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Aurora mayor considering gubernatorial bid, backing from Ken Griffin in question

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin is considering entering the 2022 governor’s race. Sources say Irvin will have billionaire Ken Griffin’s support — a notion Griffin and a source close to him tried to shut down.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin cries during a prayer vigil for the five people killed two days earlier in a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin is considering running for governor.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Illinois’ richest man Ken Griffin attempted to shoot down rumors Thursday that he had found his gubernatorial candidate, saying in a statement he looks forward to supporting Republicans or Democrats who “will address” issues “that plague our state.”

“We have real problems in Illinois with violence, corruption and profligate spending and I look forward to supporting candidates — be it Republican or Democrat — who will address these issues that plague our state,” Griffin said in a statement.

A source close to Griffin sought to clarify the Citadel founder and CEO’s position even further, saying he “has not decided yet who to support for governor.”

That likely won’t stop the rumor mill from churning.

Early Thursday, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s name popped up as a potential candidate in the 2022 race, with Illinois Republican sources adding that the second-term mayor would have Griffin’s backing.

Details like whether Irvin will make the leap and what support he will have are still being figured out.

“They’ve been after him for awhile, and [Irvin’s] been going back and forth,” said one Republican source, who’s talked with members of Griffin’s team. “But there’s no doubt that he’s the christened choice.”

Irvin is a “real quality candidate” and someone who “could win,” the source said when asked why Griffin would go for the Aurora mayor. The Republican source pointed to Irvin’s time as mayor and his “dynamic personality.”

That source couldn’t speak to how much money Griffin might throw behind a potential Irvin run or who else on the Republican side might back him, but did say he was told Griffin is “all in.”

Dennis Cook, who ran Irvin’s mayoral campaigns, did not respond to a request for comment.

Irvin was first elected as mayor of the state’s second-largest city in 2017, making him the first African American to lead Aurora. He was reelected earlier this year.

Irvin was raised by a single mother in Aurora’s public housing, according to a bio on the city’s website. The East Aurora High School grad enlisted in the Army and served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

He was also an assistant state’s attorney in the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney and a prosecutor in the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Should he decide to enter the Republican gubernatorial field he’ll likely be made to answer for his voting history.

His voting record shows he’s pulled Democratic ballots for the 2014, 2016 and 2020 primaries, according to Kane County officials. Irvin requested a Republican ballot in 2018 when then-Gov. Bruce Rauner was facing a challenge from then-state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

Last month, Griffin promised to go “all in” on a candidate who can beat Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“I’m going to make sure that if he runs again, that I am all in to support the candidate who will beat him,” Griffin said at a New York Times-sponsored business news event. “He doesn’t deserve to be the governor of our state.”

It was not clear if “all in” means Griffin plans to match Pritzker dollar-for-dollar in the first-term governor’s reelection battle. It was also not clear if Griffin planned to support a candidate already in the race or wait to support someone after the June primary.

Griffin is worth an estimated $21 billion, according to Forbes, which ranked him 47th richest in its list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. The business publication scored him the richest resident of Illinois as recently as last year.

Pritzker, worth $3.6 billion, according to Forbes, pumped $171 million of his personal fortune into his 2018 bid to oust Bruce Rauner, a Republican venture capitalist then in his first term as governor.

Griffin donated $36.1 million to Rauner’s campaigns, including “in-kind” contributions for a personally owned aircraft.

Four Republicans are currently vying for their party nomination: state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, of Waterloo; venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan; and businessman Gary Rabine. Griffin has not donated to any of those candidates thus far.

Schimpf said in a statement he welcomes “anyone into the race that is committed to defeating J.B. Pritzker and making Illinois a better and safer place for families and businesses.”

A spokesman for Bailey’s campaign took a more rigid stance against Irvin’s potential entry into the race, saying “judging by the company he keeps, the policies he pushes, and his voting record, I would assume he would be better off running in the Democratic primary.”

“The Republicans in Illinois deserve a nominee who is a proven conservative fighter,” the statement continued. “This election will be won with a genuine conservative message. This election will not be bought by Pritzker or anyone.”

A spokesman for Rabine said his campaign had no comment. A spokesman for Sullivan didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.