Can a Mayor Paul Vallas Save Chicago From Itself?

By John Kass

June 1, 2022

Chicago is on the brink, or past it, as the mayoral election begins.

The city is overwhelmed by rising violent crime, downtown and in the neighborhoods. Mayor Lightfoot has completely demoralized her police force. Downtown becomes a ghost town. Tourism dies.

The public schools are a disaster, maintained by taxpayers to feed the appetites of the politically powerful Chicago Teachers Union at the expense of the children, most of them low income, most of them black and brown. These government schools don’t prepare students for college, but the schools do turn out carjackers.

The city’s finances are a joke. And as the race for mayor begins—the main event in this city of tribes—all the politics become racial politics. Into this hurricane, against my advice, a man rushes again alone into the storm:

Paul Vallas publicly announces his campaign for mayor on Wednesday.

Here’s my question: Can Vallas, if elected mayor, save Chicago from itself?

You could ask it another way; Does the city want to live, to stand up and give itself a fighting chance? Or will it just stretch out on the sidewalk and go to sleep, waiting for some gangbanger with a cup of gasoline to light it on fire, the way a career criminal walking free lit up the homeless fellow known as the Walking Man?

On the new edition of The Chicago Way podcast, Vallas told co-host Jeff Carlin and me what he’d do “on day one” if elected mayor.

He’d immediately fire Lightfoot’s top cop, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, promote from within the department and support the police.

Vallas is an experienced manager. He can read budgets and knows municipal finance. He  comes from a family of first responders and teachers. His wife was a cop. One of their sons saw combat in Afghanistan and later became a firefighter. Another son is a police officer. Vallas has been running toward crises his entire career, as he did in Chicago as city budget director, and then as CEO of the public schools. And later in New Orleans, the schools there were a disaster and Hurricane Katrina had torn that city apart.

“I’m in because this is what I do,” Vallas said. “This is the city that I love. I can’t stand to see it become another Detroit. I don’t want to offend Detroit, but I used to say when I ran the last time that Chicago was Detroit with a thriving downtown.

“Now I can’t even say that. The bottom line is that these problems are fixable.”

But Lightfoot hasn’t been able to fix anything. She’s made things worse.

Vallas’ political spots will go up, and he’ll be doing more media interviews on Wednesday. Lightfoot loathes him, the CTU is determined to undercut his campaign to stop him from providing Chicago families with real school choice.

The city’s in crisis and that’s why I’m running,” Vallas said. “It’s a much greater challenge than I faced in New Orleans after Katrina. We’re facing an educational Katrina here, were facing a public safety Katrina here, we’re facing a financial Katrina.  This is a man-made storm that devastated the city because of poor political decision making, because people have placed their interests first above that of the city as a whole.

“That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m running, that’s why I’m going to win.”

I’ve been covering politics in the city of tribes for a long time now. A mayoral election involving a mayor who’s lost her city, a mayor who’s lost the business leaders and the merchants, lost the cops and the people isn’t a campaign about poetry.

It isn’t about algebra or rhetoric. This election is about arithmetic.

If Vallas can get into a mayoral runoff against Lightfoot–arguably the worst mayor in the nation who let the Black Lives Matter rioters destroy downtown–then Vallas will win and become the mayor.

It’s that simple.

Or is it?

There have been efforts to stop him, to offer up some other fancy flavor to undercut him. There was that attempt by the Obama-Daley-Rahm crew to float the White Shadow, Obama’s basketball buddy Arne Duncan, supported by Pritzker and Steve Jobs and John Rogers bucks. But Duncan withdrew.

Now the fat-cat political lawyer, Gery Chico, makes noises about running. It’s all ego with Gery. And the Daleys are a jealous clique.

“The Daleys are just myth now,” says a Democratic insider who’s known them all his life.  “They can’t even put their own alderman in at City Hall.”

Vallas has raised some decent money, but he’ll need more. It all comes down to Chicago’s so-called “business community” and the “donor class” that were so afraid of Daley that they wet the carpets when he became angry with them. They’re afraid of Lightfoot, too. They cringe when she shrieks. They’ve become used to being afraid.

They have no confidence in Lightfoot. They already know what the Social Justice Warrior policies of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her protégé, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx have done to the city.  Foxx is no prosecutor. Lightfoot cuts the spine from the police department and the Foxx/Preckwinkle policies have emboldened criminals and fed the anarchy and chaos. Preckwinkle has shrunk the jail. And so, more violent offenders are released to electronic monitoring, but when violence happens to innocents, Toni Preckwinkle is not called to account.

On the Chicago Way podcast, Vallas said he would create a judicial review unit to “monitor and publicize” every decision Foxx and judges make regarding bail for violent offenders.

“And [Cook County Sherriff Tom] Dart should be screaming  his bloody head off at what Foxx, what Preckwinkle has done to the county jail, instead of trying to tiptoe around it,” Vallas said.

