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Republican gov hopeful Sullivan wants to shift focus from COVID-19 to crime, comparing Chicago to ‘a corrupt warzone’

Venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan said elected officials spend too much time on the pandemic. “And it’s like, what about all the people — more kids that are being shot in Chicago, than have actually died of COVID, you know, around the state. That’s the problem that I want to refocus on right now,” he said. 

Republican Illinois gubernatorial primary candidate Jesse Sullivan speaks during a news conference outside the Cook County Criminal Court building Friday morning.
Republican Illinois gubernatorial primary candidate Jesse Sullivan speaks during a news conference outside the Cook County Criminal Court building Friday morning.
Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Illinois’ newest Republican candidate for governor slammed Democrats during his first Chicago news conference Friday, suggesting it’s time for them to stop worrying so much about the COVID-19 pandemic and start worrying more about rising crime.

Jesse Sullivan, a venture capitalist from downstate Petersburg, lambasted President Joe Biden, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx outside the Cook County Criminal Court building, where he said Democratic leaders have been “putting criminals ahead of victims.”

The 37-year-old Sullivan — who made himself an instant contender in the four-man GOP gubernatorial primary with a $10.8 million campaign fund fueled by out-of-state donors — said that’s partly because Democrats in power are too focused on fighting the coronavirus.

“The problem is that a lot of our leaders have been focusing on that and focusing on that and focusing. And it’s like, what about all the people — more kids that are being shot in Chicago, than have actually died of COVID, you know, around the state. That’s the problem that I want to refocus on right now,” Sullivan said.

The political neophyte, who’s faced questions about his residency since his company Alter Global previously listed its primary location in San Francisco, said he “never thought in my home state I live in, this great city of Chicago would feel like a corrupt warzone.

“But here we are. We’re no longer looking like the ‘Land of Lincoln,’ but we’re slipping back into being the capital of Capone: chaos, crime, corruption,” Sullivan said.

Republican Illinois gubernatorial primary candidate Jesse Sullivan speaks to a supporter after a news conference outside the Cook County Criminal Court building Friday morning.
Republican Illinois gubernatorial primary candidate Jesse Sullivan speaks to a supporter after a news conference outside the Cook County Criminal Court building Friday morning.
Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

The candidate’s Friday morning appearance was staged as a response to Biden’s Chicago visit a day earlier, but Sullivan didn’t have much to say about the focus of the president’s trip: employer mandates for COVID-19 vaccination.

Sullivan said he and his wife are vaccinated, a decision made “as a form of love for my father, who is immuno-compromised.

“But I think mandates from the top down, and forcing everyone to do that — that’s not the way I would lead. I allow local leaders to be able to actually step up and make decisions around the state,” he said.

Sullivan mostly sidestepped other hot-button conservative issues, refusing to say whether he voted for Donald Trump in 2020, or whether he agrees with the former Republican president’s false claims of rampant voter fraud.

“I know that a lot of politicians do this crap. They stand up here in front of a podium, and they start to talk to be able to get media attention,” Sullivan said. “It’s wrong that our politicians are focused on these other things.”

A campaign spokesperson later said in an email that “Sullivan has said publicly that Joe Biden is the president and he has a responsibility to help direct focus and resources to addressing this epidemic” of crime.

Sullivan also ducked questions about his non-profit entities that have been branded “delinquent” and suspended by officials in California, another issue in a series of early hiccups for the young campaign.

Sullivan had to clarify his military record last month after his campaign announcement included photos of him in uniform. He said Friday he worked for seven months as a “department of defense civilian” in Afghanistan, an experience he said is “key to my notion we need to support our law enforcement.”

“I see the sacrifices our law enforcement and first responders are making for all of us, and when they’re not being supported by our politicians to actually be able to take on these issues that matter, then it offends me greatly,” he said.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, a GOP primary opponent of Sullivan from downstate Xenia, responded by taking a shot at Sullivan for his firm’s ties to California.

“It’s no surprise that San Francisco Sullivan didn’t support President Trump’s agenda to put working families first,” campaign spokesman Joe DeBose said. “When he was rubbing shoulders with the oligarchs in California, Darren Bailey was here in Illinois fighting for law enforcement, safer communities, and opportunities for working families.”

Businessman Gary Rabine, another GOP primary opponent, said in a statement that crime “of course is the focus right now,” but the northwest suburban Bull Valley resident said “it should not be an either-or proposition” of focusing on the literal pandemic or the epidemic of Chicago gun violence.

“Leaders should be able to focus on a variety of issues at once because this is what we expect our leaders to do,” Rabine said.

Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, left, in March; State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, center; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, right.
Suburban businessman Gary Rabine, left, in March; State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, center; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, right.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file; Facebook

A spokesperson for Pritzker’s campaign agreed in an email that “governors need to concentrate on more than one issue at once.”

“While Republican candidates for governor continue to encourage Illinoisans to ignore science and oppose masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID, Gov. Pritzker has been following the advice of doctors and scientists in determining the best ways to fight the pandemic and save lives,” the billionaire Democratic governor’s campaign said.

The other announced Republican contender — former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of downstate Waterloo — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of downstate Taylorville and Regional Transportation Chairman Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale are also weighing running in the GOP primary, which will be held in June of 2022.