Paul Gust Vallas (VAL-iss; born June 10, 1953) is an American politician and former education superintendent. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools and the Recovery School District of Louisiana, the CEO of both the School District of Philadelphia and the Chicago Public Schools, and a budget director for the city of Chicago.
Vallas is a candidate in the 2023 City of Chicago mayoral election. He finished first in the first round on February 28 and therefore advanced to the runoff election which occurs on April 4, 2023, against Brandon Johnson.
Early life and career
The grandson of Greek immigrants, Vallas grew up in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. He spent his teen years living in Palos Heights. He graduated from Carl Sandburg High School and attended Moraine Valley Community College and then Western Illinois University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and political science, a master’s degree in political science, and a teaching certificate.
CEO of Chicago Public Schools
Vallas served as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from 1995 to 2001. The position of CEO of the Chicago Public School system had been created by Mayor Richard M. Daley after he convinced the Illinois State Legislature to place CPS under mayoral control.
During his tenure at CPS, Vallas led an effort to reform the school system. President Bill Clinton cited his work for raising test scores, balancing the budget, instituting several new programs, including mandatory summer school and after-school programs, and expanding alternative, charter, and magnet schools.
Vallas also originated and supported a proposal to reallocate money earmarked for teacher pensions into a general operating budget, which, alongside a decrease in returns from the stock market and an increasing number of retirees caused CPS to be unable to make their full payments on time in later years. This has been identified as an inciting incident for the subsequent $1 billion budget crisis, attributed largely to spiking pension payments in later years. 
In June 2001, Vallas announced his resignation. His departure came two weeks after the resignation of Gery Chico, the president of the Chicago Board of Education. Both of their resignations came soon after several failing standardized testing scores eliminated the improvements to test scores that had been experienced over the previous two years. This loss of progress in test scores had angered Mayor Daley.
CEO of the School District of Philadelphia
As CEO, he presided over the nation’s largest experiment in privatized management of schools, with the management of over 40 schools turned over to outside for-profits, nonprofits, and universities beginning in Fall 2002.
Vallas left the job in June 2007 to take a position in Louisiana. Upon his departure, Vallas was described by Philadelphia Magazine as the, “most effective Philadelphia schools chief in a generation”. A study published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government concluded, “the average student at schools managed by for-profit firms learned more in math than would be expected had the schools remained under district management.” A RAND study of Philadelphia’s privatization found that the achievement gains in Philadelphia’s privately managed schools were on average no different from district-wide gains, nor were they substantially greater than those of other low-achieving schools in the state. In particular, schools that stayed under district management but received additional resources similar to those managed by for-profit firms showed directly comparable increases in math.
Superintendent Recovery School District of Louisiana
While working in New Orleans, Vallas advised efforts to rebuild Haiti‘s school system following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. His work in Haiti led actor Sean Penn to request that Vallas join his J/P Haitian Relief Foundation CORE’s board of directors, which Vallas accepted. Vallas also worked in post-earthquake school matters in Chile. His work in Chile and Haiti ultimately lasted from 2012 until 2014.
Superintendent of Bridgeport Public Schools
In June 2013, Vallas became the permanent superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools. In July, Connecticut Superior Court Justice Barbara Bellis ordered Vallas removed from the position after he neglected to complete mandated coursework and certification. Vallas stepped down on November 8, 2013 in order to run for lieutenant governor of Illinois in the following year’s election.
Chicago State University
In January 2017, Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner appointed Vallas to a vacant seat on the board of trustees of Chicago State University. Rauner’s appointment of Vallas surprised some, as they had previously been political rivals. Rauner recommended that Vallas be made board chairman, despite the board having already elected a chairman months earlier. Instead, Vallas was made board secretary. Weeks after the appointment, Rauner recommended that Vallas be made a crisis manager for the University. This was not done.
After the university announced their intent to hire a new interim president as well as create and fill a position of chief administrative officer, Rauner recommended Vallas as his choice to serve as the interim president of Chicago State University. The board allowed for Vallas to apply for the two positions, but only once he stepped down from his position on their board. Objections were raised to the prospect of Vallas serving as president, with criticisms including objections to Rauner’s level of involvement in choosing Vallas and other criticism opposing appointing Vallas, who is white to lead a largely African-American university. In April, the university’s board of trustees chose to appoint Rachel Lindsey as interim president, and appointed Vallas to serve as chief administrative officer. He served in the position during 2017 and 2018. In late-January 2018, after it became known that Vallas intended to leave the job to run for mayor of Chicago, the university’s board dismissed him and expressed anger towards him, accusing him of using his position at the university to bolster his political prospects. Vallas had served only half the time that his contract with the university specified.
