JB Pritzker Will Gladly Be Democrats’ Flamethrower – Vanity Fair


JB Pritzker has seen the memes.

And not only those on “Socialists for Pritzker,” the Twitter account that cast him as an unlikely leftist hero and spawned a host of semi-ironic jokes about the Illinois governor’s political appeal. He and his staff can rattle off some of the oft-surreal variations on the conceit. Anarchists for JB Pritzker. Nomadic Warriors for Pritzker. He finds it all entertaining, if a little strange. “I guess I’m a good straight man,” he told me on a recent afternoon in his Chicago office.

But there also may be something to the joke: Sure, the idea that an insanely wealthy hotel heir who used to work for Hillary Clinton is actually one of the nation’s most powerful and unabashed progressives is sort of funny. But what if it’s true?

“I was very clear when I ran for governor in 2017, 2018, what I thought we oughta do,” Pritzker told me. “I laid out a plan. I told people what I was gonna do, told them I was gonna go fight for it. I wasn’t wishy-washy about it…People knew what they were getting, or at least in me. And I didn’t change when I got elected. I just kept going.”

Pritzker has racked up a long list of progressive policy achievements, including some that have proved elusive or challenging for national Democrats: He and the Democratic-controlled state legislature implemented a law to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025; introduced a number of criminal justice reforms, including a bill making Illinois the first state to end cash bail; established a sweeping package to address climate change; and helped create a “firewall” of state-level abortion protections—three years before the conservative Supreme Court eliminated that right on the federal level.

At a time when Republicans seem to be pulling the nation further and further to the right, Pritzker’s aggressive approach to both politics and policy has captured the attention of Democrats seeking a greater sense of urgency from their party. “He’s really good at battling opponents,” said Camille Rivera, a Democratic strategist with the progressive New Deal Strategies. “Sometimes, we just need to say when something is wrong. Sometimes, we do need to battle it out. Sometimes, we do need to fight back. He represents the cadre of folks that are like, ‘I want you to fight. I want you to battle it out.’”

“They want that kind of fire sometimes,” Rivera added.

Pritzker doesn’t come off as a flamethrower.

It was a humid afternoon in early August when I met him at his Chicago office. He and his staff were settling in after a recent move from the postmodern Thompson Center, which the state sold to Google parent company Alphabet, to a West Loop office building that had once been the regional headquarters for Pepsi. His suite, on the 16th floor, was sparsely decorated, featuring little more than a White Sox hat, a set of Cubs golf clubs, and a coffee-table book on the White House china, which he told me was one of his favorite possessions. (Apparently, some of the china used at the White House is made right here in Illinois, in the far-northern Chicago suburb Antioch.)

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September 6, 2022 at 07:30AM

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