CHICAGO — The Illinois governor's race got personal Tuesday as Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner took pointed jabs at each other's character and honesty over issues such as hiring, taxes and finances while sitting side-by-side during a televised editorial session.
The nearly 90-minute meeting before the Chicago Tribune's editorial board was a clear sign the gloves are off in the nationally-watched race in which the GOP see a chance to take President Barack Obama's home state, one of the last remaining Democratic strongholds in the Midwest.
Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, accused the venture capitalist of bribing lawmakers to oppose a pension overhaul he supported, lying about state pension business, "profiteering" and not taking responsibility for companies in which he had a stake. Rauner claimed Quinn misled taxpayers, harmed the state's business climate, took money from special interests and continued the hiring practices of now imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"You are engaged in the same patronage, the same corruption, the same cronyism that has plagued Illinois for decades, just like your partner and friend Rod Blagojevich," Rauner said.
Quinn said Rauner dodged responsibility for companies in which his former investment firm, GTCR, was involved. A criminal investigation found executives at a Michigan-based company falsified financial information to make the company appear more valuable. Rauner stepped down from the board and his firm sold most of its stock — making at least $32 million — shortly before the stock's value plummeted, the Tribune reported. Investors lost about $285 million.
"This is a classic example of what was said to be one of the biggest accounting frauds in American history. ... He ran out the door, took the profits and left all the shareholders and customers and workers holding the bag," Quinn said.
The matchup has been closely watched, featuring high-profile visits to Illinois from White House officials and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was expected in Springfield Wednesday. Both sides have spent millions. Quinn is seeking a second full term, while Rauner, of Winnetka, is making his first bid for public office.
The two are expected to participate in three debates before Nov. 4, but Tuesday's session served like an additional one, with the two men bickering and talking over one another while largely avoiding eye contact, though they shook hands at the end. Also in attendance were the candidates' lieutenant governor running mates — former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Republican Evelyn Sanguinetti, a suburban city councilwoman.
Among Rauner's biggest points was questioning Quinn's role in hiring issues at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Agency practices are the subject of a federal lawsuit and state investigator's report, which showed anti-patronage hiring rules were skirted back to Blagojevich with an increase under Quinn's administration. The governor has since replaced IDOT's secretary, who abolished the position at the center of the controversy.
But on Tuesday, when pressed to say who in his office recommended hires, Quinn named former aides, including a chief of staff.
Quinn accused Rauner of offering lawmakers campaign money in exchange for "no" votes on a pension overhaul Quinn later signed.
Rauner denied offering money.
"Did I push hard to oppose that bill? Absolutely," Rauner said. "I thought that bill was a mistake."
The candidates also sparred over schools, with Quinn and Vallas saying they oppose vouchers and Rauner saying there should be more school choice.
Quinn's own schooling — at a private Catholic school in suburban Chicago — came up, as did Rauner's donation to an elite Chicago public school where his daughter gained admission after initially being denied.
Vallas also changed course on a statement about Rauner's wealth he made last week. Vallas initially said he agreed with the notion that the multimillionaire Rauner was "just too rich to be governor." He changed his answer Tuesday, explaining he meant Rauner's wealth informed his policies, which would benefit the wealthy.
"No one's too rich to be governor," he said.
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