Working to reinforce his image as a reformer and champion of the middle class, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday he has selected former Chicago schools CEO and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Paul Vallas as his running mate for 2014.
Quinn said he's known Vallas for 30 years and that Vallas has "never been shy about fighting for education, reform and opportunities for working people."
"We have made great progress these last few years, but serious challenges remain and our mission is not yet accomplished," the Chicago Democrat said in an emailed announcement from his campaign. "Paul is an independent problem solver with a proven record of reform. He will be a strong Lt. Governor for the common good."
Vallas is registered to vote in the Chicago suburb of Palos Heights, and the Quinn campaign says he's maintained residency there since 2007. But he is currently the school superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn., where he's been fighting to keep his job.
The 60-year-old Illinois native ran Chicago Public Schools from 1995 until 2001 before narrowly losing the 2002 Democratic nomination for governor to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Vallas then served as superintendent of schools in Philadelphia and in New Orleans. He's also helped rebuild schools in earthquake-ravaged Haiti and Chile.
In the campaign's statement, Vallas said he is honored to join forces with "the strongest reform governor in the country."
"This governor has been getting big things done since he got here. Unlike his predecessors, Governor Quinn tackled the hard issues and has made the right decisions to get Illinois back on track," Vallas said. "Together we will fight every day for working families and deliver the reform and change that Illinois deserves."
Quinn served as Blagojevich's lieutenant governor until Blagojevich's ouster from office elevated Quinn to the state's top job. He won his first full term in 2010, defeating Republican state Sen. Bill Brady in a tight contest.
Quinn will face the winner of the March GOP primary. Four candidates are vying for the nomination: Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, businessman Bruce Rauner and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
They have criticized Quinn for the state's ongoing financial troubles -- which include a $100 billion unfunded pension liability and billions in unpaid bills -- as well as for Illinois' unemployment rate, the second-highest of any state in the country.
Quinn's announcement Friday trumpeted his own work on a pension reform deal for newly hired public employees, ethics reforms and a capital construction program his administration says has created thousands of jobs. It also credited Vallas with tackling major budget deficits, raising test scores in Chicago and Philadelphia and helping rebuild schools in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, among other achievements.
But Vallas' career hasn't been without controversy. The Connecticut Supreme Court is currently considering his appeal of a lower court's ruling that Vallas doesn't have the proper credentials for his job. The lawsuit was filed by two Bridgeport residents who say Vallas got special treatment when he received a waiver of state certification requirements for superintendents.
Critics of his reform methods -- who include current and newly elected members of the school board in Connecticut's largest city -- also have been pushing for his ouster.
His departure from Philadelphia in 2007 followed conflicts over a $73 million deficit. In New Orleans, he pushed for charter schools and school choice -- positions that have been controversial, particularly with labor unions.
The 2014 election marks the first time candidates for Illinois governor must choose their running mate. The change was made after the 2010 primary, when past legal troubles of the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor were revealed. He later dropped out of the race, but not before Democrats feared his record could drag down the ticket.
Three of the four Republican candidates chose female running mates. Brady picked Maria Rodriguez, the former mayor of Long Grove. Dillard's running mate is state Rep. Jil Tracy, while Rauner selected Wheaton City Councilwoman Evelyn Sanguinetti. Rutherford's choice was Chicago attorney Steve Kim.
Quinn's current lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, announced earlier this year she would step down after her current term. She is running for comptroller next year.
Quinn's campaign may now begin collecting the necessary signatures for ballot petitions, which are due to the state board of elections by Dec. 2. The campaign has not scheduled any public appearances for Quinn and Vallas, though they are expected to do so early next week.