Illinois governors in their own words

Sneed provides remembrances of interviews with chief executives going back to Richard Ogilvie.

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In April 2014 Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (left) and his Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner, shake after they appeared at an event in Chicago.

AP file photo

Ah, interviews! 

On the eve of electing a new Illinois governor, here’s personal reflections from Sneed’s gubernatorial interviews since the 1970s ... and a scandal side shot from 1970.

Let’s begin at the end.

1.) Gov. J.B. Pritzker: (2019-   ) Democrat 

In a 2017 interview, Pritzker, city-bred Hyatt Hotels heir, recalled meeting parents of his Midwestern bred wife, M.K., in the midst of a South Dakota winter.

J.B.: “It was 30 below zero! I was wearing a parka. Her dad was wearing a coat that looked like Nanook of the North!

“He said there was a “Frozen Flesh Advisory” outside. 

“Frozen flesh! I’d heard of a snow advisory, a freezing rain advisory. But not a frozen flesh advisory! 

2.) Gov. Bruce Rauner (2015-2019) Republican.

In a 2017 interview, Rauner, an uber rich hedge fund guy, claimed he loved riding his motorcycle from town to town greeting downstaters in his white cowboy hat when living at the Governor’s Mansion.

Rauner’s motorcycle maintenance made him feel “really wonderful.” 

“That energizes me ... and my wife tells me she hasn’t seen me this happy in 20 years,” said Rauner, who also claimed he learned the value of persistence by the time he spent trying to catch a bullfrog at his grandfather’s farm in Wisconsin.

3. Gov. Pat Quinn:  (2009-2015) Democrat.

Quinn, who treasured his role as the state’s military commander-in-chief of 3,700 National guard members, frequently mentioned his father Patrick’s service in the Navy during World War II. 

“At dinner, my dad would sometimes say, ‘Three years! One month! And 15 days!’ in reference to the time he served on an aircraft carrier. He was very proud of his service before returning home and working for Catholic Cemeteries.

“We used to have flags in the house, put up on Memorial Day. Dad would leave at the crack of dawn to get to the cemetery to handle huge crowds coming with flowers and memory bouquets and notes they’d leave on graves.”

Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Jan. 2003-until impeached and removed in 2009.

A private chat with former Gov. Blagojevich four months before he was hauled off to jail in his jogging suit by FBI SWAT team agents … was the pinnacle of bizarre.

Interviewed in Denver, the location of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Blago’s silver mane was still bottle brown; his demeanor gracious but frenetic, and he kept reciting poetry by Rudyard Kipling. 

In light of Blago’s subsequent federal prison, the Kipling poem …“IF  you can trust yourself when all men doubt you” — later made sense.

Gov. George Ryan: 1999-2003. Republican

In one of numerous exclusive interviews with Ryan, a conversation about the death of his wife, Lura Lynn, from cancer while he was in prison on federal corruption charges stood out.

“I was told I could either be with her when she was dying … or attend her funeral,” he said soon after his prison release. “I couldn’t do both. When I visited her it was too late to bring her any comfort. I got to sit by her bed while she was dying, but she didn’t even know I was there. Then I was taken back to jail,” he said. “I never saw her again.” 

Gov. Jim Edgar: 1991-1999 two terms.  Republican

An incredibly popular governor who chose not to run for a third term, Gov. Edgar’s time in office was also noted “socially” as a “dry” time at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield. 

A teetotaler, Edgar continued to use the mansion as a political meeting venue with legislative dinners — but minus the booze. It became a subject of constant ribald ribbing and negative nabob nattering in the press.

Gov. Jim Thompson: 1977-1991. Republican. 

Thompson was a man of many parts. And all of them moving at the speed of light. The only three-term governor in Illinois history and one of the state’s savviest politicians,“ Big Jim” preceded his governorship with a highly distinguished term as U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois … and ended it as head of the city’s most prestigious law firms. He also was known to drive his car with a siren blaring ... and nothing meant more to him than his wife, Jayne, and daughter, Samantha, and grandchild Persephone.

Gov. Dan Walker: 1973-1977.  Democrat.

Attorney Dan Walker walked 1,197 miles across Illinois in a red bandana into gubernatorial victory. An anti-machine reformer never afraid to speak his mind, Walker went to prison in 1988 for fraudulently obtaining $1.4 million in bank loans and was released in 1989 for ill health. Personal phone calls to this column years later were a surprise; a chance to redefine his legacy, and chat work on his memoir: “The Maverick and the Machine.”

Gov. Richard Ogilvie:  (1969-1973) Republican

In 1970, the new Republican Ogilvie administration was turned upside down by a “Shoebox” scandal that netted me a shoelace: a first front page byline. The discovery of $820,000 in cash found in shoeboxes and metal containers in a Springfield hotel room of Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell — a Democrat — was a stunner.


Paul Powell


As the popular Paul Powell, who died a week before the cash as well as also 30 cases of whiskey in hotel storage were found, said: 

“There’s only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that’s a broke one.”

Remember to vote Tuesday!


Saturday birthdays: NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., 34; singer Bryan Adams, 62, and socialite Kris Jenner, 67. Sunday birthdays:  basketball star Lamar Odom, 43; actress Thandiwe Newton, 50, and and actress Sally Field, 76. ... And a belated birthday to Rosebud restaurant impresario Alex Dana on his 79th birthday last week and the 50th anniversary of his restaurant career in Chicago, which began in 1972 with a small luncheonette at Washington Street and Wacker Drive. His favorite Rosebud recipe: Chicken Parmesan!


Alex Dana with his favorite Roseud recipe, chicken Parmesan.

Provided by Kate Ahern

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