State Sen. Daniel Biss kicked off his run for governor on Monday, taking shots at two of the most unpopular politicians in Illinois — Republican Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan.
The Evanston Democrat is entering an increasingly crowded primary field, but he is the first of his party’s major candidates to go after the powerful Southwest Democrat.
“Listen, I’ve been clear for a long time that Madigan has been there too long,” Biss said at one point, adding that he’s favored term limits in the past.
Biss also said he’s not focused on one person — be it Madigan or Rauner — but aims to change a system that caters to the wealthy and machine politicians.
Biss made his announcement on Facebook Live, then responded to questions and comments from the online audience.
The words “billionaires” and “machine politicians” were two of the most common Biss used during his 24-minute announcement — as he sought to distance himself from both.
“I’m not a millionaire or part of any political machine,” the mathematician said in an emailed version of his announcement.
Polling reinforces Biss’ strategy. Three out of five voters had a negative opinion of Rauner’s and Madigan’s job performance in a Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll released last week.
But the jabs at the wealthy were likely directed not just at Rauner, but at two fellow Democrats: Businessman Chris Kennedy, who has already launched his gubernatorial campaign and J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire venture capitalist who has established an exploratory committee.
Like Rauner, Kennedy and Pritzker have pockets deep enough to self finance their campaigns.
The Illinois Republican Party focused its criticism of Biss on his his anti-machine claims, issuing a release calling him a “Madigan accomplice.”
“Don’t let his exterior fool you, Daniel Biss is the North Shore branch of the Madigan machine,” the party news release said.
“Biss has taken over $260,000 in Madigan money, supported Madigan for Speaker and voted for billions in unbalanced Madigan spending,” the statement continued. “Daniel Biss is a willing Mike Madigan accomplice who would give the Governor’s office back to the Chicago machine.”
Other Facebook questions dealt with school funding; Biss said it was time to “finally ask the richest Illinois residents to pay their share for a fair and just education system.”
Biss becomes the fifth announced Democratic challenger to Rauner in his 2018 re-election campaign. Biss joins a field that already includes: Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th); Kennedy; Bob Daiber, a superintendent of schools in Madison County; and business owner Alex Paterakis.
Pritzker formed his exploratory committee last week and is still mulling whether to officially enter the race.
“It’s time to start solving problems,” Biss said Monday. “This is a campaign for the rest of us.”
Biss helped to raise $10 million to run anti-Rauner ads before the November election. He lives in Evanston and represents the 9th District in the Illinois Senate; he previously served one term in the Illinois House, representing the 17th District. He grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, and moved to Chicago after obtaining his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and a Ph.D. in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before joining the University of Chicago’s mathematics faculty at 25.
He has said that while teaching, his desire to confront Illinois’ most critical problems compelled him to get more involved in his community, first as an organizer, and later as an elected official. He and his wife, Karin, have two children.
Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika, Tina Sfondeles