GOV RI­VALS CLASH OVER CHAR­AC­TER

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY TINA SFONDELES, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER ts­fonde­les@sun­times.com | @Ti­naS­fon

With less than eight weeks to go be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion — and polls show­ing him be­hind — Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thurs­day cast him­self as an in­cum­bent who has learned from a “painful” bud­get im­passe and has “grown” and “changed.”

It was a re­set but­ton speech of sorts. But his Demo­cratic chal­lenger J.B. Pritzker called it “30 min­utes of Bruce Rauner ad­mit­ting to be­ing a fail­ure as gov­er­nor for the last four years.”

Rauner de­liv­ered the speech at the Hil­ton Chicago to a closed room of about 70 law­mak­ers and in­vited guests, where he por­trayed him­self as a busi­ness­man who has learned from his first term.

The gov­er­nor called a vic­tory by Pritzker a “re­turn to the sta­tus quo: a gov­ern­ment con­trolled by in­sid­ers, hell-bent on hik­ing taxes, with lit­tle re­gard for the con­se­quences felt by or­di­nary cit­i­zens.”

And the gov­er­nor — who nar­rowly avoided a pri­mary de­feat — asked for an­other chance.

“I humbly ask for an­other four years to fin­ish the job we started, to save our state,” Rauner said.

Rauner said he ar­rived in Spring­field with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in the pri­vate sec­tor and tried to bring “out of the box” think­ing to the state’s prob­lems.

“While it was true — and re­mains true — that Illi­nois needs mas­sive re­form to get back on track, I un­der­es­ti­mated how dif­fi­cult change can be in gov­ern­ment,” Rauner said.

Of his dif­fi­cult first-term — amid the im­passe, count­less squab­bles with Demo­cratic lead­ers and staff purges — Rauner said he’s a “bet­ter gov­er­nor now than when he took of­fice” be­cause he’s learned.

“The dis­rup­tion, the ar­gu­ments, the ne­go­ti­a­tions of the past four years have laid the ground­work for real and nec­es­sary change,” Rauner said.

Rauner said he’s learned “the two most im­por­tant things for suc­cess in pub­lic ser­vice are courage and un­der­stand­ing,” ex­plain­ing that it took “courage” to act on is­sues re­gard­less of the po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences.

He ad­mit­ted the bud­get im­passe, which Pritzker and Democrats in the state have pinned squarely on him was “painful.” The im­passe is among Pritzker’s big­gest fo­cal points in his cam­paign — high­light­ing those who were most ad­versely af­fected by it.

But the gov­er­nor said the im­passe in­volved “all” elected of­fi­cials.

“It kept me up at night wor­ry­ing about the dis­rup­tion that many fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­enced,” Rauner said. “All of us elected of­fi­cials let you down in that strug­gle.”

Rauner tried to paint him­self as the an­ti­dote to Pritzker, a bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur and phi­lan­thropist. And he spent the lat­ter part of his speech at­tack­ing Pritzker.

“I’m here to tell you the truth: Pritzker doesn’t have what it takes,” Rauner said, cit­ing FBI wire­taps fea­tur­ing Pritzker and im­pris­oned for­mer Gov. Rod Blago­je­vich; his ac­cu­sa­tion that Pritzker has off­shore bank ac­counts in the Ba­hamas to avoid pay­ing taxes and a Chicago Sun-Times re­port that Pritzker dis­abled the toi­lets in a man­sion next to his own to lower his prop­erty taxes.

“What sort of per­son would do that?” Rauner said. “His be­hav­ior shows him to be a per­son ut­terly lack­ing in the in­tegrity and char­ac­ter we need in pub­lic of­fice.”

The Pritzker cam­paign re­leased a state­ment af­ter the speech, say­ing in part that “it’s too lit­tle too late” for Rauner af­ter “four years of de­struc­tion and dev­as­ta­tion on Illi­nois’ work­ing fam­i­lies.”

“Bruce Rauner’s prob­lem isn’t that he had too much courage, it’s that he spent four years re­fus­ing to com­pro­mise, hell­bent on forc­ing his rad­i­cal agenda on our state no mat­ter the col­lat­eral dam­age,” Pritzker said in a state­ment.

Speak­ing to re­porters out­side his Loop cam­paign of­fice, Pritzker said he be­lieved the gov­er­nor was try­ing to change the minds of vot­ers af­ter the “fail­ures of the last four years.”

Of the at­tack on his char­ac­ter, Pritzker said “Bruce Rauner has no char­ac­ter,” cit­ing the im­passe’s cost on health care and men­tal health ser­vices for work­ing fam­i­lies.

“He’s the man who doesn’t have char­ac­ter in pub­lic life,” Pritzker said.

Rauner de­liv­ered his speech at the Hil­ton, which is one of 26 ho­tels where work­ers are on strike in Chicago. Pritzker’s cam­paign sought to make light of the lo­ca­tion, ask­ing re­porters — many of whom are union mem­bers — whether they’d at­tend the gov­er­nor’s speech. Sev­eral TV cam­era­men opted out.

But two of the ho­tels on strike are Hy­atts, which are owned by the Pritzker fam­ily.

Of the Hy­att dis­pute, the cam­paign said Pritzker “hopes all par­ties will ne­go­ti­ate in good faith and that a fair con­tract can be reached as soon as pos­si­ble.”

ASH­LEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES (LEFT), COLIN BOYLE/SUN-TIMES (RIGHT) FILE PHO­TOS

Gov. Bruce Rauner (right) said Thurs­day, “I un­der­es­ti­mated how dif­fi­cult change can be in gov­ern­ment,” while Demo­cratic ri­val J.B. Pritzker’s cam­paign said “it’s too lit­tle too late” for the in­cum­bent.

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