Saturday, June 13, 2009

He’s stayin’ in N’Awlins

On a certain level, Todd Stroger had to be incredibly happy on Friday.

That was when it became publicly known that the candidate whom some Republicans publicly claimed was their best chance to dethrone Stroger is NOT going to seek the office of Cook County Board president come the 2010 elections.

PAUL VALLAS, THE one-time Chicago Public Schools chief who now is trying to rebuild the school system in New Orleans, had suggested earlier this year he would return to the Chicago area later this year and would consider becoming a Republican so he could challenge Stroger.

With his family still living in and around suburban Crestwood, Vallas will always be a Chicago-area guy, regardless of where he works.

And Vallas, on paper, would be a bigger name than anyone the Republican Party likely can come up with on its own. But Vallas on Friday let it be known he has signed another contract to work for the New Orleans school system.

So he’s not coming back any time soon to the city and state that rejected him as a gubernatorial candidate back in 2002.

AND NOW, THE Republicans don’t have any obvious alternative to put on the ballot for county board president. Admittedly, Vallas would have been a long shot to win. But just about every other likely GOP candidate is a no shot.

Are we really destined to get another campaign by county board Commissioner Anthony Peraica of suburban Riverside? He has turned himself into a caricature, and I can’t envision any significant change in votes. Anybody who is disgusted with Stroger these days likely was appalled by Peraica back in ’06, and nothing has changed.

So now, Stroger can focus his campaign efforts on next year’s primary election. I fully expect a few of those county commissioners, and probably an ambitious politico or two from outside of county government, to try to challenge Todd for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

But should Stroger succeed in winning the primary, he likely would be able to do a light jog through the marathon of a campaign season to the general election finish line.

IT WON’T BE like the situation with the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, where whoever wins a feisty, contested primary will have to deal with a Republican opponent who will receive significant help from the national GOP – which would love to put an Illinois seat in their partisan column.

In some ways, this could be good for the Democratic Party (if you believe that the Democratic Party’s electoral success is a good thing for the state as a whole).

For the dumping of Todd Stroger that some people are now fantasizing about (and which has managed to take on racial overtones, no matter how much some people want to deny that fact) could backlash against the Democratic Party.

Like it or not, the African-American electorate of Chicago that provides the bulk of support for Democratic Party candidates in Illinois statewide elections is not going to like the concept of two black officials (Stroger AND Sen. Roland Burris) being replaced by white guys (or maybe a white guy and girl).

THE IDEA THAT Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White would be the only black candidate on the Democratic Party ballot is not going to be seen as sufficient. It could legitimate cause some black voters to “sit out” the 2010 elections (there’s no circumstance that would cause significant numbers of African American voters to cast ballots for the GOP).

I have always thought it was most likely that either Burris or Stroger would need to be on the ballot offered up to local voters interested in Democratic Party candidates. Since I have always believed Burris is nothing more than an interim official completing the two years remaining on Barack Obama’s term in the U.S. Senate, that means I’m unofficially accepting of Stroger running for yet another term – even if watching him work at times gives the impression of a kid who might have been ready for the political post in another couple of years.

Besides, I can’t honestly say I ever thought Vallas would have been successful in the county board post.

Vallas has had success making improvements in public education systems that some people like to demonize as too bloated and too big (as though they have much of a choice in how many students they must accept).

BUT THE THOUGHT of him as a government official strikes me as being similar to the thought of Ralph Nader actually becoming president of the United States.

The consumer advocate has some great knowledge about a couple of specific areas, similar to how Vallas knows education administration.

But being a government chief executive means having to deal with issues of all types, including some things they’d probably prefer to ignore outright.

If it sounds like I’m saying I don’t think Vallas would be able to come up with any significant solution to the sales tax situation that is confronting Cook County government these days, you’d be correct.

IN THE END, Vallas did the right thing by returning to New Orleans. He has the chance to accomplish some great things in that city, parts of which have yet to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Combined with his success in Chicago and Philadelphia, he’s going to have some great stories to tell of his work when he does finally retire to the “country estate” in Crestwood.

But if he gave that up to run campaign bids, he’d threaten to turn his legacy from a great educator to a modern-day Al Hofeld – who despite his personal wealth NEVER won election to anything.


EDITOR’S NOTES: One more year in New Orleans means no political campaign in ’10 ( for Paul Vallas.

Could Vallas have actually won election as county board President? We likely ( will never know.

1 comment:

Chancla Girl said...

Can the political pundits PLEASE stop giving Vallas a nice pat on the back and unquestioned acceptance of his tiring line, "Ive still got work to do in New Orleans" How many times is this guy going to put his toe in the water - have the pundits kiss his ring - and then run back to his out of state job ? Let's talk about the REAL reason Vallas is not running : His poll numbers showed that he could not run in Democratically dominated Cook County as a Republican and win the race. And it is clear Vallas doesn't have the stomach for a racially heated battle against Stroger in the general election. Let's stop giving this guy a pass and talk about the facts here. I'm talking to you John Kass and Carol Marin....give the guy another big smooch why don't you.