Rauner, Brooks hand out turkeys on the South Side

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Gov. Bruce Rauner and pastor Corey Brooks handed out turkeys Sunday at Brook’s New Beginnings Church. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Pastor Corey Brooks — one of only a handful of African-American ministers who supported Republican Bruce Rauner’s gubernatorial bid last year — welcomed Rauner to his South Side church Sunday to help hand out turkeys to the needy.

Rauner stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Brooks as the two dished out frozen birds and hugs at Brooks’ New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Drive, in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Volunteers at New Beginnings expected to hand out 5,000 turkeys, along with fixings.

Last year when Rauner visited Brooks’ church for the turkey giveaway, he’d won the gubernatorial election but had yet to take office.

Brooks said Sunday that shortly after he endorsed Rauner, who needed help courting black voters, membership at his church began to decline.

His congregation has since dwindled from about 1,250 people to about 650, Brooks said Sunday. Donations have also fallen by about half. And Brooks used to hold two Sunday services. He now holds one.

Both men insisted there were no strings attached to endorsement.

And while Rauner appointed Brooks to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board in July, Brooks said Sunday that he has not benefited from the relationship. He’s paid $31,426 a year for the part-time job.

“I donate every penny of that [tollway board] salary to a not-for-profit called Project Hood to build a community center on the South Side,” Brooks said.

“I think having an opportunity to be at the table to make sure African Americans are represented and making sure African Americans are getting their fair share of state contracts — I would call that a benefit. But me, personally benefitting, absolutely not.”

“There are a lot of people who get appointed to positions, a lot of people who work in campaigns that get appointed to positions,” Brooks said. “I’m not some illiterate dumb negro, I’m a very intelligent black man, and educated, and I’ve been serving people for a long time and so it’s not something that was just done as a pay back, I work very hard.”

Brooks said that since he took his tollway board seat he’s helped facilitate an event on the South Side to bring together different state agencies and minority contractors, as well as an upcoming state hiring fair that will take place at Brooks’ church.

Brooks, who in the past claimed to be an Independent voter, now says he is staunchly Republican, but has no political ambitions.

“I’ve always been a Republican, for the most part,” Brooks said Sunday. “I have Republican values, conservative values. It’s just hard to be that on the South Side of Chicago.”

Brooks said he has Rauner’s cellphone number but has never used it. “I have access to him, but I don’t use that unless it’s an emergency.”

Has supporting Rauner been worth it?

“It remains to be seen,” Brooks said Sunday. “The governor has a lot to do. He has a lot to do to make the state better for everybody. So, we’ll see … I believe that it’s going to be a benefit. It think he’s going to turn things around.”

Rauner, who is in the middle of a budget standoff, did not take questions Sunday.

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