Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said he is “disappointed” in the Fraternal Order of Police for inviting Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to address city cops.
Vallas, who has been endorsed by the controversial union that represents most of Chicago’s rank-and-file police officers, has been under fire for his ties to the FOP and conservative supporters but released a statement aimed at quelling those concerns.
“I wholeheartedly agree with (Illinois Gov. J.B.) Pritzker that there is simply no place in Chicago for a right-wing extremist like Ron DeSantis, and I am disappointed in FOP leadership for inviting him to speak to officers,” Vallas said in a statement. ”DeSantis’ record of trying to erase the LGBTQ community, banning books on Black history and much more is not in line with my values, the values of our community, or the values of the rank and file police officers who I believe have no interest in getting swept up in culture wars and national Republican Party politics.”
In the statement, Vallas said he wants to “build trust between all of Chicago’s communities and the police by holding everyone accountable, because that is the only way we can make our city safer.” The FOP’s decision to invite DeSantis, Vallas said, “makes that job harder.”
Vallas’ association with Chicago’s FOP has been a recurring controversy. As he makes his second bid for Chicago mayor and proclaims himself a “lifelong Democrat,” Vallas has pivoted to run on law-and-order and other themes that have drawn support from conservatives in the city and state.
While Vallas doesn’t want to lose conservative supporters — many on the Northwest and Southwest sides who could propel him past the Feb. 28 election into a runoff — he also can’t alienate the rest of the city if he wants to win on April 4.
As Vallas tries to strike that balance, he has faced attacks from rivals that he’s truly a Republican, a charge they hope will sink his campaign. Vallas has responded by defending his record and arguing he has only ever run for office as a Democrat, despite flirting with a Republican campaign for Cook County Board president in 2010.
Still, Vallas has drawn criticism for his associations with conservatives, including firebrand FOP President John Catanzara. Catanzara retired from the Chicago Police Department while facing potential termination after a career as one of the department’s most disciplined officers. He has also made numerous offensive statements, including defending Jan. 6 protesters in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection and comparing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate to the Holocaust.
Catanzara is also a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and regularly appeared at City Council meetings in a Trump jersey.
Vallas has repeatedly sidestepped questions about his support from the FOP and Catanzara by saying the endorsement “comes from the rank-and-file” and argued it will help him implement reforms.
“Because I have the support of the rank-and-file, I’m going to be able to do things when it comes to police accountability and implementing the consent decree,” Vallas said. “I’m talking about the rank-and-file police. You’ll have to deal with the FOP if you’re going to have real progress.”
While attempting to position himself as a centrist rather than a right-winger, Vallas has made other moves. He has repeatedly criticized Lightfoot for not firing an officer who Inspector General Deborah Witzburg said should be terminated because of false statements about his associations with the Proud Boys hate group. The officer received a suspension from the police department, which Lightfoot defended as an appropriate punishment in that case.
DeSantis is due to appear Monday at an invite-only FOP event in Elmhurst.