SPRINGFIELD — It’s been more than a decade since an Illinois governor lived full time at the state’s Executive Mansion, but once again a Chicago-area candidate’s promise to make his home there has revived the question of just how important it is for the state.
Wealthy Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, who lives in the tony Chicago suburb of Winnetka, has emphasized his intention to call Springfield home if he defeats Gov. Pat Quinn in the November election. The Chicago Democrat says he will continue to split his time between the two places after initially vowing to live downstate full time. The candidates confirmed their plans in an Associated Press candidate questionnaire.
The last governor to live in the 1855 manor full time was former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican and former secretary state from Charleston who was already living in the capital. The last Chicago-area native to live at the mansion consistently was Jim Thompson, who spent considerable time there before moving back to Chicago for his daughter’s schooling at the end of his 14-year tenure in 1991.
RELATED: 5 Illinois governors, 5 different mansion habits Why it matters where our governor lives This old house: Buckets, tarps deployed at executive mansion
While the duties of the job have shifted toward Chicago in recent years, the two former governors agree with political experts and many downstate residents that having a governor living in Springfield makes a difference. The state’s chief administrator is closer to the state workforce and avoids at least the impression of giving preferential treatment to Chicago and largely-Democratic urban dwellers over the rest of the state.
“It has a special political significance,” Thompson said, arguing that living in Springfield helped him find a balance between interests and exercise more leverage. “You know when the governor invites you to the mansion, you are obligated” to show up.
“You are more attuned, you are more involved,” Edgar said. “Downstate people take that very seriously. They take pride in the mansion.”
Quinn has taken some heat for not spending more time in Springfield. He’d initially vowed to live there full time. It was seen as a departure from his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, the now-imprisoned Chicago Democrat who rankled some by conspicuously avoiding staying at the mansion, even for one-night stays.
Quinn has averaged fewer than 70 nights a year there, according to aides. The stays are generally when the Legislature is in session and he doesn’t linger, often leaving for his West Side Chicago home right after a major address or event.
“I split my time between Chicago and Springfield,” Quinn wrote in his AP questionnaire.
Rauner now is making the same initial promise, writing in his questionnaire: “I look forward to living in the Governor’s Mansion and would consider it an honor.”
The vow has prompted skepticism that a multimillionaire businessman, who owns additional residences in Montana and elsewhere, will forego those places for a mid-sized central Illinois community about 220 miles away from Chicago’s North Shore.
At the same time, experts say there are legitimate reasons for a governor to be in Chicago. Today, a lot of state government operates out of the city, particularly since the mid-1980s when the state’s James R. Thompson Center was built. Thousands are employed there and all elected officials have offices there. Newer technology may have lessened the need for a Springfield presence and the scrutiny that comes with living in a taxpayer-funded residence.
In recent years, parts of the mansion have fallen into disrepair. It was closed earlier this year for a badly leaking roof.
Then there’s privacy. The manor — which curators boast is one of the largest in the nation, with seven bedrooms — draws about 60,000 visitors annually. Edgar said living there was like being in a “fishbowl” at times, noting that once protesters put lipstick on one of his dogs and other times visitors wandered off a tour into the living quarters.
“They just wanted to see what was in the governor’s closet,” he said.
Tareen reported from Chicago.