To inform voters, the Chicago Tribune politics team posed a series of questions to the candidates running for mayor of Chicago. See their answers below. See how other candidates answered here.
Name: Paul Vallas
Personal: Married to Sharon Vallas, two adult children, Gus and Paul Jr. Son Mark died in 2018.
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, both at Western Illinois University
Current job: Consultant, The Bronner Group
Government experience: Executive director of Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission (1985-90); Chicago city revenue director (1990-93); Chicago city budget director (1993-95); CEO of Chicago Public Schools (1995-2001); superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools (2002-07); superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans (2007-11); worked in post-earthquake school districts in Haiti and Chile (2010-12); superintendent of schools in Bridgeport, Conn. (2012-14); chief administrative officer, Chicago State University (2017-18)
Political experience: Lost narrowly to Rod Blagojevich in the 2002 Democratic primary for governor, coming in second in a field that also included Roland Burris. As Lieutenant Governor running mate to Gov. Pat Quinn, lost in the 2016 general election to Republicans Bruce Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. Finished 9th in the 2019 Chicago mayoral election in a field of 14.
Do you support sending more local funding to the CTA or other public transit agencies as relief funding runs out by 2025?
YES / NO
What plans would you implement to improve the Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train service as well as other avenues of transportation, including automobiles and bikes?
The CTA is doomed unless it gets a handle on public safety. According to the WBEZ Poll released, almost half of the people riding the CTA feel that it is not safe. The reality is that the fare box is now down to 18% of the operating budget which means the CTA, which is already facing enormous debt, has further potential fall out looming. Therefore, I will ensure safety on the CTA by:
Re-purposing the $100 million currently spent on failed private security to bolster and develop a full CPD Transit Division, as is done in other major cities. Safe streets and sidewalks in a Vallas administration will count as safe platforms and tracks, with the Transit Division operating with the beat integrity I will restore in neighborhoods across the city.
Utilize basic and cost-effective digital technology, relying on the demonstrated benefits of crowd-sourcing through the creation and implementation of an app so that riders can send messages about safety and service issues. Equally important is making sure that data is posted to a public portal to drive true accountability and accessibility.
Work with state and regional agencies toward greater operational linkage and integration of regional public transportation agencies. In doing so, we need to prioritize the promotion of a broader, holistic, multi-modal transportation ethos and Transit Oriented Development informed by neighborhood residents themselves.
Do you support a ban on closing any Chicago public schools even as school populations continue to decline?
YES / NO
CPS will be transitioning to a fully elected school board in 2027. How do you see the financial entanglements between the city and CPS going forward?
I look forward to working with the elected school board. I have a number of objectives that need to occur during this transition and the first is to radically decentralize the system so the money goes to the local schools and classrooms for instruction and co-curricular programming. At present, only 60% of funding reaches schools and classrooms, which in itself is an unconscionable form of disinvestment in our children that I will swiftly remedy. Second, I will work with Springfield to move state payments per student to CPS into parity with payments to downstate districts that will free the city from a significant portion of its financial support for CPS (with those funds being then redirected to shoring up gravely underfunded city pensions.
Do you support reopening all of the closed city mental health centers to help with a citywide crisis response program?
YES / NO
If you answered yes, how would you pay for reopening the health centers? If you answered no, why do you think reopening the health centers is unnecessary?
I will improve the city’s billing and collection processes so that the city receives the appropriate amounts due from public and private insurance programs so that you can not only fund the reopened health centers but also expand the number of facilities and services citywide. Through the payments received from Medicare/Medicaid and private insurance the mental health clinics will be financially sustainable.
Do you think Chicagoans feel safer today than they felt four years ago?
YES / NO
Why do you think Chicagoans feel either less or more safe and what is the single-biggest policy change you would make as mayor dealing with crime?
Terrible leadership has led to Chicagoans feeling less safe. This leadership abandoned the strategy of community policing and allowed the police department to be degraded by not filing police vacancies. The current administration has destroyed officer morale by egregious amounts of overtime. Real leadership is speaking to the people on the basis of their lived reality rather than deceptively spinning crime statistics that denies that reality. My first and primary order of business is to replace Superintendent Brown and his team with a leadership team promoted from within, that will, among other urgent changes, will reinstate the operational priorities of former Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck. Namely, priorities that put district staffing at full strength, better assured response to all high priority 911 calls, and resurrected community-based policing – with the structural commitment to a fully staffed and resourced Office of Reform Management needed to meet full compliance with Consent Decree obligations.
Do you think the level of compliance for the Chicago Police Department consent decree is progressing at an appropriate pace?
YES / NO
What will you do specifically to ensure that the consent decree for the Chicago Police Department is fully implemented in a timely manner? Do you support any amendments to the consent decree?
