Republican Bruce Rauner took a sharp turn toward the political middle Thursday by parading out a line-up of new Democratic and independent supporters, including one long-time Democrat with gold-plated political ties to President John F. Kennedy.
With nearly two-dozen enlistees at his back, Rauner said the support from Democrats such as Newton Minow, the Rev. James Meeks and Chicago lawyer Manny Sanchez, among others, demonstrates a “new way” of bi-partisan political thinking that is indicative of how he would govern.
The Democrat with the longest tenure now backing Rauner is Minow, the 88-year-old former Kennedy appointee who headed the Federal Communications Commission in the 1960s and has been an avid supporter of President Barack Obama more recently.
“President Kennedy once said party loyalty asks too much. I think this is one of those times. I’m a strong Democrat, but I’m taking a leave of absence from my party because Illinois is in desperate shape,” he said. “I think this not an ordinary election.”
Rauner said the group’s backing of him represents “a new way of thinking” in approaching Springfield’s problems, a philosophy in which Democratic and Republican ideologies are secondary to fixing the state’s immense economic problems.
“We are here with leaders from all over Illinois, from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences in Illinois leadership, in Illinois life,” Rauner told reporters during a news conference at the Hotel Allegro downtown. “We want to bring everyone together in our state to address our biggest challenges and come up with new solutions.”
Rauner’s appearance included a brief speaking role for wife Diana, a Democrat who stayed on the sidelines during the primary campaign when her husband positioned himself as a “conservative Republican.”
“I believe that leadership is more important than ideology,” she said. “We need pragmatic leadership that is not beholden to anyone, and so for me, it’s not about Republican or Democrat. It’s now or never. We need a warrior to go to battle for our children and for the future of our state.”
The location Rauner chose even carried symbolism important to his message. Long before it became the Allegro, the hotel was the Bismarck, Cook County Democratic Party headquarters dating back to the days of Richard J. Daley .
Gov. Pat Quinn ridiculed the orchestration behind trying to make it seem as if Rauner was winning over people seemingly from the governor’s own base.
“Well, looking at the result of the Republican primary, I think he has plenty of work to do on that side,” the governor said during an event at a Gap clothing store in the Loop, where he was promoting a minimum-wage increase.
“[Rauner] didn’t get a resounding victory at all from his own party so there’s always going to be people picking a different candidate. But I think we will do very well with the Democratic Party. We had an excellent breakfast at the Billy Goat,” Quinn said, referring to the Wednesday unity get-together by Illinois’ top Democratic leaders.
“We couldn’t afford to go to the Union League Club,” the governor said, referring to the private club where Republicans had their post-primary unity event. “We’re going to stick to a great Illinois institution. And I think the people who like Billy Goat are going to vote for us.”
The backers Rauner produced Thursday included several former state appointees who Quinn dropped from state boards and commissions, business associates of Rauner’s and previous donors to the GOP candidate.
Sanchez, for example, was dumped by Quinn from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority Board last November, an apparent casualty, Sanchez said, of refusing to cast a vote in support of the governor’s choice to lead the agency that oversees U.S. Cellular Field, Kelly Kraft. She was Quinn’s former budget spokeswoman and not backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But Sanchez — an Obama liaison to Latinos, a former Northern Illinois University trustee, a past Quinn fund-raiser and once a member of the Democratic National Finance Committee — insisted his support for Rauner months before the primary had nothing to do with being spurned by Quinn for another term on the sports facilities board.
“Oh no, no, that’s a good question. No absolutely not,” Sanchez said when asked if his Rauner endorsement amounted to political payback. “That’s a very fair question. Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with that. It has a lot to do with an annoyance that has festered in my belly in the state of Illinois as a lifelong resident of Chicago.
“I was appointed initially by Jim Edgar, proudly in 1996, reappointed, not so proudly, but reappointed by [George] Ryan. Then [Rod] Blagojevich never got around to it, and then shortly after Pat succeeded following the impeachment, I was reappointed to Northern Illinois University’s board. At my request because I’m a lifetime White Sox fan, I was appointed to the Illinois Sports Facility Authority by Pat Quinn,” Sanchez said.
“This has nothing to do with Pat Quinn. This has a lot to do with going with my ethical constraints, which are do the right thing regardless of what the political consequences are. When I was asked to support a candidate that I did not believe who was nearly as qualified as the other candidate, and you know who I’m talking about,” he said, referring to Kraft, “I did the right thing and I called the governor and said I could not support his candidate. I would support the other. Well that resulted in my getting fired. So be it.
“This is not a payback,” Sanchez said.
Another Democrat endorsing Rauner is former state Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church. Absent from Thursday’s event, Meeks helped lead efforts in Springfield last year to defeat the legalization of same-sex marriage, a stance that doesn’t exactly square with Rauner’s belief that voters should have been given the final say on letting gay and lesbian couples wed.
Asked about that conflict with Meeks on gay rights, Rauner said, “Nobody up here in front of you, nobody in my world, agrees 100 percent on everything.
“Frankly, sometimes, I disagree with myself,” he said to laughter. “You know what? Life is not about agreeing. Virtually no human being agrees 100 percent on everything. That’s OK.”
Minow, meanwhile, said he sees in Rauner a chance to turn Illinois around after 11 years of all-Democratic rule have left the state with the worst credit rating in the country and one of the highest unemployment rates.
“I think our state is in big, big trouble. And I think a continuation of the same things that have been going on is not in the public interest. It’s not in the interest of the future of Illinois,” Minow said.
As for Quinn’s role in contributing to the state’s decline, Minow said, “I just look at the way the record is. I think Gov. Quinn is a decent honorable person, but I think the record, the performance, demands that we make a change.”