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I’m wondering if Paul Vallas has actually morphed into MAGA-Man-Lite or if he’s merely playing him on TV to get elected Chicago’s next mayor.

Once upon a time, decades ago, Vallas was the promising mentee of the late, trailblazing state senator Dawn Clark Netsch and proudly presented himself, like her, as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.

Of late, Vallas is running with birds of a different flock.                                                        

On December 21, 2021, Vallas substitute-hosted on WIND radio for Dan Proft, a far-right fringe operative. He is rubbing elbows with the likes of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President John Catanzara, who is a card-carrying Trump nut. The law-and-order mayoral candidate’s solution for making a safer Chicago is hiring 1,500 more police officers, which may or may not be a good thing. 

If Vallas’s newly hired police turn out to be a bunch of Officer Friendlies, treating Black men on the West Side like they treat white men in Lincoln Park, that would be a step in the right direction. On the other hand, if the officers become an occupying army in the Black community, sprinkled with some Jon Burge and Jason Van Dyke types, then we can get ready for more tortured false confessions and more mass protests over trigger-happy cops using Black men for target practice.

Besides palling around with cops more interested in locking up young Black men or running them out of town, rather than serving and protecting them, it’s understood that Vallas has their back and they have his.

His campaign has become a darling of GOP billionaire Ken Griffin, whose hedge fund has $86 million invested in gun manufacturers. And there’s also the deep-pocket contributors who are funding his campaign. Vallas has also received $100,000 from billionaire developer and former Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell—who typically donates to the GOP, and said in 2020 that Trump “did the country a great favor” by becoming president.

Vallas is on tape saying that he was more Republican than Democrat. He now swears that he is a Democrat, has always been a Democrat and will continue to be a Democrat.

If past is prelude, we can count on Mayor Vallas to privatize more public schools while shuttering those in underinvested neighborhoods.  

When Vallas ran for mayor four years ago, he finished ninth—fourth among the six white men—in the 14-candidate race. So, what is it that makes him the Democrat of choice for so many wealthy, powerful Republicans?

Could it be that his words and deeds have become more and more MAGAish?

In June of 2022, Vallas spoke at a fundraiser for Awake Illinois, a far-right group that asserts on its website ideas of “oppression and systemic racism come from Marxist and 20th-century Neo-Marxist doctrine.”

A 2021 podcast revealed Vallas’s own opposition towards educating college students about how racism is systematically embedded throughout American institutions and history. He called Critical Race Theory “dangerous and divisive.” Like many MAGA Republicans, he wondered how white parents were “going to discipline your child when your child […] has basically been told that their generation, their race, their parents, their grandparents, they have discriminated against others and they have somehow victimized another person’s race?”

Just like he denies being a wannabe Republican, even though he’s on tape saying otherwise, Vallas denies any part of this mayoral race has anything to do with race. Vallas knows better, he’s a white man. For many voters in the city’s ethnic neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest Sides, his being a white man gives him mysterious, magical powers that no man like his opponent, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, could ever possess.

Vallas is a Greek-American whose name was enthusiastically chanted by Irish-Americans during the 2023 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Beverly community.

No one is saying the obvious part out loud, but Paul Vallas has become their Great White Hope.

Forty years ago, Harold Washington explained to me how the playing field was not level in Chicago’s elections. “The deck is stacked,” he told me at the time, explaining that Black politicians in America are more than a race; they are hyphenated Americans. Think Irish-American, Polish-American or Mexican-American. But, as it happened in his general election race against Jewish-American Bernard Epton, it reflexively becomes Black versus white.

In his campaign ads, his speeches and in general, Vallas sells himself as the white knight who has saved Chicago Public Schools, then public schools in Philadelphia and New Orleans. While he did make different radical changes in all three systems, the main thing he did was leave them with an outstanding deficit. It is easy to think of him as a failed bean-counter.

His efforts to become an elected official have been less impressive. Four years ago, his bid for mayor was a non-starter. Vallas lost when he ran for Illinois governor in 2002. He failed to become Illinois lieutenant governor in 2014.

It makes me wonder how this man got to be a proven leader who will save us from the post-pandemic crime wave that’s sweeping the nation from coast to coast. It also makes me wonder why so many African American influencers would rather see a Greek American on the fifth floor of City Hall rather than one of their own.

In the last century, before refrigerators replaced ice boxes in the average American household, Black businessmen had a sarcastic explanation as to why Black shoppers would buy wares from white men rather than support businesses in their own community: “The white man’s ice is colder.”

I wonder if that’s what the MAGA-Man-Lite knows that I don’t.

is a four-time Pulitzer-nominated journalist and was the press secretary of Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer. During the past four decades, Anderson has written signed, op-ed page columns for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Defender.