CHICAGO - After flexing newfound fundraising muscle, mayoral challenger Paul Vallas said Wednesday he will have the campaign cash he needs to shake off the arch-conservative, Republican label some opponents are trying to pin on him.
A former Chicago Public Schools CEO, Vallas said he has $1.82 million cash on hand after a modest third-quarter of fundraising, as well as a "significant spike" in contributions after the Sept. 30 deadline that has added $782,000 and counting to his campaign fund. By the end of the month, he expects to top $2 million and surge past that once the Nov. 26 filing deadline has passed and petition challenges are done.
However, a $500,000 donation from prominent GOP donor and golf course magnate Michael Keiser, combined with Keiser’s role as Vallas’ campaign chair, has created an opening for Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union to attack Vallas as a closet Republican who espouses "extreme Republican positions."
So have the five- and six-figure donations from John Canning and other executives from Madison Dearborn Partners, Ken Griffin’s Citadel and other heavyweights in Chicago’s financial community.
On Wednesday, Vallas branded the "Republican" tag a desperation move by a failing mayor. He noted Keiser and Canning were heavy contributors to two former mayors, Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, as well as former mayoral candidate Bill Daley. As a private attorney, Lightfoot represented Republicans in two cases protesting Democratic gerrymandering, Vallas added.
"She doesn’t have a record, so she’s gonna have to resort to labeling. She’s gonna try to play the race card, the equity card, the Republican card," Vallas told the Sun-Times.
"Crime is out of control in this city. … She gives us a police department that’s been significantly degraded. A school system that has lost 11% student population since she came in, that was closed for 15 months because she caved to the teachers union with devastating consequences. A CTA that is still down 500,000 riders a day since she came into office. And nothing but a few one-off projects on the South and West sides."
With Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, a CTU organizer, poised to enter the mayor’s race, Vallas wears his opposition from the teachers union like a badge of honor. And he may risk more opposition by proposing that scores of Chicago Public Schools buildings now operating more than half-empty forge partnerships with charters and parochial schools if they can’t be turned into business incubators or occupational training centers for young adults.
"Charter schools are not-for-profit public schools. They just don’t have union representation. These are not private schools. Sorry, Chicago Teachers Union. But, that’s the truth," Vallas said.
"The majority of those schools are in sub-standard buildings. … Why couldn’t you invite charter schools that are serving the same community to occupy those vacant buildings or share those … half-empty or 70 or 80 or 90% empty buildings? They’re educating local public school children."
Vallas also waved another red flag in the CTU’s face with his proposals to lengthen the school day and school year and use tax-increment-financing surplus money to create a school voucher program.
CTU President Stacy Davis Gates left little doubt the union that has already endorsed one of its own in Johnson would spare no expense to defeat Vallas.
"Paul Vallas has left a trail of destruction … His track record in leading public education has been destructive and detrimental for Black children, for Brown children and for working-class families. He is unfit to lead anything. Which is probably why he’s unemployed," Davis Gates said.
Vallas’ claim that CTU is responsible for a devastating loss of student learning during the pandemic that can only be made up through a longer school day and school year shows he is "reading from the tired old playbook" of Emanuel and former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Illinois Policy Institute, Davis Gates added.
"We are dealing with the impact of Paul Vallas’ leadership with school closings, with school re-constitution, with delayed pension payments. He is the reason why our budget is imperiled right now," Davis Gates said.
"Ask him about the number of Black women who are unemployed because he thought that firing people, re-constituting schools would actually help. The only thing that it did was destroy community anchors, put Black women out of work and push Black families out of Chicago."