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J.B. Pritzker Makes His Move To Become Illinois Governor

As of last week, there are now two Jews and three billionaires in the 2018 Illinois governor’s race.

Following several months of speculation local business mogul J.B. Pritzker officially thrown his hat into the ring on April 6. The move came two weeks after he formed an exploratory committee with $200,000 of his own money,

Pritzker, 52, spent the morning of his announcement chatting up commuters in the Loop, coffee cup in hand. Later, in an afternoon gathering at a Chicago park district gym in the South Side’s Grand Crossing neighborhood, Pritzker, flanked by his wife, M.K., and their children, introduced himself to a crowd of supporters that included community and union officials.

In his announcement speech, Pritzker directly attacked the current governor Bruce Rauner, a billionaire Republican, as Donald Trump’s “local partner,” deriding him as “too afraid” to stand up to the president.

“Governor Bruce Rauner is a failure,” Pritzker said. “He promised a turnaround, and all we’ve gotten is a runaround. He said he’s standing up to the special interests, and instead he’s become his own special interest.”

He added: “Everything we care about is under siege by Donald Trump and Bruce Rauer.”

On his campaign website, Pritzker has addressed the issue of his own wealth, which Forbes has estimated at $3.4 billion. “With Bruce Rauner as Governor and Donald Trump as President, why do we need another rich guy running for office?” he wrote. “My answer is that it’s a matter of values, and that Trump and Rauner are trying to destroy many of the things I’ve spent my life fighting for.” He invoked his great-grandfather, Nicholas Pritzker, who arrived in the U.S. as a penniless immigrant but was able to pull himself up by the bootstraps provided by the state’s public services.

Already—and predictably—he has faced criticism from his fellow Democrats. Daniel Biss, a fellow Jew, emailed his own supporters this morning asking, “Do we try to out-Rauner Bruce Rauner or offer a truly democratic alternative that empowers ordinary Illinoisans? I welcome the debate about whether the future of the Democratic Party will be a vehicle for the very rich and machine politicians, or one for the rest of us.”

Chicago alderman and gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar, meanwhile, welcomed Pritzker to the campaign by challenging him to another debate about protecting the middle class.

The other billionaire Democrat, Chris Kennedy, has yet to comment, though his campaign announced this morning that in the 6 weeks since Kennedy announced his own candidacy, he has raised $1 million from 3,000 donors.

Pritzker is an heir to the Pritzker family that owns Hyatt hotels, though he has not worked for Hyatt since he was a teenager. Instead, he became a venture capitalist and an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Among other ventures, Pritzker established 1871, a digital startup center in Chicago, led the capital campaign for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and funded the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development at the University of Chicago. In 2015, he donated $100 million to his alma mater, Northwestern University’s law school, which was renamed the Pritzer School of Law.

He and his family have a long history with the Democratic party: Pritzker ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress in 1998, and was the national co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 2008. His sister, Penny, meanwhile, served as Barack Obama’s secretary of commerce.

Aimee Levitt reports regularly on Chicagoland for the Forward. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter, @aimeelevitt


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