Can Typhoon Vallas Save the Windy City?
Front runner in Chicago’s mayoral contest has a revolutionary record in education reform.
Should New Yorkers take heart from the defeat of incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago? Are blue-city voters finally fed up with crazy policies that encourage crime and discourage economic prosperity?
From the first-round voting in the mayoral race that just cost Mayor Lightfoot her job, it’s unclear just what kind of typhoon had just struck the Windy City. Or whether voters have shaken off the progressive plague.
Paul Vallas, a tough-on-crime candidate and proven school reformer who was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, won 33.7 percent of the vote, while Brandon Johnson, a former organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, received 20.3 percent and Ms. Lightfoot took 17.1 percent.
Illinois Representative Jesús “Chuy” García, another progressive in the race, captured 13.7 percent of the vote. Overall, then, far-left politics continued to dominate the field. Yes, Lightfoot lost, but she was a terrible mayor — out of touch and incompetent — and she did nothing to curb her city’s downward descent.
Chicago, like New York, has ranked among the top cities in the United States in terms of population loss in recent years, and the Windy City, like the Big Apple, has suffered an appalling crime spike. Already this year, Chicago has seen 70 murders.
Ms. Lightfoot shamefully blamed her defeat on bias against Black women, apparently forgetting that when she was first elected in 2019, with an astounding 74 percent of the vote, she was also a Black female.
Chicago’s population is 33 percent white, 29 percent Black and 29 percent Hispanic. In the upcoming run-off to elect Chicago’s next mayor, voters will choose between Mr. Vallas, who is white, and Brandon Johnson, who is Black.
Mr. Vallas may be at a disadvantage because of Chicago’s racial make-up, but recent polling suggests race will not be determinative. Both Democrats, the two candidates stand miles apart on the key issues, which will include Chicago’s rampant crime and failing public schools.
Mr. Vallas advocates for hiring more cops and detectives, and prioritizing protecting victims and witnesses. He has said he will restore community policing (which was dismantled under the prior administration) and provide Chicago cops the resources — like a forensic crime lab — they need.
Mr. Johnson has in the past called to defund the police. He brags on his website that he fought to “eliminate the gang database,” stresses “police accountability” over protecting victims and says he will attack the “root causes” of crime.
On education the two are similarly poles apart. Mr. Johnson deplores school choice and has worked to dumb down testing of pupils. He parrots the teachers’ unions’ talking points, calling for more money but few reforms. Mr. Johnson seems to advocate “educational justice” over learning.
Mr. Vallas has a compelling education platform, one that could serve as a model for Republicans in New York and across the country. He advocates for school choice and accountability, but leads off with making schools safe.
“Since COVID-19 began, we have lost nearly 200 children to violence, 95 percent of whom were supposed to be in the classroom,” Mr. Vallas notes on his web site. Mr. Vallas also argues that Chicago’s schools (like New York’s) have plenty of money, but too little — only 60 percent — actually reaches the classroom. The remainder, nearly $4 billion, flows to bureaucrats in what Vallas calls the “central office.”
Mr. Vallas insists that inadequate funding does not account for “80 percent of CPS students reading below grade level and less than 15 percent meeting grade proficiency standards.” He calls the diversion of funds away from the classroom “systemic disinvestment” and calls for greater involvement of parents, teachers and other stakeholders in determining where the budget is spent.
Mr. Vallas wants to place schools at the center of communities, keeping them open “well into the evening, weekend and holidays to provide the academic support to make up for lost instructional time.” He also wants to provide work study programs to help keep teens out of trouble.
Vallas has been a long-serving public official, including acting as Chicago’s budget director under Mayor Daley and then as head of the public school system. In that job, he closed a profound budget gap, raised test scores every year, led a widespread building program, fully funded the school system’s pensions and much more – all without any teacher strikes.
So successful was Mr. Vallas in Chicago that he was recruited to turn around Philadelphia’s school system and was then hired to rebuild New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina.
Chicago’s voters have a choice in six weeks: elect a common-sense mayor with a proven track record of fixing what’s broken — Paul Vallas — or stick with the damaging liberal policies endorsed by Brandon Johnson that have driven people away from their city. New Yorkers will be watching.
Ms. Peek is a former partner of Wertheim & Company. Follow her at LizPeek.com.