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J.B. Pritzker, a Democratic candidate for Illinois governor, hit the campaign trail in Evanston on Saturday to discuss his plans for resolving the state budget crisis and beating incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The talk, held at Grace Lutheran Church — 1430 South Blvd. — was planned by the Evanston branch of Action for a Better Tomorrow, an Illinois nonprofit that organizes for progressive causes at the state and local levels. About 40 people attended the event.
Alisa Kaplan, who organized the event and runs ABT Evanston, said she is passionate about getting people involved in politics at the state and local levels. Kaplan said she hopes to bring more gubernatorial candidates to speak in Evanston. Candidate Chris Kennedy is scheduled to speak June 3.
“It’s a completely different story when you read about someone versus when you get to meet them in person and see their command of the issues, their personality, how they relate to people,” Kaplan told The Daily. “Forums like this are a really fantastic opportunity to get to do that.”
Pritzker (Law ’93) said his first priority as governor would be to resolve the state budget crisis and Illinois’ rapidly growing pension debt. Both crises could be resolved by smarter spending and progressive taxation, he said.
A billionaire and heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, Pritzker mostly elided his career in venture capital during his remarks. Business experience, Pritzker said, was not the basis of his qualifications for public office.
“Being in business is interesting, although not compelling to me; I don’t think that’s enough,” Pritzker said. “(Rauner) thinks government can be run like a business. It can’t. I’ve seen that. Because government is all about serving people who are vulnerable, and the working poor, and middle class families.”
Pritzker instead focused on his long career in public service and philanthropy. He said he previously worked to secure federal funding for breakfast for tens of thousands of food-insecure children in Illinois, served as chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission and donated $100 million to his alma mater, Northwestern’s School of Law — which was subsequently renamed the Pritzker School of Law.
With few ideological divides to distinguish the Democratic candidates from one another, Pritzker said, the question of background and experience is critical. Other candidates who have declared their candidacy for the Democratic nomination include state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), Madison County schools superintendent Bob Daiber and Kennedy, scion of the famous political dynasty.
“You should ask the candidates: What were they doing when nobody else was looking?” Pritzker said. “Ten years ago, 20 years ago, were you engaged?”
Malik Turley, an Evanston resident who attended the event, said her knowledge of Pritzker before the event mostly consisted of his billionaire status. With at least two billionaires vying for the governorship in Springfield, wealth has emerged as a fiercely debated point of contention in the campaign.
Pritzker indicated that his wealth may be an advantage — with a self-funded campaign comes independence from special interests, he said.
“Nobody’s going to call me in the middle of the night and say, ‘You know the money that I gave you before, you’re not gonna get it again unless you do the following thing’,” Pritzker said.
Turley, who told The Daily she would consider voting for Pritzker, said she was more impressed by the candidate’s background than she expected.
“I liked the variety of background experiences that he’s had, and most specifically the ways in which he’s worked with marginalized people and underprivileged folks, which I wouldn’t have expected necessarily,” Turley said.
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