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Billionaire JB Pritzker to announce Illinois governor bid

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

CHICAGO (AP) — Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker was expected to announce 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.”

Pritzker’s campaign confirmed the tweet but did not offer further details ahead of a planned afternoon announcement at a city park facility on Chicago’s South Side. 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, Chicago Alderman 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. His campaign says he raised another $1 million from some 3,000 donors in the first six weeks of his candidacy.

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 Thursday in a statement.

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.

Rauner’s 2014 race against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn set a record for spending in Illinois, topping $100 million.

Outside groups already have been active in the 2018 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 Legislature have been unable to agree on a state budget for nearly two years, leading to major cuts to social services, colleges and other programs.

Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said Thursday that “Pritzker’s loyalty belongs to Mike Madigan,” referring to the longtime Illinois House speaker whom Rauner blames for most of the state’s problems.

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.