Our Pledge To You


Pritzker, Rauner spar over veteran home deaths, Blagojevich ties in dueling ads

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker (left) speaks at a forum in October; Gov. Bruce Rauner (right) holds a news conference in September. | Sun-Times file photos by Ashlee Rezin

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker have to win contested primaries before they can square off in November — but you wouldn’t know it from their latest explosive TV ads.

The Republican governor and Democratic billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist remain focused on one another rather than their primary challengers, with Rauner accusing Pritzker of “shady, insider dealings” with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Pritzker blaming Rauner for the deaths of 13 people at a Downstate veterans home.

“When a governor doesn’t take charge, people die, and 13 veterans and spouses have now lost their lives because Bruce Rauner failed to lead,” Pritzker said in a statement about his latest ad. “It is no surprise this governor would rather attack me than run on his failed record.”

In dueling TV ads, the two gubernatorial rivals each try to tar the other with the heated issues.

The Rauner campaign says they want Pritzker to “come clean” about his conversation with Blagojevich that was caught on an FBI wiretap. Pritzker’s campaign, in turn, is arguing he was never accused of wrongdoing in the matter.

The Chicago Tribune last year revealed secretly recorded conversations in 2008 between Blagojevich and Pritzker, taken from federal wiretaps during the period investigators suspected Blagojevich of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama.

The 60-second Rauner ad — called “I’d Do It” — includes audio of the wiretap, images of Blagojevich and Pritzker and a transcript. The wiretap features Blagojevich telling Pritzker about a scenario in which Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan could become senator, and Pritzker could become the attorney general.

The Rauner campaign said the ad highlights “the shady insider dealings that continue to haunt J.B. Pritzker in his campaign for governor.” The ad will begin airing on Thursday, the campaign said.

It’s the first time the wiretaps have made it to a TV campaign ad. The Illinois Republican Party in December launched robocalls featuring another Blagojevich recording from 2008 with aide Doug Scofield in which the former governor talks about Pritzker’s fundraising ability: “If I can get J.B. to do something like that, is it worth giving him the Senate seat? Incidentally, he asked me for it,” Blagojevich says on the tape.

The Pritzker campaign has insisted there was nothing “untoward” about the conversations, and pointed out that Pritzker said he wasn’t interested in a Senate seat and “moves away from the type of conversation that landed Rod Blagojevich in prison.”

The Pritzker campaign responded to the TV ad by calling Rauner a “failed governor who creates crises and is terrified of running against a leader who will be in charge and has real plans to get Illinois back on track.”

“JB was never accused of wrongdoing and putting selectively edited nine-year-old tapes on air won’t change that,” Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said in a statement.

Slayen said Rauner’s focus on Pritzker and involvement in the Democratic primary campaign “reeks of desperation to distract from his fatal mismanagement of the Quincy Veterans Home.”

Pritzker’s campaign released two ads online on Wednesday. “Playing Politics” accuses Rauner of attacking Pritzker as a way to avoid defending his own record and will begin airing in major TV markets on Thursday.

The second ad features media coverage of Rauner’s reaction to the Quincy Legionnaires’ outbreak, and will be on TV “in the near future,” his campaign said.

Rauner spent seven nights in the veterans home, concluding his stay on Wednesday while vowing “to do everything possible to keep our veterans safe and protect their quality of life.”

The home is the site where 13 residents have died from Legionnaires’ disease since July 2015. Rauner has faced a backlash over the state’s response to the outbreak, which was outlined in a WBEZ report.

“After staying at the Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy for a week — where he drank the water, and lived and showered in a typical resident room — Governor Rauner held a nearly hour-long press conference today, answering every question from the press about how to fix this problem,” Rauner spokesman Will Allison said. “It’s time for J.B. Pritzker to come clean about his conversation with disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich about an apparent quid pro quo.”