The speed-talking, reform-minded maverick who was CEO of Chicago Public Schools under Mayor Daley, then lost the 2002 gubernatorial primary to Rod Blagojevich by just 25,000 votes, went on to make a national name rescuing school districts in Philadelphia and New Orleans.
Now, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, he is coming home for good at the end of the year to run for president of the Cook County Board in 2010.
Not as a Democrat, which he has been all his life, but as a Republican.
When I worked for the Illinois legislature back in the 1980s, Vallas served as Director of the Economic & Fiscal Commission. He knew more about state government than any guy I ever met in government and was a true watchdog for the taxpayers. Vallas later served as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's Director of Department of Revenue and then became CEO of the Chicago public schools after the legislature handed oversight of the schools to the Mayor's Office. Vallas made a lot of progress in improving the school system but was thwarted in his efforts by community organizers, including then-State Sen. Barack Obama and his terrorist pal, William Ayers. Frustrated, Vallas moved on to Philadelphia where he won praise from Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendel, a former mayor of Philadelphia and past DNC Chairman. Vallas is currently working with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jendal in rebuilding the New Orleans school system. Vallas ran a very close race for the Democratic nomination for governor in Illinois in 2002 but lost to the machine-backed candidate, Rod Blagojevich.
The GOP's ability to convince Vallas to switch political parties and run as a Republican in what is one of the biggest Democratic counties in the nation and home to President Barack Obama is quite a feat. No Republican has been elected to the office of Cook County Board President since former Gov. Richard Ogilvie was elected to that post nearly 50 years ago. Marin's story notes that Obama's planning committee for last year's Democratic convention in Denver tried to get Vallas as a speaker but he turned them down. Shortly before the November presidential election, Vallas spoke out publicly about the failed efforts of Obama and Ayers in reforming Chicago's public schools through nearly $50 million in funding from the Annenberg Foundation. "There was a total lack of accountability. If you went back and asked, you'd be hard-pressed to find out how the money was spent," said Paul Vallas, the city's school superintendent when Obama chaired the Chicago Annenberg Foundation from 1995 to 1999. "Very little of the money found its way directly into the classroom," Vallas said. Most frustrating, Vallas said, was that Annenberg under Obama and Ayers funded groups that fought his mission, under Mayor Richard Daley, to impose uniform standards and stricter accountability in low-performing schools.