The Spin: Gov. J.B. Pritzker dumps $35M in campaign fund, still won’t say if he’s seeking reelection; Karl Rove to headline Rep. Adam Kinzinger fundraiser; Lightfoot says Loretto Hospital not getting more vaccines amid controversy

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Lisa Donovan, Chicago Tribune
·11 min read
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Days after Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the nation’s wealthiest officeholder, made headlines for dropping $35 million into his campaign fund, he’s still not saying whether he’ll run for a second term.

While the big money may be seen as a signal he’s readying a reelection bid, it also may be more of a flare to his GOP opponents, reminding them just how deep his pockets are.

During an unrelated news conference, the governor this morning said he’s still too busy shepherding the pandemic response to think about politics. Pritzker sought to distance the money from his own political future, the Tribune’s Rick Pearson writes, saying he put the funds in the pot as “a preventative measure” should Republicans continue “to try to attack the Democratic agenda of standing up for working people or to frankly lie about the Democratic agenda.”

Speaking of campaigns, Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s campaign architect and chief political adviser, as well as an informal adviser to former President Donald Trump, will headline a virtual fundraiser at month’s end for Republican Illinois U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who’s at war with the former president.

And the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt writes: “Loretto Hospital won’t be receiving first doses of COVID-19 vaccines ‘anytime soon,’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, as the small West Side hospital faces new questions about connected people receiving shots from the provider.”

Welcome to The Spin.

Pritzker greenlighting a reelection bid? The $35M he dropped in his campaign fund sure sounds like it.

For days, Gov. Pritzker has been ducking questions about whether he’ll seek a second term in office. But a filing that went up Friday night on the Illinois State Board of Elections website showing he plunked a cool $35 million into his campaign coffer seemed to be the clearest sign yet that he’s getting ready for a reelection battle next year.

Yet, the governor continues to wave off questions, sticking to the script at a news conference this morning: “What I’ve said all along here ... is I’m focused on getting us past this pandemic, keeping people safe and healthy in the state of Illinois.” He said the money is to fend off Republicans. The Tribune’s Rick Pearson has the details here.

Money for other Democratic candidates, causes too: Pritzker indicated the money will be used to fend off Republicans. With embattled former House Speaker Michael Madigan exiting as chairman of the state Democratic Party, “Pritzker will be counted upon more heavily to help fund party efforts to maintain Democratic supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate,” Pearson points out in a piece he wrote about the campaign money on Friday night. In the final three months of 2020, Pritzker doled out nearly $700,000 from his campaign fund. Read the story, including the recipients of the $700,000, here.

A billionaire heir to the family’s Hyatt Hotels fortune, the Democratic governor spent more than $171 million of his own money to defeat one-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy equity investor, in 2018, Pearson reminds. It was the most expensive governor’s race in Illinois history.

If Pritzker does run for reelection in 2022, he will enter the race playing defense on key issues in his COVID-19 response, the Tribune’s Dan Petrella and Rick Pearson report in a piece about how the governor has handled the outbreak, now at the year mark. He’s likely to face criticism for the “deaths of dozens of veterans amid COVID-19 outbreaks at state-run homes, the confusion-plagued rollout of coronavirus vaccinations and, perhaps most crucially, ongoing problems at the state unemployment agency that have left out-of-work residents frustrated and in desperate need of assistance,” Petrella and Pearson write.

Challengers: No Democrats have officially launched a bid. “The declared GOP candidates in the 2022 governor’s race — state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo — are southern Illinois conservatives who aren’t likely to appeal to the moderate voters in suburban Chicago who’ve become the deciding factor in statewide elections,” Petrella and Pearson write.

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Karl Rove to headline Kinzinger fundraiser

GOP strategist Rove will headline a virtual fundraiser on March 31 for Kinzinger, whose 16th District skirts the Chicago suburbs from the Indiana border all the way to the Illinois-Wisconsin line.

The Sun-Times was the first to report the event.

Rove and Kinzinger have one very important thing in common right now: Trump targets on their back.

Rove drew the former president’s ire after penning an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal critiquing Trump’s first post-presidential speech in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. There, Trump continued to claim he won the November election and lashed out at Republicans who had parted ways with him — including Kinzinger.

Rove wrote in part: “There was no forward-looking agenda, simply a recitation of his greatest hits. People like fresh material. Repetition is useful to a point, but it grows stale.” Trump fired back, Reuters reports, calling Rove a “pompous fool with bad advice.” Rove shrugged off the criticism, Reuters reports in this piece.

Kinzinger found himself on Trump’s bad side after calling the former president out for his baseless claims that he lost the election because it was rigged. He also was among the 10 House Republicans who voted with Democrats to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump called Kinzinger and other GOP lawmakers who voted for his impeachment “hacks” who have divided the GOP.

All in the family: Kinzinger’s parents and brother will be on hand for the virtual event, proof that not all family members are ticked off at his split from Trump. Back in January, I wrote about how Kinzinger had received a letter from some distant relatives disowning him for his criticism of the president. Another note from some cousins followed. Read more about the family feud here.

* Some of Chicago most powerful business leaders will be part of Alexi Giannoulias’ “Women’s Circle” virtual fundraiser this week as the Democrat continues to campaign for Illinois Secretary of State.

