Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Why Paul Vallas’s Brother Headed Democrats for Bill Brady in 2010

Dean Vallas thought Quinn lacked “the political skills to navigate around a Mike Madigan.”

Former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas, left, endorses Gery Chico for mayor at a press conference outside the Jose Clemente Orozco Community Academy in Pilsen, Tuesday, November 23, 2010 in Chicago. Photo: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune

The news Friday morning that Pat Quinn had tapped Paul Vallas—former CPS CEO—to be his running mate, was a shocker to me. And not because the lieutenant governor’s job is one that nobody (including its current occupant, Sheila Simon) wants, but because the person politically closest to Paul Vallas is his younger brother Dean, 57. And Dean, in 2010, headed Democrats for Brady.

What popped immediately into my mind was a telephone conversation I had with Dean in September 2010 in which he confirmed a tip I had received that yes, in that year’s gubernatorial race between Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican Bill Brady, Dean Vallas was supporting Brady.

Should Brady win the Republican primary, he will, once again take on incumbent Pat Quinn.  

I described Dean, a resident of Palos Park, as “the ringleader” that year in recruiting Democrats to support Brady, who is not only a Republican but a conservative Republican. Dean told me that he had signed on to back Brady before the Republican primary, and that his title was Cook County finance co-chairman.  

Dean joked that friends were calling him to ask, “’What are you, Karl Rove?’…. Good Friends didn’t want to talk to me.” Dean repeatedly described his roots in the Democratic Party as lifelong and deep: 95 percent of the money he has contributed to politicians went to Democrats. “I have supported democratic candidates most of my life.”

But the 2010 gubernatorial race was different, Dean—a retired owner of restaurants and a food service company—argued. The very future of the state depended on businessman Brady vanquishing lifelong politician Quinn. Vallas was lavish in his praise of Brady, calling him “completely independent,” a man who “has been in business [a family home construction company] for his whole life, has had to meet a payroll—knows what it’s like not to sleep on Friday night because you can’t make the Saturday payroll.”

Most important, Dean said, was that Brady was not part of “the old guard” (Mike Madigan, et al) who have “made a mess of the state.” He gave Quinn his due as “a real good man” but one who lacked “the political skills to navigate around a Mike Madigan.”

When I asked Dean, who is known to be exceeding close to his brother and his top political confidante, if Paul would be following suit, he said no. “I wouldn’t even ask him,” citing as his reason that Paul’s then work “formulating a plan to build public schools in Haiti and consulting for the schools in New Orleans requires him to maintain ties to pols of both stripes, including Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

In the wake of Brady’s loss to Quinn, Dean Vallas told me, “I’ve never worked that hard for a Republican candidate,” but added that his work was not so much “anti-Quinn as pro-Brady.”  He said that had Brady eked out a victory he would have “fully engaged the legislature” and “basically you would have had a democracy back in Springfield.”

Think what a gift Quinn has give to the Brady campaign! I can imagine the campaign commercials as I write.

A call to Dean Vallas was not returned by post time.

 Some further info on the Vallas brothers:

  • Paul Vallas has run not only CPS but also the public schools in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Connecticut.
  • Paul Vallas had considered running as a Republican for Cook County Board President in 2010.
  • Both Vallas brothers had supported Gery Chico in his losing race for mayor. Chico told me in October 2010 that he and Paul Vallas had worked closely in the ’90s when Chico was Daley’s chief of staff and Vallas was budget director and, again, when Vallas was running the public schools here and Chico was president of the school board. Chico added that he, unlike Dean, was supporting Democrat Pat Quinn over Republican Bill Brady.
  • Paul Vallas was hobbled in his race against Blago in the 2002 Democratic primary for governor by his fear of flying. Dean told me in 2010 that his brother had largely overcome that fear and flies four to five times a week and flew 50 times in the summer of 2010 to Haiti. “But I couldn’t get him to fly to Effingham [in 2002].” Vallas lost the race to Blago by 25,669 votes, attributed to his lackluster numbers downstate where his fear of flying prevented him from campaigning vigorously.

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