Chicago Mayor Frontrunner Targets Crime, Taxes to Court Business
(Bloomberg) -- Chicago’s mayoral frontrunner Paul Vallas is taking a leaf out of Rahm Emanuel’s book to try to lure businesses back.
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As the city grapples with rising violence and high-profile corporate departures, the former boss of school districts has pledged to be tough on crime, the No. 1 issue for corporations. He also wants to “hold the line” on taxes, fines and fees, and reduce bureaucracy in a bid to sell Chicago as a business-friendly destination.
It’s something that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who ran the Windy City for two terms until 2019 — did particularly well. He famously counted cranes on the city’s skyline as a marker of his success and lobbied for CME Group Inc. and Cboe Global Markets Inc. to stay when they threatened to leave over a tax spat with the state.
“Rahm was really good at selling the image of the city,” Vallas, 69, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s office in Chicago Thursday. “If you can sell Chicago as a city that’s going to be business friendly when it comes to a regulatory standpoint, I think you can very quickly begin to change the image of the city.”
The third-largest US city has been grappling with rising crime that sparked outrage among residents and business leaders. Billionaire Ken Griffin cited violence and state taxes as reasons for moving his Citadel hedge fund to Miami, while the boss of CME, Terry Duffy, recently said his wife had been carjacked in the city.
Crime incidents jumped 41% last year and gained 33% since 2019, the year Mayor Lori Lightfoot came to office. Her failure to deal with crime cost her reelection last month, which hadn’t happened to an incumbent since 1983. Vallas will now face Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, 46, in a runoff on April 4.
Vallas, who raised almost $11 million with the help of executives from Citadel and private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, pledged to restaff the police. Johnson, running to the left, raised about $8 million and is focusing on mental health as a central part of his public safety plan.
As a banking crisis unfolding threatens to bring about a worse-than-expected recession, Vallas said he is the right candidate to steer Chicago through tough financial times. Keeping finances in check will be crucial for the city, which last year shed its junk rating.
If elected, he plans to present five-year budgets that allow government and businesses to plan. He also said he would look to the administrations of Emanuel and Richard Daley to fill the position of Chicago’s chief financial officer.
Back to Basics
“Chicago has to return to the fundamentals,” he said. “And what are those fundamentals? To have responsible budgets that do not increase the cost of doing business in Chicago.”
Vallas cited his experience in the tumultuous 1990s managing the city budget under Daley, leading the schools in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans in 2008 at the start of the financial crisis, and heading to Haiti and Chile after earthquakes.
Still, he has been criticized for decisions when he led Chicago Public Schools that may have contributed to the underfunding of its pension fund. In New Orleans, he was called out for closing traditional schools in favor of charters, and in Philadelphia, the school district faced a deficit by the end of his tenure.
“I’ve dealt with crisis situations before,” he said.
--With assistance from Steve Stroth, Bill Allison, Jonathan Roeder and Kenneth Hughes.
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