Greek-American Paul Vallas, the former CEO of the Chicago public school system, is among the top candidates for mayor of the Windy City. The 2023 Chicago municipal elections will be held on Feb. 28.
In 2019, Vallas ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago, placing ninth out of fourteen candidates in the first round. Afterward, Vallas endorsed Lori Lightfoot in an election runoff election. In June 2022, Vallas announced his second mayoral candidacy for the 2023 election, challenging Lightfoot.
In a major boost to his candidacy, the influential Chicago Tribune endorsed him. The editorial board of the newspaper said that incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot is their second choice and the candidate they feel should face Vallas in a potential runoff election.
In the endorsement, the Tribune board called Vallas “a smart, passionate and experienced candidate for mayor who long has specialized in doing precisely that.”
The frontrunner for Chicago mayor
Several recent polls suggest Vallas is one of the frontrunners in the mayor’s race, so it’s no surprise he’s coming under attack, but it’s also an indication that this race will be rough and tumble in its final three weeks.
“When you’re a frontrunner you’re always going to become the focus, particularly when people don’t have specific recommendations to make or have anything of substance to offer,” Vallas said.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat from my days from my days going to work form Phil Rock and Dawn Nesch Clarke to the campaigns that I’ve run as a strong pro-labor, pro-choice Democrat,” he said.
Vallas headed Chicago schools from 1995 to 2001 and has served as superintendent for multiple other school districts in New Orleans, Bridgeport, Connecticut and Philadelphia.
In 2001, the New York Times credited him for leading the turnaround of Chicago’s troubled school system which became a national template for urban school reform.
The grandson of Greek immigrants, Vallas grew up in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. He spent his teen years living in Palos Heights.
He graduated from Carl Sandburg High School and attended Moraine Valley Community College and then Western Illinois University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and political science, a master’s degree in political science, and a teaching certificate.
Paul Vallas on Chicago: Education, crime and budget
Vallas’ campaign focuses on three main issues: Education, crime and budget.
As Mayor, Vallas vows to treat education like the civil rights issue that it is. All families will have access to quality education options, regardless of income or ZIP code.
On crime, he says he will ensure that criminals are held accountable so that the city is safe again. Residents in all neighborhoods will feel safe. Suburbanites and tourists will no longer fear traveling downtown.
On finances, he claims he has balanced 14 multi-billion dollar budgets without ever receiving a bailout and secured 13 bond rating upgrades in Chicago alone. He adds that he has negotiated 20+ collective bargaining agreements without a single strike while ensuring fully funded pension systems.
In a recent exclusive interview with the Greek Reporter Vallas said: “There is no other candidate capable to tackle the tough financial situation. I have done it in four different states, and abroad, in Haiti and Chile, where I balanced several multi-billion dollar budgets. I know how to run the city.”
In the same interview just before the 2019 mayoral elections, Vallas expressed his anger over what he called the “pay-to-play political culture” which dominates politics in Chicago and in America overall.
“I am not part of it …The entire government is dominated by this pay-to-play political culture. Elected officials make money on the side,” he told the Greek Reporter.
He said he has one more reason which makes him more determined to work for Chicago; the loss of his youngest son Mark, who died in February of 2018.
“My son lived with drug addictions. He aspired to do social service as a counselor for people who had drug addictions of their own” he explained. After his son’s death, the Greek-American felt “there was more to do.”
Paul Vallas is proud of his Greek heritage
Vallas is proud of his Greek heritage, which has given him a great work ethic. He noted that his father worked until he was over 80 years of age.
“Greeks thrive in every community. We adapt and are accepting. I grew up in a house where I never heard a racial slur.”
Vallas has done extensive work in rebuilding devastated communities around the globe. Along with two-time Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn, he led humanitarian relief efforts and worked in education reform after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed 230,000 people.
The Chicago mayoral candidate was on the board of JP/HRO, an organization caring for 60,000 displaced Haitians over a three-year period that followed the earthquake and a subsequent outbreak of cholera.
In a recent interview with the Greek Reporter, Penn expressed his enormous respect for Vallas and his campaign.
“What he’s got is that will of service, the thing we miss in politics today,” Penn noted.