Rauner ousts new communications team after ‘white male’ flap

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner |Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

A day after crafting a controversial statement citing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s position as a “white male,” the governor’s new communications staff has been ousted — with more exits on the way.

The staffers — hired in July after a staff purge and series of protest resignations — were asked to resign; one was asked to stay but chose to resign.

Among those leaving is former Illinois Policy Institute staffer Diana Rickert, who served as the governor’s deputy chief of staff for communications; Laurel Patrick, communications director; Brittany Carl and Meghan Keenan, both communications specialists. And multiple sources said exits of high-level staffers are also on the way.

Rauner in a statement on Thursday morning confirmed the exits, saying the four had submitted their resignations.

A spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor’s office offered no comment on the resignations but said that she would be assisting with media calls.

Late Tuesday night, Rauner scrambled to undo the damage from a statement his newly revamped communications office issued earlier in the day, with Patrick writing that the governor would not offer an opinion on a cartoon some deemed racist — because he is “a white male.” The story was picked up on national wires, which undeniably painted the governor in a negative light.

Hours later, Rauner released a statement saying the comment “did not accurately reflect” his views.

“I can understand why some people found the cartoon offensive. And I believe we should do more as a society and a nation to bring us together, rather than divide us,” the governor said in the statement.

RELATED: Rauner: ‘White male’ remark ‘did not accurately reflect my views’

The communication staffers’ exits mark a cap to a dizzying spell of public flaps for the governor since he directed a staff takeover in mid-July — including the firing of his “body man” on his first day for sexist and racially insensitive tweets; criticism over the right leanings of his high-level staffers; a clarification by email of his comments on Charlottesville and a highly criticized national interview on Fox News.

Carl, too, came under fire when an online post revealed she argued thatabortion is being used “to rid the world of disabled and other “unwanted’ persons” — comparing it to Nazi Germany.

The negative headlines come as Rauner is seeking re-election — and he is considered a vulnerable Republican governor, despite the vast wealth he has to support his campaign. In a critical blow to his campaign, MikeZolnierowicz resigned as Rauner’s top political lieutenant in July.

News of the exits spread throughout the political realm on Wednesday night. One senior Republican operative called the ousting a sign the governor has realized he made a “mistake.”

“The governor and First Lady have finally admitted they made a colossal mistake in hiring these right wing ideologues,” the operative said. “One can only hope for the sake of our state government they will make better choices in the future.”

The Rauner administration shakeup began on July 10 when Rauner unexpectedly fired his chief of staff, Richard Goldberg. Goldberg was swiftly replaced by Kristina Rasmussen, former president and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute. That sparked the exits of at least 20 employees, many of whom left because they didn’t believe in the direction the governor was taking in hiring members of the conservative think tank.

The shift came after Rauner vetoed a state budget that included an income-tax hike, only to see his veto overridden with the help of several Republicans.

The governor has defended his hires. In July, Rauner said he was working to assemble “the best team in America.” He also declared “change happens” and described criticism of his staff shakeup as “political spin baloney.”

“I am always looking for the most talented team I can possibly have, the most talented people who will serve the best interests of all the people of Illinois,” Rauner said in downstate Auburn on July 21. The governor said the transitions were “just part of a process.”

The governor continues to be fielded with questions about whether the hiring of Illinois Policy Institute staffers to high-level positions, such as his chief of staff and policy head, meant a signal to the right. He has denied the shift, saying he calls the shots.

Multiple emails sent to Patrick went unanswered on Wednesday. The Sun-Times last received a response from Patrick on Tuesday night. Questions about the controversial statement went unanswered. And emails sent Wednesday night to Patrick were returned with an automatic reply — directing media inquiries to two other state employees.

Calls made to Rickert, Patrick and Rasmussen were not returned Wednesday night.

Cartoon from the Illinois Policy Institute website that was removed August 16, 2017. From IPI website

Cartoon from the Illinois Policy Institute website that was removed August 16, 2017. From IPI website

The cartoon by the conservative think tank depicted a black child in a Cubs cap begging for money for school from a wealthy white man. The cigar-smoking man was showing one pocket empty and the other stuffed with tax increment financing money. Legislators decried the cartoon as racist on the Illinois House floor last week, and the think tank later removed it from the institute’s website.

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