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The [Wednesday] Papers

This morning was Day 2 of the Tribune editorial board's series of mayoral candidates debates. On Tuesday, the paper brought in Bill Daley, Gery Chico, LaShawn Ford, Willie Wilson and Toni Preckwinkle. Today it was Susana Mendoza, John Kozlar, Bob Fioretti, Dorothy Brown and Paul Vallas.

I didn't tweet as much today as I did yesterday, but for the running commentary I (and others) did provide, you can check out #TribEndorse or @BeachwoodReport.

I did take fairly extenstive notes, though. Highlights:

* Susana Mendoza's team tweeted out some Ed Burke material attacking Toni Preckwinkle and Gery Chico just minutes before the debate started, perhaps anticipating the opening question would be the same as it was yesterday. But Burke didn't come up until much later in the debate.

* Mendoza's "50New" plan to target CPS's 50 most underutilized schools is perhaps so-named to contrast with Rahm Emanuel's closing of 50 schools - which Mendoza didn't oppose. (Vallas later says Mendoza's resource-rich plans shouldn't be limited to 50 schools but should be used in all schools, and makes the case that he basically did that as CPS chief in the '90s.)

* You quickly see the separation in this grouping. Fioretti and Brown are out of their depth and Kozlar shouldn't even be in the room. Even Mendoza pales in comparison to what Vallas brings to the table on this day.

* The bulk of the debate is spent on CPS, then the city budget. On CPS, Trib edit board member Kristen McQueary asks for a single game-changer, which is not typically how successful public policy is made. Also, they're running for mayor, not schools superintendent. Maybe the mayor shouldn't micromanage CPS? This is an honest question; not sure how involved a mayor should be in the school system.

* Vallas talks about magnetizing neighborhood schools. Doesn't that miss the point?

* Vallas says the only program that he's seen come close to closing the achievement gap is pre-natal to the classroom.

* Brown wants magnet schools throughout the city, which I think we already have and also misses the point of neighborhood schools? Isn't the point of neighborhood schools that they are filled with kids from the neighborhood?

* Kozlar: We don't challenge the heads of these organizations (CTU)! Um, Rahm forced a strike in his first term in a big fuck-you to the CTU, so I'd say that's ahistorical. Kozlar adds that we should pay teachers more and lower class size, which isn't exactly a challenge to the CTU. Calls for being able to attend any school in the city you want, which I think we already have, excepting selective enrollment schools.

* Vallas: To deal with CTU, lay out a five-year blueprint in the first budget, articulate vision, identify initiatives that are critical, sets parameters to negotiate. Also, strategic bargaining that never ends, continuing to meet. "I always negotiated affordable contracts."

* Mendoza: Son just started kindergarten at a CPS school in her neighborhood (Portage Park), so she's going to be a CPS parent for the next 13 years.

* Mendoza: Rahm poisoned well with the CTU strike. (Rahm has actually since acknowledged this.)

* Vallas: CPS has enough resources. Really? Even the wealthiest schools never feel like they have enough resources, and parents of some CPS schools in wealthy neighborhoods raise tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of extra dollars on the side. Is the bar for "enough resources" set lower for CPS?

Anyway, you have to respect Vallas. He has wicked policy chops; knows more about budgets and education policy in his little finger than most of the other candidates will ever know in their lifetimes. Doesn't mean I always agree with him, because I don't! But I respect his knowledge and experience.

However, I find it curiously lacking in this campaign - perhaps because he's not a frontrunner, but who actually is in this size field? - that the central question being brought to him isn't about the chartering of the entire New Orleans school district.

* You can now cross "kicking the can down the road" off your bingo card.

* Vallas has a role to play in public policy, I'm just not sure what role that is. Same with Lori Lightfoot, who I could see as, say, a deputy mayor for public safety in a Preckwinkle administration.

* Fioretti actually makes sense when talking about city council reform and reminds us of his halycon days as an alderman. That's what makes his clownishness since then so sad. And look, we all know he endorsed Rahm in 2015 so Rahm would help him retire his debt, but to do that and turn around now and talk about how bad Rahm's been (without naming him, as far as I can tell) just does not speak well of the man, and makes you wonder if he really has any principles at all outside of his own ambition. It doesn't help that since his failed mayoral run he also lost a race for state senator and county board president. You start to look foolish and desperate.

* Brown says she's a lawyer, a CPA and has an MBA, yet I'm left wondering, how the hell did she get her job, because she's . . . terrible.

* Vallas: "Opportunity zones are empowerment zones on steroids." Combine with equity TIFs (and bonding, I think) and you can turn $2 billion in equity into $10 billion in capital and I don't doubt him but I didn't quite follow, but this stuff deserves a hard look at to understand what he's talking about, even if it isn't campaign-friendly. Also, though, I've seen enough "zones" in my lifetime to know they never work.