But Dart isn’t screaming his bloody head off, is he? On this issue, Tom Dart is Sherriff timid church mouse, hoping to avoid confrontation with Toni and Kim. He just wants to survive.

And Lightfoot doesn’t want to trouble Toni or Kim, either. Neither do the editorial boards of the city’s once-great newspapers. The newsrooms lean left, and are home to social justice warriors. Who reads them anymore?

At “the paper,” when I tried to warn the people about what Foxx and her political backer George Soros were doing to public order in Chicago and many other cities, here’s what happened: The newsroom Jacobins from the Tribune guild became hysterical. I was the last conservative at that paper, and they falsely defamed me and sought to “de-platform” me. Now I’m gone.

The only news outfit that covers crime policy these days and the wrong-headed decisions of the Cook County State’s Attorney and the judges is CWB Chicago.

Lightfoot, Foxx, Preckwinkle and Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans are the undisputed Four Furies of Chicago’s spike in violent crime. Lightfoot deserves the criticism she receives.

But don’t you find it curious that with violent crime being Chicago’s Number 1 issue, the media in this town never, ever seem to hold Toni Preckwinkle to account for how she’s shaped crime policy and schemed to elect Kim Foxx?

And don’t you find it curious that no one seems to ask why? Even among these woke journalists who keep prattling that they “speak truth to power?” Read their Twitter feeds. You’ll see they’re still prattling leftist talking points while insisting it’s journalism.

The media doesn’t mention her. They don’t even look in her direction. Is this due to the internal censorship of cowards? Is it just luck? Or are Toni Preckwinkle and Kim Foxx protected from serious media examination by simple stupidity and laziness?

So violent crime increases in Lightfoot’s “Summer of Joy.” Some 50 people were shot in the street gang wars over the violent Memorial Day weekend. The homeless fellow known as “The Walking Man” waits to die, having had more than 60 percent of his body burned by a self-admitted angry thug carrying a cupful of gasoline. The people lose confidence in Chicago. They avoid downtown.

They understood the politicians would steal from them, but they did expect City Hall would try to keep them safe. Now even that fantasy is lost to them.

And into all this with the winds howling, comes Vallas running for mayor in the 2023 campaign, talking about the need for public safety and judicial review and rebuilding police confidence and school choice.

If challenged about their indifference to the crime spike, look for Lightfoot, Foxx and Preckwinkle to play the race card. It’s what they do. It’s all they do. And media in this town has been letting them get away with it for years.

Does Vallas need to be reminded he’s a white guy? I reminded him anyway. When Vallas and I were little boys in Chicago, Greeks weren’t considered white. But things change in this city of tribes.

“We all talk about tribes,” Vallas said on The Chicago Way. “What’s your tribe? Is it a white tribe? A Latino tribe? Is it a black tribe?

“My tribe is anyone who believes that anyone who lives in Chicago is entitled to live in a community that’s safe and secure,” Vallas said. “That they can have their children playing on their porch and go to the local park without fear.

“My tribe is anyone who believes you shouldn’t be a prisoner of failing schools in your community because you don’t have the financial means to send your child somewhere else. A Constitutional right for school choice.

“My tribe is that anyone who belies that the city is on a tax and spend addiction, making the city more and more unaffordable,” Vallas said. “So, at the end of the day, that’s my tribe.”

Some candidates have already announced their campaigns.  State Rep. Kam Buckner, trying to outrun Lightfoot to the far left–to protect the CTU–is in the race. Businessman Willie Wilson and Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th formally announced their candidacies weeks ago. I think they love Chicago.

But do they have the management chops to run a $28 billion corporation?

Does Lightfoot? No. You already know that answer.

Does Vallas have the management chops? Yes. I think so. He’s been doing this kind of work for decades. Without competent management, the city will collapse. I think he’s demonstrated his abilities, but in the end, that’s not up to me, it’s for voters to decide.

Ultimately, the people of Chicago must decide a simple question:

Do they want the city to live? Or not?

 The insider clique of politicos, money guys and business leaders don’t want Vallas. They’ve never liked him. They can’t buy him, and rather than loose what little control remains to them, they’d let the city go to hell. They don’t need to live here. They flit in and out from palaces far away.

And they’ll end up fronting off other candidates like The White Shadow, perhaps whispering about a White Shadow comeback to their media mouthpieces, or get some other celebrity to run and play their game, hoping to leverage Vallas even as the city collapses around their ears.

They want celebrity and show biz?

Why don’t they ask Oprah to be mayor?

The main event begins. A once-great city is at ringside, watching, horrified, eager, the taxpayers getting spattered.

 Does Chicago get up?

Or does it just stay face down, drooling on the canvas, the arena emptying out, and all you hear are the echoes of shouts and hoots and doors clanging shut as the last souls hit the exits and walk away.

 And all that too, is for the people to decide, in the city of tribes.

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(Copyright 2022 John Kass)