Chicago Sun-Times

Renegade Politics--A Mile High

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Is convention invite a sign Vallas plans renegade bid?

DENVER -- Paul Vallas got a call out of the blue last week from Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

It was an invitation.

Would Vallas like to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night?

Before I tell you Vallas' answer, let's think about why that call might have come when it did

The most obvious answer is that Vallas is a national star in the education field who hails from Chicago, named by Mayor Daley in 1996 to fix our troubled schools before moving on to do the same in Philadelphia and now New Orleans.

Another explanation is that Vallas, who has moved his family back to Cook County and commutes to New Orleans, is considering another bid for governor after running a close second to Rod Blagojevich in 2002.

Three other Illinois 2010 gubernatorial hopefuls will address the convention tonight -- Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias -- so maybe it just seemed polite to include Vallas in that mix.

Or, maybe, there's a third answer. A sneakier, darker motive in getting Vallas to stand at the Democratic National Convention podium for all the world to behold and memorialize on YouTube.

It was in this column three weeks ago that I reported something Daley, House Speaker Michael Madigan, County Board President Todd Stroger and a whole host of ward bosses hate to think about.

Vallas, who back in 2001 resigned after differences with Daley, is considering something, well, drastic.

He is considering running for president of the patronage and contract rich Cook County Board as -- brace yourself -- a Republican.

"Paul has a lot of options," his brother and adviser Dean Vallas said at the time.

"We would certainly welcome any Democrat," said Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna by phone Sunday. "We certainly respect Paul Vallas. ... He has demonstrated he knows how to administer a complex governmental entity."

The state Republican Party, which has been almost as big a mess as Stroger's Cook County government, needs a messiah. A uniter. A vote-getter. A maverick.

Though neither McKenna nor Vallas confirm there is something in the works, trust me, there is.

And the raw political fact of the matter is that Vallas could win.

Cook County residents are so fed up with having the highest tax rate in the nation, so disgusted with Stroger's family and friends feeding at the public trough, and so sick of inheritance politics where the father's job is passed on to the son regardless of qualifications.

This could be the time for a revolt.

And so why might the Obama campaign, loyal to the core to the Daley administration, invite Vallas? Maybe to make sure there was video of him at the DNC before he jumped to the GOP.

Vallas, who didn't return my calls, sent an RSVP, his brother said.

He said thanks. But no thanks.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on August 25, 2008 6:39 AM.

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