2002 campaign for governor of Illinois
Main article: 2002 Illinois gubernatorial election
Following his tenure at CPS, Vallas ran for governor of Illinois as a Democrat. Vallas placed second in the Democratic primary in March 2002, losing to then Rep. Rod Blagojevich and running ahead of former state attorney general Roland Burris.
2010 elections possible candidacies
During his tenure as superintendent in Louisiana, he floated the possibility of running for office back in Illinois, but ultimately did not pursue either race. On April 28, 2008 he appeared before the City Club of Chicago and on Chicago news shows discussing a possible run for governor in 2010.
In February 2009, Vallas gave an interview to Carol Marin in the Chicago Sun-Times and stated that he planned to return to Cook County, Illinois in 2009 and run as a Republican for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in the 2010 race, forming an exploratory committee. On June 11, 2009, Vallas announced that he would not be a candidate for President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2010. Vallas stated that he could not “begin a political campaign while trying to finish what he started—rebuild the school system there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”
2014 campaign for Illinois lieutenant governor
Main article: 2014 Illinois gubernatorial election
In November 2013, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn tapped Vallas to be his running mate in the 2014 election, after incumbent lieutenant governor Sheila Simon chose to run for Comptroller. Quinn and Vallas lost the election to the Republican ticket of Bruce Rauner and Evelyn Sanguinetti.
2019 Chicago mayoral candidacy
Main article: 2019 Chicago mayoral election
Vallas marching in the 2019 Chicago Pride Parade
In March 2018, Vallas formally filed to become a candidate in the 2019 Chicago mayoral election.
When he entered the race, Vallas was seen to be a potentially strong opponent to incumbent Rahm Emanuel, who was seeking reelection at the time. In September, Emanuel dropped out of the race, and the field for mayor grew, with many more high-profile candidates entering the race.
Among the numerous candidates to enter the race after Emanuel withdrew was Gery Chico, Vallas’s one-time political ally, with whom he oversaw Chicago Public Schools. Vallas had endorsed Chico for mayor in 2011. Despite this history, Vallas did not hesitate to criticize Chico as a mayoral opponent.
Vallas staked a large part of his candidacy on his record as head of Chicago Public Schools, arguing that he helped to turn around the school system and that his leadership left the system in better shape. Vallas claimed that the Chicago Public Schools were healthier under his leadership than they were in 2019. PolitiFact rated this claim as “mostly true”.
Vallas in December 2018
Vallas was endorsed by Deborah Lynch, former president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Rocky Wirtz, chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks, was a major campaign donor to Vallas. Vallas also received a rare mayoral endorsement from the Chicago Republican Party. Chicago Republican Party Chair Chris Cleveland called Vallas the “lesser of 13 evils.” Vallas welcomed the endorsement, commenting, “This is a non-partisan election and I’m running for mayor to represent all Chicagoans. I’ve traveled to every ward and met with every constituency. The crisis that Chicago faces affects all citizens. I thank the Republican committee for their confidence in my candidacy.” Former Republican governor Bruce Rauner commented in an interview that, of those running, Vallas, “might make the best mayor.”
In the first round of the election, Vallas placed ninth out of fourteen candidates, receiving 30,236 votes (5.43% of the votes cast). Failing to advance to the runoff, Vallas endorsed Lori Lightfoot.
Vallas’s campaign sent unsolicited text messages. The campaign employed North Carolina-based firm Link2Tek to accomplish this. In mid-January 2019, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Vallas campaign, alleging that it had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which prohibits calling or texting a person using an automatic telephone dialing system without their consent. Vallas accused the lawsuit of being, “a dirty trick” orchestrated by the “political machine”. A motion by Link2Tek (a co-defendant in the lawsuit) to dismiss the lawsuit was denied in August 2020.
2023 Chicago mayoral candidacy
Main article: 2023 Chicago mayoral election
In June 2022, Vallas announced his candidacy for mayor again in the 2023 election, challenging incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Vallas was a critic of the Lightfoot administration over what he characterized as her lack of accountability in the rise of crime and violence in the city.
Vallas’s campaign staff includes a number of nationally prominent consultants, including Joe Trippi as its senior strategist and media advisor Vallas’s campaign also employs pollster Mark Mellman.
