With Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s victory Tuesday night, Illinois voters have traded one wealthy businessman with no previous governmental experience for another. When Pritzker is inaugurated Jan. 14, he’ll take over from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner a massive state government beset by billions of dollars in unpaid bills despite last summer’s income tax hike.
The jubilation of the Election Day victory will make way for Pritzker’s transition, when he’ll pick people for leadership posts in his administration and start preparing to deliver his first budget plans in the spring, a mere few months from now.
In a speech jammed with references to such Illinois treasures as the World’s Biggest Ketchup Bottle and Superman’s home of Metropolis at the state’s southern tip, Pritzker nodded to the hurdles his administration will have to clear.
“Who we are is how we overcome our biggest challenges,” he said. “We work to mend broken places. We light the journey from hill to hilltop. And recognize that there is grace and courage and pride in the struggle to rise. And, ladies and gentlemen, rise we will.”
The legislature Pritzker needs to advance his agenda will be packed with Democrats after a blue sweep of down-ballot races gave House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton another set of big majorities in Springfield. The next governor wants to legalize marijuana for recreational use, raise the minimum wage and bring sports betting to Illinois.
But navigating complex issues like those can be difficult — even when one party controls the Capitol — as the tenures of Illinois’ last two governors showed. And skittish state lawmakers coming off their own dicey elections aren’t always game for handling a lot of controversial issues at once.
“I know the entire Illinois Senate looks forward to working with him to restore stability to our great state,” Cullerton said in a statement. “We face numerous challenges, but I’m committed to doing my part to overcome them and can’t wait to get to work.”
Pritzker’s plan to implement a graduated income tax requires changing the state constitution, something he’ll need voters to approve — in 2020. Some of Illinois’ financial challenges are more immediate, though.
As of Election Day, the state faced $7.5 billion in unpaid bills. That’s nearly 44 times more than the record $171.5 million Pritzker pumped into his campaign from his personal fortune. On top of that, payments into the state’s pension systems are going up every year, and lawmakers and Rauner implemented a new school funding plan that calls for spending hundreds of millions of dollars more on schools. Republicans also will have requests for Pritzker and Democrats, but their diminished numbers in the legislature could make life difficult for the party after having Rauner in the governor’s office for four years.
“The fiscal mess that is the state of Illinois is going to have to be addressed by whomever the next governor is, and my fear in that is one is dead set in raising taxes,” state Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican, said of Pritzker. “And one wants reforms.”
Pritzker defeated Rauner on Tuesday by a dominant margin, setting him up to contend he has a mandate from Illinois voters to set the political agenda at least at the beginning of his term. But some campaign missteps could raise issues with lawmakers as he seeks to work with them in the opening days of his administration.
Three weeks before Election Day, several Pritzker staffers filed a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in their months on the job, accusations he called “just not true.” Weeks later, two of his campaign workers were fired over a video displayed on social media showing one of them wearing a dark facial cosmetic resembling blackface.
And a confidential report from Cook County’s top watchdog found that Pritzker improperly received $330,000 in property tax breaks on one of his Gold Coast mansions as part of a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers. He later paid the money back.
Who is Pritzker?
Politics came early to Pritzker, the son of Donald Pritzker, who moved to California in the late 1950s to oversee three small hotels and build new ones, laying the groundwork for Hyatt Hotels Corp.
His father was finance chairman of Edmund Muskie’s unsuccessful 1972 Democratic presidential bid. His mother, Susan, was a California Democratic party official. Politicians became regular guests at the family home, and his father’s office was used for a scene in the 1972 Robert Redford political satire “The Candidate.”
But 1972 also was the year Donald Pritzker died of a heart attack while playing tennis at age 39. A decade later, Susan Pritzker, who had become an alcoholic after her husband’s death, died in a traffic accident.
While attending Georgetown University, J.B. Pritzker was a part-time legislative aide to California Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor. At Duke University he volunteered for former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford’s U.S. Senate campaign and later joined his staff. In 1988, Pritzker joined the staff of Democratic Sen. Alan Dixon of Illinois.
While in Washington, Pritzker met and later married Mary Kathryn Muenster, who was an aide to Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. In 1993 Pritzker earned a law degree at Northwestern University. The law school now bears his name following a $100 million endowment in 2015.
Rather than practice law, he launched himself into private equity investment. Five years later, at age 32, he ran for the North Shore congressional seat U.S. Rep. Sid Yates was giving up after nearly a half-century. Seeking a seat in a liberal district, he campaigned to ban the sale of handguns and proposed 24-hour day care for working parents.
He finished third with 20 percent of the vote in a 1998 primary won by Jan Schakowsky, who still holds the seat. Pritzker got campaign help from workers allied with former 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell, the father-in-law of future Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Two years earlier, Pritzker had helped Blagojevich win his congressional seat.
The family name is synonymous with philanthropy, and J.B. and M.K. Pritzker have focused on early childhood health and education initiatives through their family foundation.
On the business side, Pritzker joined with older brother Tony to form the Pritzker Group, an investment and venture capital firm. In 2012 the candidate founded the 1871 high-tech startup.
Much about his personal finances, though, remains a secret.
Pritzker, who Forbes estimates is worth $3.5 billion, has declined to reveal how many domestic and offshore family trusts he benefits from. He won’t identify the trusts by name or where they’re located. And he declined to say how much money he receives from them.
The Tribune has found that Pritzker’s offshore investments are more extensive than previously known, with money parked in at least 12 investment funds in the Cayman Islands. Those investments are in addition to his offshore shell companies revealed in a March Tribune report.
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November 7, 2018 at 05:09AM