Pritzker throws wallet into ring

Pritzker throws wallet into ring

Several Democrats are competing for the right to take on Illinois' Republican governor in 2018.

Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker has become the latest Democrat to jump into the next year's battle to oust Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner from office.

But first, he'll have to take on a slew of Democrats in the March 2018 party primary election.

Pritzker, an heir to the wealth generated by his family's Hyatt Hotel chain, announced his candidacy for governor Thursday.

Although he has operated on the fringes of the Democratic Party for years, Pritzker is best known for his role as a private investor and entrepreneur. He, along with his brother, runs the Pritzker Group. His sister, Penny, was the U.S. secretary of commerce during the Obama administration.

If the comments by his campaign rivals are any indication, they will try to turn the advantage represented by Pritzker's vast wealth into a disadvantage in the primary contest.

State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston has argued that Democrats don't need a candidate of wealth to run against Rauner, that a candidate of more modest means would have more credibility campaigning for the votes of ordinary people.

"I welcome the debate about whether the future of the Democratic Party will be (as) a vehicle for the very rich and machine politicians or one for the rest of us," Biss said in response to Pritzker's planned announcement.

Despite that kind of criticism over appearances, candidates with the largest campaign treasury can hire far more campaign staffers, buy more advertising and field much larger crews of campaign workers than those who lack the means to self-finance their campaigns.

Nonetheless, the race for the Democratic nomination is wide open. One recent poll indicated that Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy, the former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, is the leading candidate, but it's way too early to consider poll numbers.

In addition to Pritzker, Kennedy and Biss, there are two other candidates — Madison County Schools Superintendent Bob Daiber and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar. It's already a sizable group, but another candidate — state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood — is said to be reviewing his chances of making a successful run for the gubernatorial nomination.

Pritzker, of course, is not the only candidate to bring a prominent name into the race.

Kennedy, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, is the heir to an unrivaled, although aged, political family legacy. In addition to his personal and family wealth, Kennedy also can draw on the huge political fundraising network that has sustained his family's political endeavors for decades.

Individual candidates' campaign resources will be significant because they'll need to be able to differentiate themselves from their rivals. Since they mostly agree on the issues — the Democratic versus Republican gubernatorial race will be a typical liberal/conservative showdown — they'll have to focus on the differences among them.

Whether it's due to naivete or candor, Pritzker already has made it clear that he supports a substantial increase in the state income taxes to finance social welfare spending. The other Democratic candidates, no doubt, agree with Pritzker, but they've so far maintained a lower profile.

Pritzker recently told a group of party members that the state income tax should be increased to at least 5 percent, perhaps higher.

"Let's remind everybody, the tax used to be 5 percent, and (Rauner) let it lapse down to three and three-quarters percent. And that's what started a lot of the problems that we've got in the state. So, if you just put it back (to 5 percent) that's $5 billion dollars. That doesn't get you everything you need, but it's a good way toward, you know, toward getting real revenue in the state," Pritzker said.

Actually, it was former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic legislative leaders, specifically House Speaker Michael Madigan, who let the temporary state income tax of 5 percent fall back to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015.

Madigan did so because he wanted Gov. Rauner to bear political stigma of asking for an income tax increase. Instead, Rauner supported the reduction and, while agreeing with Democrats to increase the state income tax, has insisted on structural reforms in state government to go with the tax hike.

Madigan has flatly refused that offer, laying the groundwork for a two-year budget standoff that has been catastrophic for state finances.

Voters will be hearing much more about the state's state of effective bankruptcy between now and the November 2018 election.

What they'd really like to hear, however, is that Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have worked out a compromise budget and reform agreement that begins to put this failing state back on an upward trajectory.

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