Paul Vallas impersonates Rahm Emanuel for court business

It’s something former Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who ran the Windy City for two terms until 2019 — did particularly well. He famously counted cranes on the city skyline as a marker of his success and lobbied for CME Group Inc. and Cboe Global Markets Inc. to stay when they threatened to abandon a tax break with the state.

“Rahm was very good at selling the image of the city,” Vallas, 69, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Chicago office Thursday. “If you can sell Chicago as a city that’s going to be business-friendly from a regulatory standpoint, I think you can very quickly start to change the image of the city.”

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The third-largest city in the United States has struggled with rising crime that has sparked outrage among residents and business leaders. Billionaire Ken Griffin cited violence and government taxes as reasons for moving his Citadel hedge fund to Miami, while CME chief Terry Duffy recently said his wife had been kidnapped in the city.

Crime statistics

Crime incidents increased 41% last year and are up 33% since 2019, the year Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. Her failure to address crime cost her re-election last month, something that hadn’t happened to an incumbent since 1983. Vallas will now face Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, 46, in an April 4 runoff.

Vallas, who raised nearly $11 million with the help of executives from Citadel and private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, vowed to restaff the police force. Johnson, who ran on the left, raised about $8 million and is focusing on mental health as a central part of his public safety plan.

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As an unfolding banking crisis threatens to lead to a worse-than-expected recession, Vallas said he is the right candidate to steer Chicago through tough economic times. Keeping the economy in check will be crucial for the city, which lost its junk rating last year.

If elected, he plans to present five-year budgets that allow government and business to plan. He also said he would look to the administrations of Emanuel and Richard Daley to fill the position of Chicago’s chief financial officer.

Back to basics

“Chicago needs to get back to basics,” he said. “And what are those fundamentals? Having responsible budgets that don’t increase the cost of doing business in Chicago.”

Vallas cited his experience in the tumultuous 1990s managing the city budget under Daley, leading schools in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans in 2008 at the start of the financial crisis, and heading to post-earthquake Haiti and Chile.

Still, he has been criticized for decisions while leading Chicago Public Schools that may have contributed to the underfunding of the pension fund. In New Orleans, he was called out for closing traditional schools in favor of charters, and in Philadelphia, the school district faced a deficit at the end of his tenure.

“I’ve dealt with crisis situations before,” he said.

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