Failure and fraud likely themes when Rauner, Pritzker meet for second debate

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Democrat J.B. Pritzker, left, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in their first debate last month. Libertarian candidate Kash Jackson and Conservative candidate Sam McCann were part of that debate, but won’t be included in Wednesday’s second debate on ABC7. File Photo. | NBC Chicago

Get ready to hear a lot about toilets and cancer.

Embattled Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will try to hammer Democrat J.B. Pritzker on a six-figure property tax break Pritzker received — and has now vowed to return to Cook County taxpayers — in part for disabling toilets in a mansion he owns.

Pritzker will focus on the governor’s “four years of damage” and his ties to a west suburban company being investigated for cancer-causing air pollution.

Those are expected to be key themes when the two major rivals meet Wednesday evening for their second televised debate.

Pritzker and Rauner will face off at 6 p.m. in a debate sponsored by ABC 7 Chicago, the League of Women Voters and Univision. This time the two will get even more airtime to duke it out. They won’t appear alongside third-party candidates state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, and Libertarian Grayson “Kash” Jackson, who both participated in the first televised debate on Sept. 20, but were excluded from Wednesday’s meeting.

So what’s happened since the last debate?

Pritzker has plumped up his campaign war chest with an additional $20 million — bringing his contribution total to the campaign fund to an astounding $146 million. He’s also been hit by a Cook County inspector general’s report that concluded that a property tax reduction Pritzker received in part by removing toilets in a Gold Coast mansion next to the one he lives in constituted a “scheme to defraud.”

The tax break and inspector general’s report were both first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Pritzker on Tuesday vowed to give back the more than $330,000 to the county — and his campaign has dubbed the report a “politically-leaked report.”

Rauner has toured the state touting new infrastructure projects and focusing on small businesses. He also joined a chorus of Republican governors last week in recommending the U.S. Senate delay a vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court pending an FBI investigation.


Simon poll: Pritzker leads Rauner by 22 points

Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, said Pritzker, as the frontrunner in several polls, is in “run-out-the-clock mode.”

“Pritzker will stand by his charge that Rauner’s term was a failure, that the budget mess, and indeed, the awful fiscal situation the state is in are all Rauner’s fault,” Gaines said. “Don’t expect him to open new fronts. Campaigns are usually conservative when they’re out front.”

As for Rauner, Gaines said Rauner must expand on his themes and try to emphasize “Pritzker’s untrustworthiness on taxes,” both his progressive income tax plan and his “vanishing toilets.”

“If it were me, I’d not dwell on the accusation of fraud so much as the point that ‘JB will raise your taxes, viewers and listeners, not only mine, and not his. He will just evade his own tax bill yet again,'” Gaines said.

Pritzker’s campaign said the Democrat will focus on the budget impasse, cleaning up “Bruce Rauner’s four years of damage,” and his ties to a Willowbrook company at the center of an emissions crisis.

Rauner’s ties to Sterigenics were first reported in the Chicago Tribune in August.

Rauner’s former private equity firm GTCR bought Sterigenics in 2011. But Rauner in a radio interview last week said he no longer has a financial stake in the company.

A federal report released in August revealed unusually high cancer risks in communities near the company. The company last week in a news release claimed independent testing showed the ethylene oxide emissions were “well below permitted levels.”

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday referred enforcement action against Sterigenics to the Illinois attorney general’s office. And last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said inspectors will measure air quality in the area.

Rauner in August said the issue was “not an emergency” and “not a public health immediate crisis.” On Tuesday, the governor’s office said the governor believes “Sterigenics should pause operations until the US EPA can provide more clarity about any potential threat.”

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