Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin jumps into GOP Illinois primary for governor

A slate of Republicans led by the Aurora mayor may get the backing of billionaire Ken Griffin.

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Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin in 2019.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin cries during a prayer vigil for the five people killed in a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in February 2019. On Monday, Irvin jumped in the GOP Illinois primary for governor.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin jumped into the GOP Illinois primary for governor on Monday, becoming the fifth candidate to compete for the nomination to run against Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Irvin tapped Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, as his running mate for lieutenant governor. Bourne is an assistant Republican leader in the Illinois House, where she’s served since February 2015.

Irvin announced his candidacy around noon, when his website,, went live.

Key to Irvin’s strategy for prevailing in the June 28 GOP primary is for the Army veteran and former prosecutor to collect Republican votes in heavily populated northern Illinois: Chicago, suburban Cook County, and the collar counties of Kane, Lake, DuPage, McHenry and Will.

In 2020, Joe Biden handily beat Donald Trump in every collar county except McHenry.

Though downstate Illinois is heavily Republican, Irvin’s campaign expects some 60% of the GOP primary vote to come from the Chicago area. The suburbs will be a central primary battleground.

Irvin intends to make crime a central issue. He said on his website: “Crime has exploded under J.B. Pritzker’s watch. ... People do not feel safe in Illinois. So what has J.B. Pritzker done?”

Irvin became Aurora’s first Black mayor when he won his first term on April 4, 2017. Before becoming mayor, he served on the Aurora City Council.

After graduating from East Aurora High School, Irvin enlisted in the Army. He served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. His undergraduate degree is from Robert Morris University, and his law degree is from the Northern Illinois University School of Law.

Irvin, born March 29, 1970, worked as a prosecutor in Cook and Kane counties before starting a law practice in Aurora.

Bourne, born March 30, 1992, was the youngest person to join the Illinois General Assembly when she arrived in 2015. Her undergraduate degree is from Columbia College in Missouri. She attended law school at Washington University in St. Louis and took a leave to serve in the Illinois House.

Irvin and Bourne work full time in their government positions.

Irvin was recruited to run — and his campaign organized — by a network of GOP political operatives with ties to former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and ex-Sen. Mark Kirk.

Illinois State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, asks a question of Illinois State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Friday, May 28, 2021.

Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, shown during an Illinois House session in May, has been tapped by gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin as his running mate. Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP) ORG XMIT: ILSPR612

The State Journal-Register/Distributed by the Associated Press

The rest of the slate consists of former Central District of Illinois U.S. Attorney John Milhiser for secretary of state; state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, for state treasurer; Deerfield attorney Steve Kim for attorney general; and McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi for comptroller.

Milhiser faces a primary, with his main competition coming from state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.

Republican operatives putting together the slate Irvin leads did not recruit a primary candidate to run for U.S. Senate, where Democrat Sen. Tammy Duckworth is seeking a second term.

Irvin’s viability hinges on getting the support of billionaire Ken Griffin, and Irvin’s team has signaled that may be in the works.

On Friday, Pritzker, also a billionaire, put $90 million of his own money into his re-election campaign, on top of $35 million he added last March. He spent $171.5 million of his own money on his 2018 campaign.

Leading the Irvin project is Kirk alum Mike Zolnierowicz, a former chief of staff for Rauner who was the “strategic consultant” for the successful 2020 campaign, fueled by Griffin’s millions, to defeat Pritzker’s bid for a graduated income tax.

With Irvin’s name in play since December, Pritzker’s team, the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Democratic Governor’s Association have been steadfastly linking him to Rauner and Griffin.

The Democrats labeled the Irvin-led slate the “Griffin slate,” and hope the name sticks. The Irvin-Bourne nominating petitions call themselves the “Fight for Illinois Team.” The address for their petition drive is Zolnierowicz’s firm, Z Strategies, in Ravenswood.

Griffin has said he is “all in” to defeat Pritzker; he faced a problem in that none of the other men already in the GOP primary — state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo; and business executives Gary Rabine of Bull Valley and Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg — were seen as capable of beating the governor.

Griffin on Monday said in a statement that Irvin, as Aurora mayor, “has successfully delivered on the issues Illinoisans care most about – strengthening the education system, improving public safety, creating economic opportunities and governing with integrity. I am excited that he has decided to join the race, and look forward to the opportunity to meet him and learn more about his ideas in the weeks ahead.”

Pritzker’s campaign spokesperson Natalie Edelstein said in a statement, “the people of Illinois do not want a repeat of the Bruce Rauner years of disastrous mismanagement and policies that set our state back. The governor is focused on continuing to lead Illinois through these challenging times, building on his record of paying our bills on time and improving the state’s credit rating, investing in our roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure, and setting a national standard for action on climate that will bring down energy costs and create jobs.”

Mayors are elected in Aurora (as in Chicago) without party labels. Irvin pulled Democratic primary ballots in 2014, 2016 and 2020 — a fact that may not play well with the GOP base, who show up to vote in primaries. Irvin’s challenge will be to win support from conservatives who don’t like party-hopping when they have other options.

In Illinois, voters can ask for either party’s primary ballot and do not have to register a party affiliation in advance.

Bailey said in a Tweet: “Not surprised to see the establishment already cuddling up with a career Democrat like Irvin. Some people are willing to throw away principles for a few bucks. While I welcome everyone to our party, we need a nominee who is actually a Republican and supports our platform.”

Sullivan said in a statement that voters “deserve a true conservative political outsider who can lead and make Illinois strong. I am the candidate who can save Illinois.”

While a very conservative candidate with a message that’s anti-abortion and anti-mask-mandates may win the June primary, a nominee with that profile may have trouble getting crossover votes from swing and independent suburban voters in a general election against Pritzker.

Abortion rights — safeguarded in Democratic Illinois while under attack in Texas and other states, and with a possible adverse Supreme Court ruling pending — will also loom as an issue.

If Irvin and Bourne are pushed to the hard right in a primary, it could haunt them when they take on Pritzker and seek votes from suburban women.

Personal PAC President and CEO Terry Cosgrove said in a statement that Irvin and Bourne “present a clear threat to the progress we’ve made in Illinois to enshrine reproductive rights into law and protect the fundamental right to choose.”

The DGA was ready for Irvin. On Monday, even before he announced, the group was circulating a video it produced showing clips of Irvin with Pritzker. In them, Irvin praised the governor as a “great friend” who helped guide the state through the COVID-19 pandemic while “making Black and Brown communities a priority for health care equity.”

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