Former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas is busy working his magic in Philadelphia's classrooms; while supporters here ask, "When are you coming home?" His brother even checked residency laws, to see if the man who nearly beat the governor last time... could take him on again. Paul Vallas may be out of town, but he still sounds a little like a local candidate... in tonight's Closer Look.
Suppelsa: Do you remember the night you were watching the election returns?
Vallas: I know I was up by fifteen percent. I actually took a nap. I went to sleep and when I got up again, I was up by nine percent. I remember -- this is the honest-to-God truth -- when I saw we had dropped to nine percent, I said "We're not going to win. We're going to lose."
Suppelsa: You put your blood and guts into that one. The old cliche, "bitter defeat?"
Vallas: No, no! Five minutes afterwards, I was thinking about what I wanted to do next. In fact, I grew a little beard. I didn't do the Al Gore thing, but I walked around and I was actually growing a beard.
Suppelsa: There are writers, columnists, pundits, that... miss you and think you should be back.
Vallas: Absence makes the heart grow fonder! Obviously, there were a lot of people who supported me who wanted me to come back and challenge the governor in the primary.
Suppelsa: When you were looking into the residency law, one of the persons who was trying to blunt your effort, in the courts, was Governor Blagojevich's top money man.
Vallas: Which one? Which top money man was that? I could have used one of those top moneymen.
Suppelsa: That tells me that the governor is nervous about you.
Vallas: You know, sometimes the best defense is an aggressive offense.
Suppelsa: But look. You beat him in the Chicago and Cook County area. You narrowly lost statewide. You are a threat.
Vallas: Obviously, I'm not running for governor. I'm certainly not planning on running for mayor. Obviously a question that was probably down on the list.
Suppelsa: Oh sure --
Vallas: Yeah, right!
Vallas: I think if Mayor Daley runs again, which I believe he's going to do, he will win. Because at the end of the day, Chicago's one of the best-run cities in the country.
Suppelsa: Quoting one Paul Vallas in September, "City Hall's on fire right now, and they're having trouble putting it out."
Vallas: You know, look. The bottom line is: I think the mayor's moving aggressively. Now of course, there are some who have had more cynical responses to the mayor's initiatives. But the mayor has done a pretty thorough housecleaning.
Vallas: There is a fundamental difference, I'll point out, between Illinois politics and Pennsylvania politics. Here, there's much less involvement -- and I don't want to say interference, because that's a negative term -- there's much less involvement on the part of City Hall in the running of the schools.
Suppelsa: Did Mayor Daley have his fingers in it too much?
Vallas: Okay, there could be days where you have just a great week at the schools. And if City Hall had their nose out of joint, it didn't make for such a great week.
Suppelsa: John Kass had written that Mayor Daley, "rammed Paul Vallas out of town." How would you characterize --
Vallas: Yeah, no.
Suppelsa: You remember that!
Vallas: Yeah, nobody runs me out of town. Look, the bottom line is, I spent six years as school chief in Chicago. And I elected to resign. Mayor Daley didn't force me out. I mean, he obviously wanted to make a change.
Suppelsa: It's the appearance, though!
Vallas: No, but, well, it was my choice, my choice to make. I felt after six years -- remember, I was, I think, the second-longest serving superintendent in the country at the time.
Suppelsa: Do you watch Illinois and Chicago politics closely?
Vallas: I can't help but pay attention to Illinois and Chicago politics because my mother sends me care packages once a month. She actually cuts out every article about Chicago Public Schools or about Illinois and Chicago politics and she sends them to me. Of course, so much for the Internet!
So what does Vallas make of the hired truck scandal? George Ryan's corruption trial? How Blagojevich -- his one-time opponent -- is doing as governor? Vallas wouldn't say. His answer? "Let the voters be the judge."
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