I’m starting to feel a little less awkward about having voted back in 2002 for Rod Blagojevich to be governor over Paul Vallas.
The Democratic primary that year was actually a three-way fight, but former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris was irrelevant outside of select neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
VALLAS WAS THE political star who had managed to implement significant changes to the culture that ran the Chicago Public Schools, and he tried to go for governor – only to lose to Blagojevich, who took the bulk of Democratic votes cast outside of Chicago.
Now I know some people who were among those North Side types who would have preferred Vallas for governor will try claiming now they knew all along something was wrong with Milorod.
But they’d be lying.
In fact, Vallas’ alleged actions of recent days have me convinced that the career educator likely would have been the wrong choice for governor back then. And they also have me convinced he likely never will become president of the Cook County Board. He’s one of those experts in a specific area who mistakenly thinks that makes him qualified to talk about lots of things.
PROMINENT CHICAGO JOURNALIST Carol Marin used her ties to the Chicago Sun-Times this week to report that Vallas has decided to go for the top post in county government, hoping he can take advantage of discontent with incumbent President Todd Stroger and run against him.
That means the Democrat Vallas is willing to go over to “the dark side” and become a Republican (hey, I was born in the South Chicago neighborhood. If I were from West Chicago in suburban DuPage County, I’d think the Dems were evil incarnate).
I can’t help but think that the moderate to liberal Vallas is going to find that many of the GOP faithful aren’t going to be willing to accept him – no matter how desperately they’d like to dump on Stroger come 2010.
To certain elements of the Republican Party, Vallas will always be some guy who sees something worthwhile in the large public school systems in places like Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Those are usually the systems that GOP people demonize so as to tout the benefits of parochial schools in the city or the public school systems of higher-income suburbs that can usually afford to do nicer things because they don’t have as many students to worry about.
MEANWHILE, BY EVEN thinking of switching parties, Vallas is going to burn whatever bridges he still had to the Chicago political establishment. He’s going to find that a lot of his former allies will turn on him, and the accompanying GOP gain just won’t make up for it.
I say that even though Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, is on record as saying he thinks Vallas would fit in well with the Illinois Republican Party. What else is he going to say?
On a certain level, Republican operatives are enjoying the spectacle of seeing a now nationally prominent Democrat show disenchantment with the party.
Besides, to people who have been paying attention, Vallas’ desire to go elsewhere has been apparent for some time. He turned down a chance to speak at the Democratic National Convention held last year in Denver. He could have been on stage with the Barack Obama show, and taken his share of credit for helping to bolster the public schools in Obama’s hometown.
INSTEAD, HE REFUSED to participate, because he knew the Democrats there would remember it, and it would undermine his attempt to use the one-time Party of Lincoln to bolster his political career.
Besides, the whole history of political party-switchers usually only benefits those people whose social beliefs are so conservative that they can’t take being part of a moderate-to-liberal party such as the Democrats. (Think Jesse Helms or Strom Thurmond, who had such lengthy careers after switching parties that it almost sounds like a lame gag to imply they were ever Democrats).
If anything, Edward R. Vrdolyak is more typical of what happens to people who switch parties.
The one-time Cook County Democratic Chairman and alderman of the far Southeast Side’s 10th Ward gave up his ties to the party of JFK and FDR when it became apparent in the mid-1980s that Mayor Harold Washington had won the political fights between the two that are now remembered as “Council Wars.”
BUT VRDOLYAK never won elective office as a Republican, even though he tried a couple of times. And the Republicans on a national level were never really comfortable with having Vrdolyak in their ranks.
Privately, they may have been sympathetic to some of the acts he did in opposition to Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor. But they didn’t really want to be tainted by him. And there was the fact that he was then, and remains today, an urban creature.
His home neighborhood of the East Side is a place where people think of the old days when the nearby steel mills (a bit of disclosure, my grandfathers worked in those steel mills) were running at full capacity and they had decent-paying jobs.
Likewise, Aurelia Pucinski tried running for office as a Republican, only to become a Democrat again when she realized her Northwest Side Polish ethnic roots were too much for many Republicans to take. Vallas will find that he is equally out of place in those GOP circles - he's a guy who’s not about to denigrate the urban school experience the way many Republicans like to do.
IN THE END, Vallas may turn out to be an intelligent guy with much knowledge about management and education, but no common sense when it comes to politics. He seems to have forgotten one of the primary rules of remembering who your friends really are.
As the late Texas pundit Molly Ivins once titled one of her books of commentary, “You got to dance with them what brung you.”
EDITOR’S NOTES: Paul Vallas is one of those guys who is an expert in one specific area (http://blogs.suntimes.com/marin/2009/02/exclusive_paul_vallas_will_run.html) who thinks that qualifies him to do everything equally well.
Could Vallas’ presence help the Republican Party attract more of Illinois’ non-white (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/race/2009/02/can-the-gop-attract-more-people-of-color-with-a-black-rnc-chairman.html) population come the next countywide Election Day?
Vallas has some unfinished business to tend to with his current employer, the New Orleans public school system system, before he can start scheduling the moving van to (http://www.bayoubuzz.com/News/Louisiana/Government/Louisiana_Recovery_School_Vallas_Talks_Departure_Plans__8329.asp) bring his belongings back to Chicago.