times — but the footage was not released for more than a year.

Van Dyke’s trial will begin soon, and it was Emanuel’s decision to withhold the McDonald shooting video until after the 2015 election. The mayor released it only after a judge ordered City Hall to do so.

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