CHICAGO — Bruce Rauner roared into the Illinois governor's race last year, saturating TV airwaves with jabs at Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and promises to "shake up Springfield" the way only an outsider could.
As the Nov. 4 vote approaches, the wealthy Republican and first-time candidate known to pull up to campaign stops on his Harley motorcycle continues to tout his independence and background as a businessman — not a politician — as a central selling point. He says he doesn't need money from special interests or owe anyone any favors, and he won't take a paycheck or a pension.
"I'm nobody that nobody sent," Rauner told The Associated Press, a reference to the storied history of Chicago patronage, where only recommended candidates got government jobs. "I'm not part of the system, and I can stand up and fight against it."
As they fight it out, both Quinn and Rauner are trying to persuade voters that they are the true reformer best prepared to turn Illinois around.
For Quinn, it's meant emphasizing his many years as a consumer and good-government activist in addition to the changes he's made as governor. Rauner repeatedly tells voters he's never run for office before — "not even student council" — rails against career politicians and often sports button-down shirts his wife thinks are ugly, instead of a politician's suit.
Yet the 58-year-old from Winnetka has been no stranger to politics throughout his career as a private equity investor and philanthropist. He has donated millions to causes and candidates, utilized his connections to people in power and become a major player in areas such as education reform.
Whether outsider or not, the way he made his fortune is providing some of the sharpest lines of attack against him, as Quinn and his supporters repeatedly accuse Rauner of getting rich by outsourcing, layoffs and slashing expenses to the point it put people at risk.
"You made a fortune off the misfortune of vulnerable human beings, and workers and consumers," Quinn told Rauner during a recent debate.
While Quinn's campaign has called him an "out-of-touch billionaire," Rauner's camp say his wealth adds up to a billion only on very good days, depending on the value of his investments. He often describes working his way through college parking cars and washing dishes. He earned a Harvard University MBA and eventually became senior partner at a Chicago private equity firm, GTCR. He retired from the firm in 2012. Last year he reported making $60 million.
Rauner says he's proud of GTCR maximizing the return on investment for pension funds, including those of Illinois teachers and other public workers. While Quinn accuses him of shirking responsibility for things that went wrong, he says he feels "terrible" about some of them, such as a Florida nursing home chain once partially owned by GTCR where patients died.
But he insists that overall the firm did "a phenomenal job," and says that as governor, he'd use his business savvy to help create jobs and improve Illinois' budget situation.
Rauner's wife, Diana, is a Democrat who has appeared in campaign ads with him. Their Rauner Family Foundation gave more than $19 million to not-for-profit organizations from 1999 through 2012. Some of the largest donation recipients have been non-unionized charter schools — support that has helped make him a target of organized labor, which has spent millions on ads blasting him.
In the political realm, the Rauners have donated about $15 million to candidates — about the same amount Bruce Rauner has put into his own campaign.
His "outsider" claim was questioned in relation to a daughter's admission to an elite Chicago public school. Quinn and other critics accused Rauner of using his clout — and a $250,000 donation — to get his daughter in after she was initially denied. Rauner says he never asked for special favors, but did acknowledge placing phone calls to then-Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan, whom he knew from his work on education.
Rauner also has hit Quinn on ethical issues, and he says voters have "a very clear choice."
"Quinn and I couldn't be more different on all the stuff that matters," he said.
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