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Will Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin run for governor?

Billionaire Ken Griffin might be willing to plunk down a sizable chunk of his fortune to back Irvin in the Republican primary. No one will go on record, but Illinois Democrats are taking Irvin seriously.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin is considering running for governor.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin is considering running for governor.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The hottest political candidate of 2022 has not yet declared — Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin.

For weeks, the political classes have been buzzing that billionaire Ken Griffin will back Irvin to run for Illinois governor.

Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel and Illinois’ richest man, is gunning for a fellow billionaire, Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He has been tearing into Pritzker for months and may put up a small chunk of his fortune to take the first-time governor out.

“I’m going to make sure that if he runs again, that I am all in to support the candidate who will beat him,” Crain’s Chicago Business quoted Griffin as saying. “He doesn’t deserve to be the governor of our state.”

He has criticized Pritzker for everything from his handling of the state’s economy to Chicago’s explosive crime problem. Griffin also wants a Republican governor to help keep his tax bill as low as possible.

According to some news reports, Griffin is prepared to plunk down as much as $300 million to back a Pritzker challenger, and Irvin tops his list.

Griffin’s people have denied the rumors. Irvin isn’t talking. A decision is expected very soon.

In 2017, Irvin was elected mayor of Aurora, becoming the first African American to lead the second-largest city in Illinois. Now in his second term, Irvin, 51, has pushed small business growth and economic and community development in his hometown.

His official web site boasts an up-from-the-bottom bio. Irvin was raised by a single mother in public housing; the first in his family to graduate from college; an Army veteran who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He has a law degree from Northern Illinois University and is a former county prosecutor.

This booster of diversity in politics says, bring Irvin on.

He’s got charm and charisma. Twice elected mayor in a racially mixed city, he demonstrates broad appeal.

Griffin’s millions would help Irvin stand out from four others contending for the Republican nomination: state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, from Waterloo; Jesse Sullivan, a venture capitalist; and businessman Gary Rabine.

Griffin may calculate that a credentialed, engaging Black Republican could attract moderate voters from the Chicago suburbs and beyond.

And while Pritzker has keenly courted Black voters, Irvin might tempt them to abandon the Democrats and cross over to help make Irvin Illinois’ first Black governor, or so goes the rationale.

Crazy?

Maybe, but Illinois Democrats are taking Irvin seriously. No one will go on the record, but many privately argue Irvin is a Democrat in the GOP’s clothing. As the Sun-Times reported last month, Irvin pulled ballots in Democratic primaries in 2014, 2016 and 2020.

Irvin would be Griffin’s bought-and-paid-for patsy, they say.

“Does Irvin, who has a potentially very bright political career in front of him, want to be a Griffin pawn in a race that could end up killing his political future?” a top Pritzker ally wrote me last week. “It would be very difficult for him to win the Republican primary even with Griffin money given where Republicans are today (sadly) even in IL.”

Others label Irvin “Rauner 2.0” and claim that with Griffin’s blessing, he would continue the disastrous legacy of Bruce Rauner, the one-term former governor who is reviled by Democrats.

Others might remind Republicans of the Alan Keyes blowout. The Illinois GOP slated Keyes, a pompously kooky African American diplomat, to challenge Barack Obama in the November 2004 race for U.S. Senate. Keyes lost by 43 percentage points.

No one can top that.

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