Businessman J.B. Pritzker has been mounting an aggressive campaign to win the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor in the March 20 primary. Pritzker eventually hopes to eventually unseat incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose administration he has deemed "a complete failure."
Windy City Times spoke with Pritzker about his campaign and work with the LGBT community.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
J.B. Pritzker: Everything that we care about is under siege by Gov. Rauner and his partner in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump. I often have said that we've got to overcome the racist homophobes in the White Housethat's not just Donald Trump, but Mike Pence. I've tried harder than any of the other candidates to defeat Donald Trump and I think running for governor is a way for me to carry out my own values that my parents taught me, fighting for social and economic justice, starting at a very young age. Those are also the tenets of my faith. I began as a young kid, working with my mother, helping to elect progressive Democrats [and] fighting for LGBTQ rights at a very young age. I grew up in the heart of the gay pride movement in San Francisco, and I haven't really stopped fighting for those issues of economic and social justice since.
WCT: What do you see as your biggest advantage in the election, and, conversely, your biggest challenge?
JBP: The biggest advantage is that I've put together an organization focused on winning votes across the state. I'm not just running a campaign in Cook County and the collar countiesit's in all 102 counties across the state. From the beginning, I've organized the campaign to not just win in the primary, but to win in the general election as well. Oftentimes people organize campaigns to barely make it over the line in the primary, then they'll worry about the general election the day after the primary. I began by focusing this campaign entirely on beating Bruce Rauner. That is the number one endeavor here, that we've all got to rally around.
I think that the biggest challenge in this race is that I had to overcome two things. One was the fame and name recognition of one of my primary opponents, and then of course a governor who is well known. I was not as well-known as people might imagine. The second is that there are some pre-conceived notions that people have because there is one wealthy guy who is governor, who is a complete failure, and there is another wealthy guy who is president of the United States who is a complete disaster. So no doubt people wonder if somebody who is wealthy should serve in public office. For me, the race isn't about money, it's about valuesit's about fighting for social and economic justice.
WCT: How do you respond to that criticism? It is a frequent comment by [opponent] Daniel Biss that your presence in the election, as well as that of Chris Kennedy, turns it into an "auction." Likewise, Gov. Rauner's PAC suggested an "insider" status with the tape [of Pritzker speaking to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich] earlier in January.
JBP: I think that telling people about my life's history, fighting for justice[those are] important to get across. I think people do understand, as much as my opponents want to emphasize the negative. Whatever walk of life one is born into, the question ought to be asked: What did they do with the resources they had? What did they do to help other people, to make lives better across the state of Illinois? I think my record is unmatched among all the candidates that are running, including the current governorespecially the current governorof creating jobs and economic opportunity, improving the education system, addressing poverty and fighting for civil rights. In all those areas, I have a record of accomplishment.
WCT: What do you see as the two or three biggest issues facing Illinois at this point?
JBP: I'll call them five issues. First, we have to provide a quality education for every child, no matter what zip code they live in. We have to create jobs in the state, after years of neglect from Bruce Rauner. We're in the bottom third of states in terms of job creation. We've got to expand health care and make it universal; I'm the only candidate who has a plan to do that. We've got to make sure that we're focused on economic justice in the forgotten communities across the state.
Once again, I've put forward a plan for jobs and economic development that's focused on those communities. Finally, we've got to fight for civil rights for communities in Illinois, to protect them from Donald Trump and Mike Pence as well as expanding civil rights, to make sure that we're doing the best we can, so that everyone's human rights are recognized as the most important.
WCT: You already mentioned growing up doing LGBT-focused civil rights work. What kind of work and engagement have you had with the LGBT community overall?
JBP: As a student, I was marching and rallying with the Chicago Pride Parade before it was a celebration. It was a protest march. Before Equality Illinois was called [what it is now], when it was the Illinois Federation for Human Rights ( IFHR ), I was engaged in trying to trying to fight for LGBTQ civil rights.
For example, I have the support of [Equality Illinois co-founder] Art Johnston, one of the legendary and luminary leaders fighting for LGBTQ rights, because he knows that I was there in the earliest moments of the movement, engaging with the very first summit, for example, that was held by the [IFHR] in Springfield back in the early '90s. I've also gotten the support of [activist] Rick Garcia, another luminary in the community; he too has seen, over the years, the work that I've done.
[State] Rep. Greg Harris has spoken about the work that I did to attract the final votes that helped to pass the gay marriage bill in Springfield the last few years. Twenty years before it was legal, I hosted a gay wedding in my own home for two friends. I didn't do it to make a statement. I did it because I had two friends who were in love with one another and they wanted to get married and I wanted to be a part of that.
I was one of the first supporters of the first openly gay Cook County circuit court judge, Tom Chiola, as well as the first openly gay state legislator Larry McKeon. I helped to support the creation of the Center on Halsted. In all these ways, I've been an ally and friend, and I intend to stay that way if I'm elected governor.
WCT: What do you see as the most important issues facing the LGBT community?
JBP: We've got to stop the rise of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. We've got to pass budgets that fund programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, PrEP for Illinois, HIV testing, anti-bullying initiatives, and health and safety programs in the LGBTQ community. The budget of the state of Illinois is a moral document that speaks to the values of our government. The values of our government ought to be standing up for the LGBTQ community.
Of course, in particular, we need to stand up for the trans community, which has been so much under fire, particularly under Donald Trump. We've got to make sure that members of the community are safe, that they don't experience harassment. We need to train police, to make sure that the trans community isn't disproportionately victimized, and create opportunities for inclusiveness.
If we really want to address these problems, we need to make sure that we have leadership in the next administration that comes from the LGBTQ community that sits in the highest positions in government. That comes back to the question of values and history. Does the person that you are electing for governor demonstrate that they are an ally, advocate or partner? I think people can run for office and promise things during a campaign that they have never demonstrated an interest in. That's okay, but it's far better to elect people who have demonstrated a real history in support of the community.
See jbpritzker.com . A 2017 Windy City Times interview with Pritzker is at bit.ly/2BzY0Fo .