I’m feeling a little bad this week for Gov. Bruce Rauner, the boy who cried “Corruption!”
For months — nay, years — the Republican Rauner had been claiming that his Democratic foes are corrupt, despite a lack of evidence that any of them had done anything illegal.
Yes, it’s disturbing that powerful politicians can have side jobs that can create conflicts of interest. It’s less than ideal that public sector unions offer financial support to the lawmakers with whom they negotiate their contracts. But that doesn’t make anyone a “crook,” as Rauner liked to say.
His impotent, increasingly desperate name-calling had become background noise as his approval ratings slipped and polls showed his Democratic rival in November’s election, J.B. Pritzker, running away with the race.
And now comes an explosive charge. Patrick Blanchard, the Cook County inspector general, has submitted a 33-page report concluding that the way the Pritzkers disconnected and reconnected toilets in a Gold Coast mansion they’d purchased was part of a “plan to defraud Cook County” of $330,000 in property taxes.
The report takes note of an Oct. 5, 2015, email from the manager of the overall renovation project to a plumbing contractor. The email says that Pritzker’s wife, “is going to have the house re-assessed as an uninhabitable structure. To do this, she would like to have us pull all toilets and cap all toilet lines in the house. Then after the assessment, she would like us to put the 1st Floor toilet back in.”
Prior to this report, the toilet story looked like much a-doo-doo about nothing. Pritzker said that the toilets had been disconnected or removed in the course of a significant rehab on the mansion, which is next door to his home, and the Cook County assessor’s office had backed him up, saying that it’s customary, even wise, to lower assessments on unoccupied, uninhabitable properties.
Yes, toilets are inherently funny and draw more attention and ridicule than, say, sinks. And yes, the Pritzkers hardly needed the tax break given their staggering wealth. And yes, their attempt to get one is in tension with the central theme of Pritzker’s campaign that rich people need to pay more taxes.
But, as I wrote in an earlier column, nothing backed up claims from Team Rauner that Pritzker had “cheated” on his property taxes.
Folks, this looks bad. Blanchard’s report, dated Friday and leaked to the media Monday, concludes that Pritzker’s representative submitted “sworn affidavits containing false representations” that were part of a “scheme for obtaining (tax refund) money.” The report also notes, in an ominous aside, that the checks were “delivered by U.S. Mail,” which amounts to a blaring suggestion that the scheme violated federal mail-fraud statutes.
Yes, this is just an accusation, not a formal charge. Pritzker himself might have been unaware of this alleged “scheme,” and given other information presented about the house in the IG’s report — structurally dubious staircases, cracked ceilings, water damage, missing kitchen appliances — the toilet shenanigans might not even have been necessary.
Either way, however, the report reflects poorly on Pritzker and even though he announced Tuesday afternoon that he’s paying back the county the $330,000 tax break he received, it now hangs over his bid to become governor.
Yet there is so much other major news — the trial of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, which reached a crescendo when he took the witness stand Tuesday, the maneuvers and machinations in the upcoming Chicago mayor’s race and the wild skirmish in Washington over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, to name three suffocating stories — and the public is already so numb to Rauner’s accusatory bleating that the toilet story is unlikely to become a major subject of conversation.
Even still, this development will have at least some Democrats wishing they had a candidate without this baggage. Rauner, who totally lucked into this development, is a failure, to be sure. But if Pritzker is a fraud, the choice among the leading, plausible candidates becomes dispiriting.
Primary results often force voters into holding their noses and making such a choice. We all get that.
What many of us don’t get, however, is why a party would stick with a wounded candidate — or, in the case of Kavanaugh, a nominee — when it would be the work of a moment to swap in a less compromised judge from a long list prepared by the conservative Federalist Society.
Since last week, when I wrote a column asking if the GOP couldn’t do better than a judge who had become dogged by multiple reports that he had sexually attacked women in his youth, evidence has been piling up that Kavanaugh lied under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about his behavior and his drinking habits as a young man. And those lies are relevant because he told them to make it seem less plausible that the central allegations were true.
The innocent explanations he gave for the rowdy, leering entries next to his yearbook photos were so false as to be insulting. Yet it’s clearly become more important to conservatives to defeat the liberals and jam Kavanaugh into a lifetime appointment to one of the most consequential, powerful jobs in the country than it is to have a nominee whose honesty and character are not in serious doubt.
Democrats in Illinois are stuck with J.B. Pritzker. And if he’s elected but disappoints in office, the party or the voters can get rid of him in four years.
Republicans on the national level have a choice. It’s a choice that will likely have irreversible consequences for decades. That they’re not exercising it remains the biggest scandal of the week.
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October 2, 2018 at 06:15PM