Kurt Summers could have shaken up the crowded Democratic race for governor and provided an alternative for African-American voters who might otherwise be leaning toward Chris Kennedy.
Instead, the city treasurer did the next best thing for J.B. Pritzker, billionaire heir of the Hyatt Hotel fortune. Summers decided not to run for governor and, instead, endorsed Pritzker.
“I met with every candidate and asked them what their commitment was to those who are most in need. That’s who we’re supposed to work for in government, that’s who we serve. J.B. had the combination of the best vision and the greatest capability to deliver,” Summers said.
“Issues of our community matter and they matter and they should be at the forefront . . . J.B. understands that the best way to lift up our communities is to invest in them, provide job creation and real opportunity. . . . J.B. is the person to lead Illinois [and] prioritize those who are most vulnerable.”
Besides Kennedy and Pritzker, the Democratic field also includes: Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th); Bob Daiber, a superintendent of schools in Madison County; business owner Alex Paterakis; and state Sen. Dan Biss.
Pritzker said he was “so honored and humbled” by the endorsement.
“I’m taken aback,” Pritzker said. “This is a special day.”
Kennedy dismissed the city treasurer’s endorsement of Pritzker, pointing to what he told Cook County Democrats during a prelude to slate-making session in March.
“This race is not about politicians endorsing other politicians or what might be happening behind closed doors. This race is about restoring the promise of the American Dream to the people of Illinois,” Kennedy was quoted as saying in a statement.
“Voters want to see the depth of our ideas and the vision we bring to rebuilding the promise of this state. My focus will be on earning the trust of the voters of Illinois and making Springfield finally work for their future.”
Emanuel has declared his intention to remain neutral in the crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary for the right to take on Gov. Bruce Rauner.
But, the mayor’s closest business advisor and biggest campaign donor, Michael Sacks, is with Pritzker. Now, so is Summers, who once worked for Sacks at Grosvenor Capital Management.
Summers was asked whether he and Pritzker had discussed a position on the ticket or in a Pritzker administration should the billionaire win the Democratic nomination and defeat Rauner.
Rauner has donated $50 million of his own money to his re-election campaign.
The treasurer responded that the only commitment Pritzker has made is to fight for the values the two men share.
Summers was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the city treasurer’s job after the surprise resignation of Stephanie Neely.
The pre-election appointment to fill a vacancy that nobody else knew existed gave Summers a leg up in the 2015 election. He ended up running unopposed.
But the insider appointment left the ambitious Summers scrambling to establish his independence from the mayor, particularly after the furor caused by Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
For a while, Summers appeared to be maneuvering for a 2019 run for mayor. But now that it has become increasingly likely that Emanuel will seek a third term, Summers has been looking at other ways to move up the political ladder.
He was so serious about running for governor, he commissioned a poll.
It showed that, in a three-way race between Summers and the two big-bucks, self-funding candidates, Kennedy leads with 44 percent of those surveyed compared to 11 percent for Pritzker and 7 percent for Summers. A whopping 34 percent of those questioned were undecided.
Only 18 percent of Kennedy’s support was described as “strong,” with 26 percent of it “weak.” Pritzker’s support was nearly all in the “weak” category. Same with Summers.
But after the “push” describing Summers in the most favorable light, the treasurer’s support jumped from 7 percent to 28 percent.
Positive descriptions of Pritzker didn’t move the needle much. He went from 11 to 15 percent. Kennedy went down a point — to 43 percent — with 12 percent undecided.
The statewide survey of 500 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted March 2-to-6 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. That’s the Washington D.C. firm that Emanuel still uses and former Mayor Richard M. Daley employed for decades.
Either because of that poll, or in spite of it, Summers has decided to focus on the job he holds instead of worrying about the next rung on the political ladder. But he still has a bright future.
Summers is the Harvard-educated grandson of longtime community activist Sam Patch, a close adviser to former Mayor Harold Washington.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., gave Summers his first job in politics by hiring him as an intern. In between high-powered jobs in the finance industry, Summers served as chief of staff to both Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid committee and to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
But those political ties didn’t stop Rush from criticizing the insider deal that made Summers city treasurer.
“The person is perfect. . . . The process has a lot to be desired. . . . This process, more than anything else, speaks to the way that Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of the city of Chicago,” Rush said on the day Summers was appointed.
“The deal that he and Rich Daley cut, I think, cut us all out in terms of having the opportunity to really organize and run a campaign for mayor that would have been more competitive and fair to the people of Chicago. This is more of the same. This has to come to a screeching halt. . . . This is the Chicago style and it can’t be repeated.”
Emanuel responded to the criticism by saying he needed “more than a seat-warmer” because the treasurer sits on boards overseeing four city employee pension funds.
The mayor has since raised Summers’ profile by appointing him to chair a revamped Infrastructure Trust billed as a game-changer that has been painfully slow to get off the ground.
Summers also sold the mayor on the idea of creating a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside Chicago’s thriving downtown.
Last month, Summers proposed using $57 million in excess “portfolio earnings” generated by his office to stop the bloodshed on Chicago streets by investing in long-neglected inner-city neighborhoods.