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Political Event 1: Paul Vallas and the non-announcement

Thomas F. Roeser 30 April 2008 No Comment

It was a typical political tease. A proven administrator with boundless energy leaps up to the rostrum and executes an enthusiastic stream-of-consciousness about his goals and objectives. He was greeted with a standing ovation and when he completed his breathless talk, the audience arose to its feet again. Midway in the talk he gave a gentle slip…which was not a slip really but was intended to be such…that if he talked too long he would “lose votes” in the future. Everyone applauded and nodded while he softly declaimed and said it was a slip of the lip. This was Paul Vallas, a friend of mine, at the City Club of Chicago of which I’m chairman. Jay Doherty, City Club president who has instilled energy and vision into the Club had been deeply involved in Vallas’ prior campaign in 2002 for the Democratic nomination—which he lost by inches.

Probably the most significant thing Vallas said was not fully amplified by the media which covered it as a major league event (which it was). At least the major newspapers didn’t cover it. Vallas opined that if…if…he were to run for governor again, he would campaign fore-square for educational choice since he would do nothing for political accommodation that could possibly hurt school children. The heavily Democratic component in the audience did not give him an applause at that point because as everyone knows, the teachers unions have held that party’s educational programs in a hammer lock and vouchers or educational choice…the granting of state aid to students enabling them to go to private or public schools…is regarded as a disincentive to public education by that lobby. I watched Zoe Mikva, the ex-congressman, ex-appellate judge’s wife, at that point. She batted not an eye.

Vallas noticed the air going out of the balloon temporarily (it returned soon after) and leaned across the rostrum and asked me if this means that the Republican party would support his candidacy. Of course! I said but I have no idea really if it would. There are other things of interest to Republicans than vouchers or educational choice. Social programs are one and in his race in 2002 Vallas didn’t budge on abortion or any of the issues of interest to social conservatives—but it is fair to say neither did he as a candidate hustle them with the energy that Rod Blagojevich did.

Nevertheless, there are several aspects about the Vallas presumptive candidacy that are interesting.

First, he makes it clear that he will finish his contract as chief of public schools in New Orleans before he can decide his future. That contract ends next year which is coincident with the year’s grace that a candidate will have to have to run an acceptable campaign for governor in 2010. He is interested in appearing on my radio show via telephone hookup at a future time which of course would be highly appropriate. But his signaling his likely intentions now will lead House Speaker Mike Madigan who has a daughter potentially in this race to…do what?

Second, Paul Vallas was an outstanding campaigner in 2002 with one flaw. It was his refusal to fly. He despises flying; it is a phobia that grips many people. But the 2002 campaign was severely limited by this malady…if I can call it that. Transporting a candidate downstate and then back to northern Illinois is insuperable with wheels and not aircraft. I suppose one could negotiate it by scheduling events at a clump here and downstate so he accomplishes them in a workmanlike way. But as all of us who have been in campaigns now, events…my dear boy…events…occur that necessitate quick trips to Chicago or other outlying sections of the state. Finally, were he to become governor, how would he handle necessary trips on occasion to Washington, D. C., to testify in behalf of, meet with key agency heads. Would he have to be driven there? Is it possible he can overcome this severe disinclination to fly?

Third, magnificently equipped candidate he is…a former city budget chief, a former top aide on budget to Sen. Phil Rock who was the longest-serving state senate president…what about financing his campaign? Paul Vallas is not an independently wealthy man. We know the perils that befall campaign funding especially in this cesspool environment that Rod Blagojevich has left as legacy. If he runs again (barring an indictment) the governor will have a hefty fund of many millions for his campaign. Dollars are not the indispensable ingredient but how will Paul…a clean, honest, I believe incorruptible man…manage in the battle for funds?

Fourth, I suppose I should know this but the legend of how Paul Vallas improved the Chicago school system has not dawned on me yet. I always keep hearing how the grade scores are mired in mediocrity. I am not aware that for all the hard work Paul has provided, the city schools are a shining exemplar…are they? Or am I wrong?

Fifth, was his overture made from the rostrum that perhaps…just perhaps…there could be a place for him in the Republican party, an intriguing flirt—or does it have substance? There are several well-qualified names that have been raised as Republican candidates. If it is to be assumed that a Vallas would have to face a hefty battery of challengers in the Democratic side, it is also to be ascertained that he would face a group of similarly equipped people on the Republican side. If he is serious about a party switch…and I frankly don’t think for a second he is…he has to weigh the alternatives.

I suppose it is always great to have a policy wonk run for office because you know he won’t be controlled by other policy wonks. For that reason, I would love to see Paul Vallas run and be opposed by a Republican policy wonk who would not need to resort to bumper-sticker mentality to get his points across.

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