Billionaire J.B. Pritzker Announces Bid For Illinois Governor

J.B. Pritzker
J.B. Pritzker talks with reporters Thursday after announcing he is running for governor at the Grand Crossing Gym on the South Side. Tony Arnold / WBEZ
J.B. Pritzker
J.B. Pritzker talks with reporters Thursday after announcing he is running for governor at the Grand Crossing Gym on the South Side. Tony Arnold / WBEZ

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker Announces Bid For Illinois Governor

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Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker announced his bid for Illinois governor on Thursday, raising the financial stakes in what was already expected to be a costly and competitive fight to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“Grateful to have my family by my side today. Getting ready for the big announcement!” Pritzker tweeted Thursday morning above a picture with his family, including his young son who was holding a sign that read, “My Dad J.B. for Governor.”

Last month, Pritzker filed paperwork with state election officials to form an exploratory committee.

Several other Democrats also have said they’ll seek their party’s nomination in the March gubernatorial primary, including state Sen. Daniel Biss, downstate schools superintendent Bob Daiber, Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar and businessman Chris Kennedy, who is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.

Last month, Kennedy donated $250,100 to his own campaign, a move that under Illinois campaign finance law lifted the caps on campaign contributions for all candidates. Kennedy also said Thursday that he raised more than $1 million since announcing his candidacy for governor.

Chicago city Treasurer Kurt Summers has said he’s considering a run for governor but will not decide for several more weeks.

Biss and Pawar already have made wealth an issue in the campaign, telling voters that “millionaires and billionaires” shouldn’t have a lock on political power.

“I welcome the debate about whether the future of the Democratic party will be a vehicle for the very rich and machine politicians or one for the rest of us,” Biss said in a written statement ahead of Pritzker’s announcement.

An heir to the Hyatt hotels fortune, Pritzker was recently ranked by Forbes magazine as the third-wealthiest person in Illinois, with an estimated net worth of about $3.4 billion. That easily makes him the wealthiest person running, though Rauner — a multimillionaire who put $50 million into his campaign fund late last year — also has received millions in campaign contributions from Illinois’ richest person, businessman Ken Griffin.

Outside groups already have been active in the contest as well. Last month, a group affiliated with the Republican Governors Association began airing campaign-style ads featuring Rauner. In them he talks up his efforts to improve Illinois’ business climate and enact changes such as term limits for lawmakers.

The ads come as Rauner and the Democrat-controlled state legislature have been unable to agree on a budget for nearly two years, leading to major cuts to social services, colleges and other programs.

Since Pritzker first started considering a run for governor, the Illinois Republican Party has criticized Pritzker by tying his name to House Speaker Michael Madigan. Pritzker recently joked to a room of Cook County Democratic Party leaders, “Turns out, at least according to Bruce Rauner and the Illinois GOP, Mike Madigan is actually my biological father.”

Pritzker — whose full name is Jay Robert — is the founder of Pritzker Group, a venture capital firm that focuses heavily on the technology sector. He also founded 1871, a Chicago hub for tech startups. He previously served as chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, and he is a vocal advocate for early childhood education, a cause to which he and his wife have donated significant amounts of money.

His sister, Penny Pritzker, served as Commerce Secretary under former President Barack Obama.

Editor’s note: Chicago Public Media receives philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. J.B. Pritzker, who is campaigning for governor in the Democratic Primary, is not involved with the foundation and does not contribute to it.