The year’s first forum featuring all four GOP gubernatorial contenders began Thursday with opponents grilling perceived front-runner Bruce Rauner and ended with Rauner doing the roasting.
And in between came flashes of anger, interruptions and charges of misstating the facts.
Both state Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale hurled criticism at Rauner, from accusations he clouted his daughter into a public high school in 2008 to having ties to convicted insider Stuart Levine.
Rauner declared it a “beat up Brucey all morning,” session.
But by the end of the more than one-hour discussion, Rauner in rapid succession roasted Dillard for taking union money, tweaked state Treasurer Dan Rutherford for not stepping up enough on pension reforms and blasted Brady for failing to beat Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 — despite Rauner’s financial support.
Most dramatically, Rauner and Rutherford tangled in the final minutes of a debate in which Rutherford angrily implored: “Bruce Rauner, don’t do that.”
The encounter happened Thursday in Mount Prospect at the ABC7/Daily Herald forum, the first meeting for all four GOP candidates of the year.
“Illinois is full of conflict of interest. I’m the only person in this race that doesn’t take a dime from unions,” Rauner said. “It’s a big deal.”
Rauner then turned to Dillard to say he had taken hundreds of thousands from unions.
When Rauner turned to Rutherford and began “Dan, you’ve taken a lot” he was cut off.
“That is not correct, Bruce Rauner,” an irritated Rutherford interrupted. “No, Bruce Rauner don’t do that. That is not correct. … You have no right to put out false information out there.”
Rauner moved on to needling Rutherford for his performance as treasurer, saying other states that have achieved “true pension reform” had an active treasurer who did the analysis and made policy recommendations.
“You’ve been AWOL,” Rauner charged.
Rutherford angrily talked over Rauner, pounding his pen into the desk before him.
“You know, I’m not going to put up with this,” Rutherford snapped loudly. “You do not misrepresent and put out false statements out there,” Rutherford said, adding that unlike his opponents, Rutherford had not attacked Rauner. “For the entire day today, Mr. Rauner I never once said your name.”
Brady went on the attack on more than one occasion, bringing up Levine, who went to prison after pleading guilty to a litany of corruption, including passing out bribes and conspiring to take kickbacks.
Brady accused Rauner of not coming clean on the fact that his company gave Levine a $25,000-a-month contract. Levine sat on the Teachers Retirement Systems Board and Rauner’s company made millions of dollars on pension business.
“You can’t avoid it. You can’t advertise your way out of it, Bruce,” Brady said.
But Rauner took the accusation head-on, explaining he never knew Levine, never interacted with him and said of the accusation that the contract with Levine was some kind of bribe: “Oh my goodness it’s pure baloney.”
“We’ve worked for the teachers retirement system for 30 years in Illinois,” Rauner responded. “We got the business because we produced results, simple, end of story.”
Rauner’s dig on Brady was that he had donated generously to Brady’s candidacy in 2010 only to watch Brady lose to what Rauner called the worst governor in America.
To laughter, Brady responded: “I’m very grateful, got any extra?”