Another one of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s former opponents is jumping in the race to unseat her in 2023.
Paul Vallas — former city budget director and public schools chief — said his campaign will focus on improving public safety, expanding school choice, and fixing city finances.
“I’m running because the city is in crisis,” Vallas told WBEZ. “I have the skills and the experience to provide the leadership that the city desperately needs.”
Vallas ran for Chicago mayor in 2019 and finished ninth out of 14 candidates with 5 percent of the vote, after which he endorsed Lightfoot’s candidacy. He said the dynamics were different then with corruption and not public safety being a top issue for voters. The crowded field “significantly diminished” his ability to fundraise, Vallas added.
This time, Vallas said, he will build a coalition with police and other first responders, school choice advocates, and people who are fed up with the “tax and waste cycle that has characterized the budget in Chicago.”
As of now, Vallas is jumping into a smaller field of candidates too. He joins three others who have formally announced: State Rep. Kambium ‘Kam’ Buckner (D-Chicago), Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, and businessman Willie Wilson, who also ran against Lightfoot in 2019. Former police union president John Catanzara has also said he wants to run against Lightfoot.
Lightfoot has yet to formally announce she is seeking re-election, but has made it clear she intends to run for another term. At the end of March, she had $1.7 million in the bank and in the last two months, she’s raised more than $200,000, according to campaign finance records. The election is Feb. 28, 2023.
In an interview with WBEZ, Vallas said Chicago is in a “meltdown” right now and said he has three priorities: public safety, school choice and financial stability.
“The police department is disintegrating,” he said, noting the Memorial Day weekend violence hitting its highest level in five years. “Being a Chicago police officer is no longer something that people who are interested in law enforcement aspire to… and that’s a very, very dangerous situation.”
Vallas also criticized Lightfoot for expanding the city budget and being overly reliant on COVID-19 relief and recovery money. He echoed much of what he also wrote in an op-ed published by the Chicago Tribune Tuesday, in which he called out the city’s “fuzzy math” and advocated for the creation of a City Council budget office that could serve as a check on the current budget office, whose leaders are appointed by the mayor.
Vallas frequently writes op-eds in local media outlets, outlining what he sees as problems or errors made by current city officials. For example, he lambasted Lightfoot’s change to the citywide curfew and restrictions in Millennium Park last week and earlier this month, he outlined what he thinks the police should do to prevent “mayhem downtown.”
Most recently, Vallas served as an advisor to the Fraternal Order of Police, but the bulk of his career has been in education. Vallas served as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001 under Mayor Richard M. Daley. He ran in the Democratic primary for Governor in 2002, but was unsuccessful. He went on to run school districts in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn. His consulting firm, The Vallas Group, also did relief work with schools in Haiti after a massive earthquake in 2010.
As mayor, Vallas said he supports expanding school choice, including giving parents “the financial means to have their kids attend parochial private schools” and allowing communities “to demand better school models.”
In 2014, Vallas ran for lieutenant governor with then-incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, but the duo lost to Republican Bruce Rauner. In 2017, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Vallas to the board of directors for Chicago State University alongside three other new members, including Buckner. Vallas later moved into the role of Chief Administrative Officer, but the board terminated his contract in 2018.
Becky Vevea covers city hall for WBEZ. Follow @beckyvevea.