First, I will ask for and personally join, accompanied by my police leadership team and my Corporation Counsel, a meeting with the Consent Decree Monitor, the federal court judge, and all of the parties for a candid discussion about the observations and collective insights developed from the first four years of the Consent Decree in an effort to level-set relationships and expectations. I believe that there are structural, administrative and management issues that factor into the City’s poor Consent Decree compliance record that need to be discussed by all parties. Poor data and record management, deeply failed preferential hiring practices (the so-called “friends and family” merit selection process that has led to people being promoted without proper credentials), lax performance evaluations that stifle officer and leadership growth and development, a disproportionate supervisor ratio between sergeants and and officers, and the absence of the necessary internal reform infrastructure needed for sustained enterprise-wide continuous improvement are key, among others. I would seek to open a discussion about a recalibration and re-sequencing of Consent Decree requirements so that the City moves beyond its current box-checking approach to reporting period requirements to a modality that sustains and reinforces Consent Decree mandated reforms. Additionally, I will implement a strategy to fill police vacancies as well as developing a CPD Reserve force of certified officers that can support the CPD in times of crisis or staffing difficulties.
Restore the supervisory rank of 1 sergeant for every 10 officers, another item recommended under the consent decree.
Aggressively address the professional development mandates while at the same time building a collection of training officers from the ranks of the retirees that can provide newer police officers with mentoring and coaching.
Fast track, regardless of any current timetable the mental health mandates in the consent decree with a focus on implementing the mental health reforms brought forth by Alexa James.
Fast track the resurrection of true community policing, which Chicago once pioneered and then abandoned so that it is applied as a philosophy integrated into all aspects of the Department rather than a program bolted on to existing operations.
I will treat and demand as a qualification for my hire of a new Superintendent the treatment of the Consent Decree as a floor rather than a ceiling, as a prompt rather than an excuse, and promote an understanding in the community and among the rank and file that the Consent Decree is a guide to best in-class professionalization and support for officers.
Do you support amending city tax subsidies for corporations?
YES / NO
What plans do you propose for helping Chicago’s economy recover?
First, we must address the issues around public safety so individuals feel safe going out to the businesses in our city. Second, by using a part of the uncommitted COVID money I will provide additional relief to those companies most impacted by the city’s COVID mitigation and the civil unrest we saw across the city. Finally, I will cap local individual and business property taxes to protect against sudden increases in assessments on property that have not been improved and the effects of gentrification.
Do you support reforming or abolishing some city fines or fees?
YES / NO
If yes, name three fees or fines issued by the city of Chicago you would alter or abolish, including red light or speed cameras? If no, why do you feel that the current status of taxes and fees issued by the city of Chicago is fair?
I would phase out red light cameras, speed cameras and water fees.
Do you think the city has kept its promises to residents as it has redeveloped public housing over the past 22 years?
YES / NO
How will you address housing issues and people without homes in Chicago and what is your vision for the Chicago Housing Authority?
I believe the Chicago Housing Authority should be brought under the authority of the CIty’s Building Department to ensure accountability and a better working relationship between the CHA and the city. Secondly, you need to take steps to expand the housing market, by making more housing available so that we can bring the cost of the housing market down. Third, we need to cap property taxes to protect Chicagoans from being priced out of their homes in gentrified areas and drive rents up beyond the means of our most vulnerable populations. Fourth, I will work to create garden unit apartments that can bring affordable housing into the market immediately. Lastly the city needs to take ownership of abandoned apartment buildings, renovate them and turn them over to housing advocates and community based organizations so that we can meet the housing needs of individual communities. As well as supporting emergency housing for victims of domestic violence, those who are experiencing homelessness and even families recently migrating into the city.
Do you support reinstating a city Department of Environment?
YES / NO
If not, why not? If so, how will you make sure it functions better than the previous DOE that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel disbanded?
I will ensure that the Department of Environment has the following that will make it effective. First, it needs to have full cabinet level status so that it is co-equal to other departments and with respect to environmental, resiliency and sustainability objectives it has superior convening and decision-making authority. Second, it will be overseen by a new Community Environmental Council to assist in prioritization of enforcement and planning to meet community needs. Third, I will immediately assess and rectify existing underfunded enforcement mandates with an initial focus on historically neglected communities that have been and continue to be the victims of environmental degradation and injustice. Fourth, I will charge it with the responsibility of approaching environmental assessment studies from a mandatory aggregate impact approach that will end the transactional approach that perpetuates the environmental and public health injury to communities proximate to heavy industry. Fifth, allocate money whose use will be left to the discretion of that office – exercised on the basis of duly promulgated standards, community engagement and public hearings – dedicated to the effects of climate change, lead and other contaminants in the drinking water, food desserts, and the promotion of urban agriculture in our abundant open community spaces.
