SPRINGFIELD – Pre-inaugural pageantry was on full display Sunday in advance of Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner’s Monday swearing in, as supporters filed into the state’s Capitol to celebrate what Rauner promised will be “a major transformation” of state government.
“Let’s celebrate tonight,” Rauner told about 780 donors, lobbyists and at least one billionaire, at the $1,000-a-plate inaugural dinner at the state Capitol. “Starting tomorrow afternoon and the next day on, the hard work begins. And we’re excited and privileged to get to work for you.”
He made the address as supporters feasted on beef tenderloin, “deconstructed” Caesar salad and an apple tarte tatin for dessert.
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Tuxedos and ball gowns were absent from the event. But sequined dresses and suits were aplenty – Rauner himself wore a gray suit.
“We will do everything we can, everything possible to bring good government, responsible government that works for the people, that works for every family in our state to provide good social services to our families in need, while creating an environment where our businesses can flourish and create great opportunities for everyone who wants to work,” Rauner said.
Among those attending was Jennifer Pritzker, the billionaire CEO of Tawani Enterprises and cousin of President Obama’s Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
“I just wish (Rauner) all the success of solving the financial problems of our state,” Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times as she left a reception at the Springfield Hilton. Asked about her support for Rauner when other family members supported Democrats, she said of herself: “Well, long-time Republican.”
Those in attendance also included Archbishop Blase Cupich, former U.S. Transportation secretary Sam Skinner, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, several Illinois lawmakers and U.S. congressmen. Rauner’s team did not allow photographers at the event.
Rauner and his wife, Diana, started the day by visiting a soup kitchen in Chicago, then read to school children at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and ended the night with a soiree dinner at the state Capitol.
In a lighter moment at the museum, Diana Rauner read “Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers,” but the governor-elect was unable to join the reading because he didn’t have his glasses.
Rauner’s team had promised a laid back atmosphere for the multi-millionaire’s inaugural celebration.
Still, he faced questions on Sunday about whether some of the prices were too high for regular Illinois folks to attend events.
“I hope that’s not true,” Rauner said.
In addition to the inaugural reception and dinner Sunday night, there is a governor’s dinner on Monday and a concert, featuring Chicago Blues legend Buddy Guy and country hit Toby Keith. The concert tickets include food and drinks and cost $125.
“We tried to keep the prices reasonable for the festivities and the parties and dinners,” Rauner said. “And (Monday) night, I think it’s $100 or a little more for a great concert and all the food people can eat and all the beverages. We hope that everybody will come. I think we’ll have a good crowd. The reality is, for concert tickets for Toby Keith, they generally sell for that or more. And I think, from what we know, we’re roughly in the range of past inaugurations for past ticket prices. So, I think, we try to be good and try to be inclusive.”
Keith played at the Illinois State Fair in August, with tickets costing $40-$60.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said he expects bold action from Rauner once he takes office.
“I think he’s going to clearly lay out an agenda,” Roskam said. “He recognized that Illinois is a great state and it could be fantastic if it were performing better financially and I think he’s going to bring that sense of clarity.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, R-Illinois, said he attended a veterans jobs fair and believed Rauner was delivering the right message about creating a robust economy in Illinois.
“Certainly this is an exciting time, there’s a sense of optimism,” Dold said. “It’s not about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about us all pulling together.”
Earlier Sunday, from an Uptown soup kitchen, Rauner defended the fact that a bevy of companies and industry groups donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for his inaugural festivities.
The groups all have an interest in public-policy decisions and range from the Illinois Hospital Association, which donated up to $100,000, to the Wirtz Corp. and Walgreen Co., which each donated up to $25,000. “Those are groups that do not do business with the government,” Rauner said, differentiating his inauguration donors from other groups that “contract with the state directly.”
He said money coming from groups that have state contracts would not be welcome: “That’s where we do not want to have financial dealings.”
Contributing: Brian Slodysko