Democrats J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza on Thursday demanded that Gov. Bruce Rauner and his policy chief issue an apology to Sen. Tammy Duckworth for an email that suggested blaming the decorated war hero and former veterans’ affairs manager for a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak in downstate Quincy.
Despite the political pressure, Republican comptroller candidate Darlene Senger — Rauner’s policy chief — isn’t backing down on the blame game.
Mendoza faces Senger in her re-election bid come November. And while the problems at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy where 13 have died have been campaign fodder for months, an email obtained by WBEZ this week revealed Senger suggested blaming Duckworth, who ran the state agency under former Governors Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.
“We can maybe tie this back to Duckworth,” Senger wrote in a Dec. 13 email.
Senger’s campaign on Thursday said the “point” of her email was to show that there’s a need to understand how problems in the home started in order to find solutions.
“If we choose to ignore the past, systemic failures to fund our veteran’s programs, then we are destined to continue to face these challenges in the future and that was the point of my comment,” her campaign said.
Pritzker was joined by Mendoza and two state representatives who also are veterans — Linda Chapa La Via, D-Aurora, and Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego — at the Plumbers Hall in the West Loop. He said they were outraged that Duckworth would be blamed for the deaths.
Duckworth, an Iraq war vet, lost her legs and shattered her right arm when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq on Nov. 12, 2004.
Mendoza implored Senger to apologize to the families of those affected by the Legionnaires’ outbreak and to Duckworth. She also blamed the administration for trying to hide the outbreak.
And she denied politicizing the issue; that, she said, is Senger’s doing.
“Darlene Senger is the person who chose to try to pin the deaths of 13 war heroes on an actual wounded war hero. It’s not me,” Mendoza said. “Darlene Senger disqualified herself as a person that could be trusted by this state the minute she decided to put the governor and his reputation ahead the personal safety of those veterans and the grieving families that were impacted by the deaths.”
Mendoza said she’s doing a “public service” in highlighting the issue “so that the people of Illinois don’t get conned for a second time” — referring to Rauner’s re-election bid.
And Pritzker focused his efforts on trying to pin the blame on Rauner.
“Shockingly the person that they tried to blame is U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran, an advocate for veterans rights who embodies the spirit and courage of this nation,” Pritzker said. “Gov. Rauner, Sen. Duckworth deserves an apology. She doesn’t deserve the blame that your administration is placing upon her, but instead thanks for her sacrifice and her service.”
Senger’s campaign on Thursday said the state hasn’t properly funded veterans affairs for years — citing the administrations Duckworth worked under.
“The simple, bipartisan fact is that for years, including the past Blagojevich and Quinn administrations, our veterans homes suffered from chronic underfunding that impacted the care our veterans received along with the critical maintenance and modernization of the state’s veterans facilities,” the campaign said in a statement.
The campaign also said “there is no doubt that the lack of proper funding for veterans over the last decade has exacerbated the problems we currently face.”
Rauner’s campaign did not address the apology request, instead pointing the finger at Pritzker for politicizing the issue.
“Governor Rauner took immediate action to address the problems at Quincy,” spokesman Will Allison said. “He has worked every day to implement all recommendations and has presented a plan to build a new home. It’s shameful that JB Pritzker is playing politics instead of focusing on how to provide the very best care for our veterans.”