The month that he launched his campaign, Vallas appeared at a fundraising event for Awake IL, a political not-for-profit that has been criticized for its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. In August 2022, Vallas condemned the group saying “I am a lifelong Democrat who has spent my entire adult life fighting hateful rhetorical and hateful groups.” His claim of being a “lifelong Democrat” was called into question by some, who pointed to campaign contributions from prominent Republican donor Michael Keiser and Chicago Board of Elections records listing Vallas as having voted in the 2022 Republican Party primary election. The Chicago Board of Elections later told reporters that Vallas had not voted in the Republican primary, and records that showed him as having done so were due to a “coding error.”
Vallas has centered his candidacy on the issue of crime. Vallas has also promised that he would extend both the length of the school day and the school year. He has also pledged that he would give “100% choice” to parents as to what schools their children attend.
Vallas is the only white, non-Hispanic candidate on the ballot in the 2023 mayoral election. Seven of the other candidates are Black, while one is Latino. Edward Robert McClelland of Chicago magazine remarked that his being the sole White candidate means that, unlike in the 2019 mayoral election, “[Vallas] doesn’t have to share that constituency with Bill Daley, Jerry Joyce, or Garry McCarthy.” McClelland also regarded Vallas to be running as a police-friendly candidate. Similarly, Justin Kaufman of Axios opined that Vallas is “the candidate most likely to court the police and firefighter vote.” Vallas received the endorsement of Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lodge, which serves as the city’s police union.
Many view Vallas as being either a conservative or politically moderate candidate. He has been characterized as conservative compared to other candidates running for mayor. He has received significant campaign donations from sources considered politically conservative. Lightfoot and fellow candidate Chuy García sought to cast Vallas as aligned with the Republican Party. During the campaign, Lightfoot has characterized Vallas as being her most conservative challenger. Lightfoot and García both have accused Vallas of being inadequately pro-choice, despite Vallas having a past record of claiming to be pro-choice and past endorsements from Planned Parenthood and Personal PAC during his 2002 gubernatorial and 2014 lieutenant gubernatorial campaigns. They have pointed to a 2009 interview in which Vallas declared himself to be “more of a Republican than a Democrat because, fundamentally, I oppose abortion”, and stated that “if I were to run for office again, I would run as a Republican”. Another line of attack for Lightfoot and García has been Vallas’s relationship with and endorsement from the city’s police union. Lightfoot has characterized Vallas’s FOP endorsement as undermining Vallas’s claim to have been a “lifelong Democrat”. García has cast Vallas’s closeness to the FOP as indicating that there would be “no police accountability” under a Vallas mayoralty. García has also derided the police union as being “far right“.
By early February, polls showed Vallas to be among the front-runners. In early February, Vallas received the endorsement of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune. Soon after, Vallas faced allegations that his permanent residence was actually in Palos Heights, Illinois rather than Chicago after an investigative report by WTTW-TV based upon reported tax filings, raising questions of Vallas’s legal eligibility to hold the office of mayor of Chicago. Allegations were also raised about potential property tax improprieties by Vallas and his wife, with the Vallases being accused of illegally claiming two properties as their primary residence. On February 23, the Tribune released a report on an investigation of Vallas’ Twitter account, showing that it had liked several tweets that “used racist language, supported controversial police tactics like ‘stop-and-frisk‘ or insulted the mayor in personal terms.” Vallas denied liking the tweets and claimed that his account had been hacked.
In 2002, before being appointed CEO of Philadelphia’s school district, Vallas was one of several applicants seeking appointment as Illinois superintendent of education.
In 2020, Vallas served as an unpaid consultant to Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police police union during contract negotiations with the city of Chicago, playing a role in the negotiations. The Union’s head, John Catanzara, touted Vallas’s presence at negotiation with assisting the police union’s bargaining.
Paul Vallas is the Co-chair of the Advisory Board for the National Education Support Network. According to them, Vallas was the lead consultant on “a plan to create, finance, and operationalize the first publicly funded school system in Haiti.” On Thursday, September 9, 2021, “The Arkansas Board of Education… gave final approval to four open-enrollment charter schools to begin operations in 2022 and 2023.” Vallas was “one of the chief planners” for the Arkansas Military and First Responders Academy in Pulaski County, Arkansas. That school was proposed to the Arkansas Department of Education on March 31, 2020, by Rick W. Mills of the National Education Support Network, with an enrollment size that it would eventually be planned to accept (600 students vs 800 students).
Vallas and his wife, Sharon Vallas, have three children, Gus, Mark, and Paul Jr. In 2018, Vallas’s son Mark died as a result of opioid abuse. Vallas’ campaign also claims that he has “done education systems-turnaround work in Sudan and Pakistan.”