Michael Bloomberg jumps into Illinois presidential primary in a big way

Bloomberg has lined up a team of five state political veterans who will hire at least 50 political operatives.

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Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg gestures while taking part in an on-stage conversation with former California Gov. Jerry Brown at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, in San Francisco.

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg


WASHINGTON — Billionaire ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a late entry in the crowded Democratic presidential race, will make up for lost time by jumping in the March Illinois primary with a top team of five state political veterans eventually overseeing at least 50 political operatives working out of 10 offices statewide.

This is the biggest Illinois presidential paid start up in decades and will dwarf the paid operations of Bloomberg’s 2020 rivals when it comes to Illinois. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have robust volunteer organizations driven through social media. South Bend Mayor Peter Buttitieg has a satellite headquarters office in the South Loop, focused on his national campaign.

Bloomberg campaign field offices will open in Chicago, Waukegan and othersuburbs, Springfield, Metro East, Rockford and Rock Island, according to Tom Bowen, the Chicago political consultant who is Bloomberg’s senior adviser in Illinois.

Bloomberg is not focusing on the February states with the first presidential votes — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — instead vaulting to the delegate-rich states with primary and caucus votes in March.

The Illinois primary is March 17 with 184 elected delegates up for grabs, according to the Democratic Party of Illinois. The window to pass petitions to be a delegate to the presidential nominating convention opened Oct. 5, with petitions filed between Jan. 2 and 3, according to the Illinois Board of Elections calendar.

The leadership of Bloomberg’s Illinois team:

Senior adviser: Tom Bowen, who earlier in the 2020 presidential cycle consulted for Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee when he was in the primary. Bowen also worked on campaigns for Mayor Lori Lightfoot this year, ex-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 and former President Barack Obama’s 2008 bid.

Illinois state director: Kara Highfill, who will step down as advocacy director for Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs. She managed his 2018 re-election campaign.

Communications director: Julie Kaviar, coming from the office of Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton, D- Glenview, where she is his chief of staff..

Operations director: Briana Collins, now a Chicago consultant who was a senior adviser to Bloomberg when he was mayor.

Associate political director: Joshua May, who will take a leave from the staff of state Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield. He is a former political director for Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill.

Bloomberg’s wealth has made him a player in causes and philanthropy. In Illinois, Bloomberg has been active in three campaigns:

  • In 2018, Bloomberg’s Independence USA super PAC poured, according to a tally by ProPublica, more than $2 million into an independent expenditure to elect Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.
  • Bloomberg, crusading for higher taxes on sugary drinks as a way to reduce the obesity epidemic in this nation, plucked down millions of dollars to back — unsuccessfully it turned out in 2017 — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s soda tax.
  • In 2013, while still New York mayor, Bloomberg and his team running his antigun super PAC bolstered Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., in a contested primary with a $2.2 million independent expenditure. Super PACS are not allowed to make direct donations to individual federal campaigns.
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