* Vallas, after Brown talks about all the great platitudinal things we need to do: "So many plans." Heh-heh. "Let's talk about specifics." Have to give him credit, he does just that.

* Mendoza's campaign has been a disappointment. I thought she'd be a stronger candidate (and she still has a very good shot at the runoff, but that's because she comes with a built-in base of trade union and Establishment political support). She talks in platitudes and, this morning in particular but often in these forums, seems too small for the job. (That is not a pun about her short stature.)

* Mendoza: Here we go, how she had to leave the neighborhood . . . it wasn't her choice, she was 7, but it was her choice to come back.

* Vallas: "We need to talk about substantive issues, I mean, leaving when you were 7-years-old and then coming back . . . "

Thank you, Paul Vallas, for the greatest clapback of the campaign yet!

Mendoza says she's offended, and violence isn't something to be dismissive of; Vallas talks about how many funerals of kids he went to as CPS chief. Clearly he's not being dismissive of violence but of cheap political rhetoric.

* Mendoza has her set pieces but not much else. The irony is that no one is running more as a caretaker mayor than her. She wants to be mayor more than she wants to do anything in particular with the job.

* McQueary: Burke's complaint has changed the dynamic of the race. But has it? The polling I'm aware of shows a static race with Preckwinkle out front followed by Mendoza, then the rest all bunched up and a huge chunk of undecided. The Burke complaint has changed the media's focus and the subject of some candidates' attacks, but I'm not sure if it's changed the dynamic of the underlying race.

* Vallas idea: Rotate city council committee chairs.

* Editorial page editor John McCormick: "Why should I give you my vote for mayor of Chicago?" I wish someone answered, "You shouldn't, because you live in the suburbs!"

* Kozlar: "I'm surprised we didn't talk about pensions today." John must've fallen asleep for 20 minutes.

* Mendoza: "I'm running for mayor because the future of our city is at stake." Gawd. Like you have to save the city from the rest of the candidates - including the ones who were running before Rahm bowed out? You were okay with Rahm, then? (Of course she was. She was one of his biggest cheerleaders and she has to own that.)

* Finally, the proceedings opened with a (very) brief discussion of whether "comptroller" is pronounced "controller" despite the way it's spelled. Mendoza says it is. I did not know that.

This will serve as my State of the Race, Part 2. If I did capsule summaries of each of today's candidates, like I did with yesterday's, I would just be repeating what I've written above.

Oh hell, I'll do capsules.

Susana Mendoza: She's such a pol. If Donald Trump hadn't made nicknames so dishonorable, I'd call her Susana Mendacious. God I loved her when she emerged as the leading explainer of why Rod Blagojevich should be impeached. God how appalled I was when she emerged as the leading cheerleader of Rahm Emanuel when she was city clerk. (Assignment Desk: Go back and check her Twitter feed for how she fell silent during the Laquan McDonald mess.) I've already written more than once that she politicized the comptroller's office - far more than Leslie Munger did. And I would have liked it so much more if, instead of playing coy, she would've explained her mayoral run by saying, Hey, I had no idea Rahm Emanuel would step down, so of course I'm going to consider running for mayor. People would understand that. On the other hand, maybe she truly didn't decide until after she won her comptroller's race because her campaign shows no evidence of strategic thought - or even vision or a compelling reason why she's running outside of personal ambition. And her mentors are Ed Burke and Michael Madigan, and that tells you enough.

John Kozlar: On one hand, I'm all for easy ballot access. On the other hand, it doesn't serve anyone well to have to listen to John Kozlar during these things. On the other hand, I've always argued the media should give every candidate on a ballot equal time. On the other hand, I've already spent more time than I ever wanted to on John Kozlar.

Bob Fioretti: Can someone just give him an appointment or something? I mean, I'd hate to see him rewarded in some way for his behavior, but I'd also like to see him go away.

Dorothy Brown: She must really have God on her side because she keeps getting re-elected.

Paul Vallas: I dismissed Vallas's chances from the outset, though today you can see that I'm giving him a lot of praise. I still don't know if mayor is the right job for him, though (it's not, particularly at this time), and I don't see where his votes come from. I'm fascinated by the rift between him and Chico, but I get it - Chico cashed in while Vallas (in his mind) rolled up his sleeves in thankless jobs instead (he also kept needing a job). I don't like how he lives in the suburbs but rented a place in the city so he could run for mayor. Maybe he needs to go to Washington and run OMB or something.

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Posted on January 16, 2019


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