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The Home Front

(Above) Paul Vallas in 2008, when he was superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District (AP Photo/Bill Haber).

Paul Vallas could be the best bean counter on the ticket. He says he can make the CTA safe and profitable, and lower Chicago’s soaring real estate taxes. But can he do it? Don DeBat gets the opinions of Chicago’s famous Greeks, including Nicholas Gouletas, reached by seance.

23-Feb-23 – As legendary 43rd Ward Alderman Mathias “Paddy” Bauler once said in the 1950s: “Chicago ain’t ready for reform, yet.”

The big question today? Is Chicago now ready for Paul Vallas, age 69, a reform-minded Greek-American mayor?

This writer is endorsing and voting for Paul Vallas because I like the “law-and-order” platform, and several of my lifelong friends are Greek-Americans.

Photo by Jeremy Atherton

Sam Sianis, age 86, is the Greek-American owner and proprietor of the legendary underground Billy Goat Tavern of Saturday Night Live fame. “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Chips, no fries. Pepsi, no Coke.” Sianis sponsored my Chicago Daily News/Sun-Times Hall-of-Fame softball team for decades.

(Left) Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue. Photo by Jeremy Atherton.

My family loves Greek food. With the loss of Santorini Restaurant, the Greektown neighborhood is shrinking, so we often venture to Psistaria Greek Taverna in Lincolnwood. We dine on flaming saganaki cheese, grilled octopus, stuffed dolmades (grape leaves), horiatiki salad, pastichio, baklava, and other delicacies.

Since real estate is my beat, and politics is Greek to me, this writer reached out to his community of Greek friends to see what they think of Vallas. Here are their responses:

“Anytime there is a Greek-American success, the Greek community is proud,” said Bill Sianis, son of Sam Sianis. “Greeks never forget their home, and Paul Vallas has been involved with different aspects of the City of Chicago for many years, so his heart is in Chicago.”

(Right) Sam Sianis gets his goat at the Michigan Avenue location in this undated photo obtained from Billy Goat Tavern & Grill.

Billy Goat Tavern & Grill

“It’s about time a good Greek has a chance to clean up this town,” said Tony Chronis, owner of Player Sports, the master of softball-shirt lettering and embroidery on the North Side, and former Lane Tech football star. “We recently got Alexi Giannoulias elected as the Illinois Secretary of State. Now is the time for a Greek mayor.”

“Paul Vallas is an expert administrator,” said a retired Greek-American former Chicago Public Schools teacher who taught during the candidate’s reign as CEO of CPS in the 1990s. The former 16-inch softball pitcher, and baseball and hockey player at Lane Tech, was called “The Golden Greek.” He asked for his comments to be anonymous because he still is collecting a CPS teacher’s pension.

Plan could start with firing police superintendent

Vallas’ “law-and-order” plan calls for firing current Police Superintendent David Brown and his staff. He would hire more cops and initiate a Chicago Police Department “reserve force” of recently retired officers. Those ideas helped him earn endorsement from the Chicago Tribune. Vallas, a lifelong Roseland, Bridgeport, and Lincoln Park resident, has also been endorsed by the Chicago Police Department’s union.

Adobe Stock

One key part of Vallas’ crime plan calls for making the Chicago Transit Authority safe and profitable again by creating a cadre of CTA police to boost ridership.

Vallas also is a consultant to the Fraternal Order of Police. His son, Gus Vallas, is a tactical cop in San Antonio. In the line of duty, he, and two other policemen, shot and killed a 28-year-old African-American felon who was fleeing them with a gun.

In his 40 years of service, Vallas was director of the Illinois Economic Fiscal Commission, Chicago Revenue Director, and Budget Director, so he may be the best Windy City bean counter on the ticket.

From the real estate, crime, and educational points of view, here are other strong planks in Vallas’ platform that he hopes will turn around the Windy City on several fronts:

• A “fast-track” plan to cap soaring real estate taxes to stop the exodus of homeowners to the suburbs and other cities and states.

• A plan for the city to take ownership of abandoned apartment buildings, rehab thousands of units, and transform them into affordable rental housing.

• To reduce fees, a program to phase out red-light cameras and speed cameras, and sewer and water surcharges.

In the area of education – Vallas’ great area of lifelong expertise – he would:

• Decentralize the board of education, cut bureaucracy, and direct more funds to schools and classrooms. Now, only 60 percent of the money homeowners pay for schools actually gets to the classrooms.

• Extend the school day and year, and give parents 100 percent choice to send kids to any school of their choosing – public, private, or parochial.

So, who will win the mayoral election? The Home Front recently held a seance with the late Nicholas S. Gouletas, Chicago’s condominium-conversion king from the late 1970s through the time of his passing in early 2021.

Gouletas (right), a Greek-born American who got his start selling encyclopedias door-to-door, would eventually become the grand master of condo sales – developing, marketing, and managing more than 45,000 units valued at $12 billion in more than 100 buildings in 40 markets nationwide since 1969.

Nicholas Gouletas

Always a visionary developer, Gouletas in the late 1990s submitted a detailed urban plan to Mayor Richard M. Daley to convert dozens of vacant office buildings in Chicago’s Loop to condominiums.

When this writer reached out to Gouletas in developer heaven, here’s what he hypothetically had to say about a Greek-American mayor:

“If Chicago would have elected a Greek mayor, the landmark Soldier Field – which originally resembled the Parthenon in Athens – would not have been remuddled to look like a flying saucer.”

Gouletas loved Michigan Avenue’s “Magnificent Mile” so much he resided in a condo across from Water Tower Place. If he were alive today, he would not be happy about once-swank Gold Coast shops going out of business because of crime in the streets.