When Chicago put together a bid last year to land Amazon’s second North American headquarters, it was great to see that our town was all dressed up and ready to go when it came to a crucial requirement: a strong and growing tech workforce.
Not to brag, but the Chicago area is home to some 35,000 software developers, 67,000 engineers and 11,500 computer programmers. Our universities produce the third-highest number of engineers in the country and the third-highest number of computer scientists.
Among the essential leaders in building Chicago’s vibrant tech industry, which barely existed two decades ago, has been J.B. Pritzker, whom we endorse in the Democratic primary for governor. He bought into the vision of “Silicon Prairie” early on, as a venture capitalist and public servant. He has put his energy, leadership and money behind it ever since.
Pritzker founded 1871, the tech business incubator in the Merchandise Mart credited with creating some 7,000 jobs. This remarkable nonprofit has raised Chicago’s profile nationwide as a high-tech hub. He served as chairman of Chicago’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Committee. He was a founder of Matter, the nonprofit healthcare technology incubator.
This kind of future-focused approach to economic development is precisely what Illinois sorely needs right now. It is also reflective of what seems to be Pritzker’s philosophy for trying to make a difference in this world: work it from the bottom up.
That’s the common thread — start at the beginning — running through Pritzker’s many years of public service, whether he was supporting new technology, working to expand childcare services and early-childhood education, or simply trying to provide every child with a good school breakfast.
Pritzker saw the promise and nurtured it.
SUN-TIMES ARCHIVE: Coverage of J.B. Pritzker
Illinois could stand more of his positive and inclusive approach to leadership, as well as his ability — as witnessed in this campaign — to build broad coalitions.
We want to express our respect for the five other candidates, and we believe that one other in particular — state Sen. Dan Biss — could be a creative and effective governor. His command of the intricacies of public policy is unmatched. But, ultimately, Pritzker’s achievements in both the private and public sectors overshadow Biss’ more limited legislative achievements.
And, frankly, Pritzker offers Democrats their best chance to defeat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner — or Rep. Jeanne Ives, Rauner’s opponent — in the November general election. He has the funding (billionaires usually do), the organizational support and the responsibly progressive agenda.
Unlike Rauner, Pritzker wants to grow the economy of Illinois without setting up a false choice between organized labor and the business community. He wants to push through a progressive income tax and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
He wants to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and tax it, generating some $700 million a year, and he would use much of that money to properly fund public education, as called for in the state’s constitution. That would ease the pressure on property taxes.
Pritzker has a five-point education plan that includes universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds — again, that emphasis on working from the bottom up — and he wants to restore vocational training in high schools. In a nod to what our grandparents probably understood better, a college education should not be the only route to a productive and fulfilling life.
Pritzker has built a coalition that stretches from Winthrop Harbor to Cairo, with strong support from every ethnic group and race. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are behind his bid, and so are the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Secretary of State Jesse White.
Pritzker is still living down the release of FBI wiretap recordings of phone conversations he had nearly 10 years ago with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is now in prison. In all of those calls, Pritzker sounds like a typical backroom dealmaker. In one, he talks insensitively about potential African-American candidates to fill then-President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
Make of that what you will, and it’s far from complimentary. But Pritzker has sincerely apologized for what he said, and his actions with regard to issues important to the African-American community — his work on schools and health care — speak louder than his secretly recorded words of years ago.
There’s a reason Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers and Ald. Roderick Sawyer, chairman of the City Council’s black caucus, in endorsing Pritzker and standing behind him on his apology tour.
They’re part of the huge coalition Pritzker has built. And one that can vault him into the governor’s mansion come November.
The tech incubator Pritzker helped build, 1871, is named for the year of the Great Chicago Fire. The name honors the city’s stunning rise from the ashes.
That same spirit is sorely needed now to rebuild state government. And Pritzker has what it takes to lead the charge.
When J. B. Pritzker visited the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board on Jan. 17, we asked him to let voters know what his priorities would be if nominated and elected governor. Watch Pritzker’s response:
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