Do you support banning mayors and aldermen from receiving campaign contributions from city contractors or their executives?
YES / NO
How would you improve the city’s ethics laws, including whether you would tighten restrictions on individuals tied to city contractors not being allowed to contribute to the campaigns of mayors or aldermen?
City government is bedeviled by a transactional approach to “ethics reform” that all but guarantees the perpetuation of our increasingly toxic history and culture of corruption. What distinguishes Chicago from other cities is not what happens that is illegal, but what happens that is perfectly legal. In the wake of a fresh scandal, Chicago’s elected officials too often congratulate themselves for passing “ethics reforms” that more often than not are a least common denominator reaction to what just occurred. The end result is an ecosystem that casts as ethical anything that is not illegal and that from a public perspective yields outcomes that are not aligned with our civic values. I would prompt a re-visioned Board of Ethics that is more transparent and more proactive in undertaking periodic holistic evaluations of our ethics and the expectation that it proactively introduce ethics legislation. I am open to the tightening of limitations on the types of contributions referenced above if they would achieve equal outcomes to an outright ban, but rather than just impose my will I would engage the city council in this discussion, draw upon the expertise of the Board of Ethics, spur public hearings to receive community input and come to a fully informed conclusion together.
Do you think enough has been done about aldermanic privilege in which aldermen have final say over projects in their wards?
YES / NO
If not, what specific changes would you make to ensure aldermen and alderwomen don’t abuse their zoning authority as many have in the past?
The aldermen provide valuable insight to the community they represent. Aldermanic privilege is a courtesy and not something that has to be legislated. I do not think the Aldermen should have veto power but can play a critical role in providing input. I will treat the city council as a co-equal branch of government. I will provide the City Council with a truly independent autonomous budget office that has the capacity to do in depth analyses as well as has a clearly defined role in the budgetary timeline. We also need to create a number of additional committees to provide additional oversight.
Do you think city government is appropriately transparent?
YES / NO
How would you improve transparency in city government, including responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and responding to decisions made by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
If we are being honest, we must acknowledge FOIA is a legal regime that is honored in the breach and, thus, warrants a reset at the state and local level. In the meantime, I would improve transparency in the following ways over time. First, I would create a resourced Public Information Advocate with an associated Community Advisory Board to develop and implement a set of principles and standards that would publicly delineate the types of information that are presumptively public. On that basis, I would, while rigorously maintaining the protections of certain categories of information mandated by federal and state law – such as privacy, employment, health and personal financial information, among others – work towards proactive transparency. With respect to data, I would bring to enterprise scale the data transparency portal of the City’s Office of Inspector General. The City public data portal has long included FOIA log. That public portal should be expanded to include the City’s responses – whether they be objections or productions, and information on determinations by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, including production dates for information the ILAG directs be disclosed. Information provided to one requester should be forevermore readily accessible (and searchable) by members of the public, rather than the current modality that requires each interested person to make their own request, even for information deemed and produced as public in the past. I would further charge the Public Information Advocate with submitting an annual report to the City Council Ethics Committee on the foregoing, including the City’s performance in making timely productions in response to non-appealed rulings of the ILAG.
Do you support additional city building code enforcement policies, including toughening the building scofflaw list?
YES / NO
The Tribune and Better Government Association won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in local reporting by showing that more than 60 Chicagoans, many of them Black, died in fires where the city knew of fire safety issues in the building but failed to act in time. We found tenants cannot rely on the city to effectively enforce safety codes designed to protect them from fire. How will you address these issues?
We need to do a comprehensive evaluation of our building codes and hold those accountable who do not comply with building codes that are designed to keep people safe. The current Administration’s principle response to an Office of Inspector General audit finding an abysmal performance record in conducting timely inspections of potentially dangerous violations was simply to legislate a longer response time but without public record on the basis for that change and its potential impact on public safety, including the safety of other city employees, such as firefighters, who are called upon to go into unsafe buildings, sometimes with disastrous and even fatal consequences. The comprehensive evaluation I would order would seek to align code mandates and inspection regimes with public safety outcomes, drawing on national best practices, and then assure that historically underfunded regulatory inspection mandates are properly resourced. In this fashion we would eliminate building codes mandates that no longer have positive impact on public safety while fully enforcing those that do, to the collective benefit of the public, owners and developers.
Do you support ending the city’s policy of providing security detail for former Chicago mayors?
YES / NO
More than a decade since he left office, former Mayor Richard M. Daley still has a police detail. Chicago is the only city that still does that for former mayors. How long should former Chicago mayors receive police security and a driver from the city?
It needs to be done on a case by case basis from a rigorous security and risk assessment conducted no less than annually.