Emanuel, Vallas battle over City Colleges of Chicago

CHICAGO — Debate over the future of City Colleges of Chicago is heating up the campaign trail.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday touted his work expanding the city's colleges as one of his greatest accomplishments.  He went of his way not to directly engage the candidates running against him.

But mayoral candidate Paul Vallas wants to rethink City Colleges. Vallas is proposing a series of core programs at each of the seven colleges.

“Compare what’s being offered at Olive-Harvey with what’s being offered at Malcolm X, and I’ll rest my case,” Vallas said. “Ask yourself whether the job training being offered at Olive-Harvey, 10 years from now, whether those same jobs are going be even in existence as opposed to the jobs being offered at Malcolm X.”

“The Word Bank called the Chicago community college system the best college to career program in the United States is America,” Emanuel said. “I’m not for dismantling that progress. I’m for building on that progress.”

Olive-Harvey is opening a new transportation, distribution and logistics center next spring to train students for careers in transportation and logistics — jobs such as truck driving. Malcom X offers health sciences and nursing, industries that are booming.

Armando Saleh is director of governmental affairs for PepsiCo. He said drivers for his company working in Chicago can make $60,000 a year.

“We actually right now can hire 30 people right off the bat in one of our warehouses at 35th Street,” he said. “We still see a need a great need in drivers. We welcome this kind of facility to help us create that pipeline.”

Vallas, one of 11 candidates for Chicago mayor, is calling for greater investment on the city’s South and West Sides. He says some neighborhoods are in a “depression state.”

“At the end of the day this is rapidly becoming the tale of two cities,” he said.

Emanuel ally Ald. Michelle Harris countered Vallas by saying investments are coming — slowly.

“You just don’t push a button in the community and say you’re going to transform the community, it takes time,” Harris said. “I’m doing in my southland where I need development. I’m building a senior building and it’s a $38 million development investment in that part of the world that will transform it. I’m doing a retail component with that. So it’s happening but it’s probably not happening as fast as people would like it.”

The Olive-Harvey Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Center will open next spring.