It’s a nod to Women’s History Month and, in particular “working mothers and women of color, who have been forced to pivot, and in many cases, pushed out of the workforce,” Giannoulias says in a news release about the Thursday noon-hour event.

The panel will include Desiree Rogers, CEO at Black Opal Cosmetics; Dee Thompson, owner of the Chicago real estate development and design firm Urbane Home; Trish Rooney, CEO and founder at R4 Services LLC, which does off-site records storage management; and Suzanne Yoon, the founding and managing partner at Kinzie Capital Partners LLC.

Contributions range from $100 for an individual to $6,000 to serve as a co-chair.

Longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said while running for his current record sixth term that he wouldn’t run again in 2022. Giannoulias, the former state treasurer, threw his hat in the ring for the job in an attempt at a political comeback. Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, meanwhile, filed in December for a secretary of state run. In recent months, several others have voiced interest in the job including Chicago Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, who considers White a mentor; the Sun-Times has reported Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough also might get in the race.

Pritzker joins Asian American leaders to address Atlanta-area shootings.

“Gov. J.B. Pritzker and leaders in Illinois’ Asian American community gathered Monday to address last week’s mass shooting of eight people, six of them Asian women, in Georgia,” the Tribune’s Jenny Whidden writes.

“I want the community in Illinois to know that I see you … and I want you to know that Illinois is your home,” Pritzker said, addressing the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, at Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chicago. “I will do everything in my power as governor to protect you and to welcome you.”

Whidden also reports, “State Rep. Theresa Mah, whose district includes Chinatown, said businesses have felt the effects of heightened xenophobia and racism in the past year.”

Loretto Hospital won’t get new COVID-19 vaccine doses ‘anytime soon,’ Mayor Lightfoot says

From the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt: “Loretto Hospital won’t be receiving first doses of COVID-19 vaccines ‘anytime soon,’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, as the small West Side hospital faces new questions about connected people receiving shots from the provider.

“The move comes amid an uproar over the hospital having improperly administered vaccine doses, and the city of Chicago’s move to withhold first doses of coronavirus vaccines from the facility while it conducts a review to ensure it is complying with distribution rules.” Read more here.

Hospital executives also have been reprimanded by the hospital’s board over improper vaccinations of staff at Chicago’s Trump Tower, the Tribune’s Gregory Pratt and Stacy St. Clair write.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, who serves on the board, said Loretto President and CEO George Miller, one of the two reprimanded, “lost focus of the service area and was just going out allowing for the hospital to do as many vaccinations as possible.”

Ford added: “But the most important thing is, we’ve done our audits and no one in the Austin area we know of has been denied access to the vaccine.”

ICYMI: Mayor Lightfoot marked a year of COVID-19 in a televised speech from City Hall on Friday that reflected on loss and resilience peppered with policy pitches that sounded like both a campaign speech and a State of the Union address.

At times, the mayor’s remarks — delivered from City Hall — resembled a campaign kickoff or State of the Union-style address as she laid out policy priorities from helping residents with housing to getting Chicagoans back to work in construction jobs. Pratt has the full story here.

Related: Mayor Lightfoot, Chicago’s vaccination progress lauded during ‘Morning Joe’ appearance, despite setbacks, the Tribune’s Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas reports.

A new mass vaccination site will open Friday in a former home improvement store in west suburban Forest Park, Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced today. The Tribune’s Jenny Whidden and Dan Petrella report that it will be run by the Illinois National Guard. More here.

Pritzker names Navy vet to take over state VA following criticism of department’s handling of COVID-19 outbreak at LaSalle home, the Tribune’s Jenny Whidden writes.

Other news — Meet the major new player in the Illinois weed industry: “Nearly eight months after Curaleaf, a publicly traded Massachusetts company, closed its $830 million acquisition of Chicago-based Grassroots in July, state regulators have issued final approval of the deal,” the Tribune’s Robert Channick writes. Read the story here.

Background: “One of the largest marijuana companies in the U.S., Curaleaf operates 101 dispensaries, 23 cultivation sites and more than 30 processing facilities in 23 states, with more than 3,800 employees,” Channick notes.

As May 1 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Duckworth calls for replacing endless war law

With a deadline looming to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his first trip to the country as Pentagon chief over the weekend. Read The Associated Press dispatch here.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, former Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs during combat in Iraq, was asked about the May 1 deadline on Sunday’s CBS politics show “Face the Nation.” Echoing previous sentiments, she said that this must be done carefully and responsibly, something Austin himself said over the weekend.

“I want American troops to come home, but I also want to fight the bad guys over there instead of allowing them to come here,” Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Face the Nation’s” Margaret Brennan. Watch the entire interview here.

What could happen in the short-term: Biden said in a recent ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos that it will be “tough” for the U.S. to meet the May deadline, but also said any extension wouldn’t be by a “lot longer.”

Bigger picture: The war in Afghanistan, Duckworth told Brennan, underscores how Washington needs to eliminate and replace the Authorization for Use of Military Force law (A.U.M.F.), which passed after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 to beat back terrorism, but paved the way for so-called forever wars.

“That law has been stretched across four administrations to permit open-ended combat against Islamist militant groups scattered across the world,” Charlie Savage writes in this New York Times deep dive.

Thanks for reading The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons. Have a tip? Email host Lisa Donovan at ldonovan@chicagotribune.com.

Twitter @byldonovan