Crooked Bruce? Or Crooked J.B.?
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker on Thursday held dueling news conferences to argue who is the bigger crook.
The finger-pointing comes as Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office confirmed Thursday that its special prosecutions unit is reviewing a property tax break Pritzker received in part by disabling toilets.
Just a day earlier, Democratic Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced that she was opening a criminal investigation into the Rauner administration’s handling of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease crisis at a veterans’ home in Downstate Quincy.
Rauner and Pritzker did their best Thursday to focus attention on the other guy’s scandal.
Pritzker met with reporters in Chicago Thursday morning to highlight Madigan’s probe.
Soon after, Rauner stood in the backyard of a Des Plaines home to put the spotlight on a Cook County inspector general’s report that called a $330,000 tax break Pritzker received by in part ripping out toilets from a Gold Coast mansion he owns a “scheme to defraud.”
Pritzker called Rauner’s handling of the Quincy crisis “callous,” “baffling,” and “criminal.”
“This is criminal negligence that cost people their lives, and it’s time we had a grand jury get to the bottom of this,” Pritzker said. “Those who lost their lives deserve nothing less.”
Democratic U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, who have already endorsed Pritzker for governor, on Thursday released a statement saying they support Madigan’s probe into the Republican governor’s handling of the Quincy deaths.
“The documents revealed by WBEZ make clear that the Rauner administration treated this as a public relations crisis when they should’ve treated it like the public health emergency it was,” the senators wrote in a statement. “It’s simply inexcusable, and we support Attorney General Madigan’s investigation into the administration’s handling of this crisis that left 14 people dead and many more sick. Full transparency and accountability is the least the families of those who lost loved ones deserve.”
Despite Pritzker’s focus on Quincy, reporters asked the Democratic billionaire pointed questions about his toilet tax break. He reiterated that he “followed the rules,” and was in the process of paying back the $330,000 to Cook County.
In Des Plaines, Rauner said Republican Cook County commissioners will be asking the Cook County state’s attorney to criminally investigate Pritzker for the tax break.
Foxx spokeswoman Tandra R. Simonton told the Sun-Times: “The matter is in the hands of our special prosecutions unit; we have no further comment at this time.”
The state’s Republican congressmen have already sent a letter to U.S. Attorney John Lausch requesting an investigation into the tax “scheme.”
“Heaven forbid that the people of Illinois would vote for a person who is immediately after the election indicted for criminal fraud and goes to jail again. Heaven forbid,” Rauner said. “We deserve so much better than this. We must do better.”
Four of the past nine Illinois governors have gone to prison.
Despite running ads calling Pritzker “the Porcelain Prince of tax avoidance,” and his campaign printing “Pritzker Plumbing” T-shirts and featuring toilets at events, Rauner said Pritzker’s tax break is “no joke.”
Rauner’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, too held a press conference in Bloomington on Thursday — standing next to prop toilets.
“This is not about toilets. It’s not about toilets. This is not about bathroom humor. This is not a joke. This is not funny. This is not about pink toilets versus purple toilets. You know what this is about? Corruption,” Rauner said.
Asked whether there was criminal negligence in the Quincy response, Rauner said “absolutely not.” Asked about delay in notifying the public that WBEZ outlined, Rauner said “there’s not a delay.”
WBEZ on Tuesday aired a report outlining that state officials waited six days — even though they knew the epidemic was occurring — before notifying residents, families and the public. WBEZ also outlined how Rauner’s former deputy press secretary, who now works for President Donald Trump’s administration, sent an email directing no public notification of the outbreak on Aug. 25, 2015 — four days after people began getting sick.
“As soon as the Legionella infection occurred there, members of our team immediately took action to keep the veterans safe, to keep the staff safe and we brought in national experts and we have done everything that the national experts have recommended we do,” Rauner said.
Rauner said the outbreak was not contagious: “They do not pass from person to person. There’s no risk. It’s not that we have to notify the public, notify the community, notify the neighborhood, notify outsiders,” Rauner said. “This was an internal issue for plumbing inside the building, in particular residential halls. This is not something we had to rush to send out wide press releases and the team made the decisions when they knew all the facts and they could outlined exactly what was happening and what they were doing, what communication should be done.”
Pritzker has called the IG report a “politically leaked” report, while Rauner, too, blames the Madigan investigation on partisan politics — pointing to his standard nemesis, House Speaker Mike Madigan, Lisa Madigan’s father and the man Rauner insists is pulling the strings for Pritzker.
“This was all partisan. This was about Attorney General Madigan wanting to throw mud in the air quickly because her ally, her dad’s — basically her dad’s puppet — has gotten caught in likely criminal behavior,” Rauner said.