News Local/State

Gubernatorial Hopeful Pritzker Campaigns In Champaign-Urbana

JB Pritzker meeting with students.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker meets with University of Illinois students in a meeting organized by the Illini Democrats at Papa Del's in Champaign on Monday. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

J.B. Pritzker brought his campaign for governor to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Monday.  The billionaire venture capitalist is trying to establish himself as the progressive choice for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Pritzker told about 40 students gathered by the Illini Democrats at a local pizza restaurant that he knew some had doubts about supporting another billionaire for governor, given their dislike for the current billionaire governor, Republican Bruce Rauner. Pritzker argues not all billionaires are alike.

“This election isn’t about money, it is about values,” said Pritzker. “It is about standing up for progressive values. It’s about standing up and saying that millionaires and billionaires ought to pay a higher rate of tax than people who make 20 and 30 and 50 and $50,000 a year.”

Pritzker referred to a graduated income tax, which he says should be part of any tax increase in Illinois.  

The Illinois GOP has dismissed Pritzker as someone who wants tax hikes without reform.  But Pritzker contends that Rauner’s reforms are misguided. He says economies are stronger in New York, California and Minnesota, where Democrats set their states’ business policies.

Pritzker fielded a question about burdensome student loan debt, and replied with a suggestion that young people launching their own businesses should be given more time to pay back their loans.

“The idea that if you’ll go be part of a startup enterprise, or start up your own enterprise, that we ought to give you a grace period from having to pay your student debt,” said Pritzker. “Because it strikes me that we want to create jobs in this state. Startups and small businesses are the ones that are creating most of the jobs.”

Pritzker’s own company, Pritzker Group Private Capitol, invests in fast-growing technology companies. And he led a group that founded the Chicago non-profit digital startup incubator called 1871.

Before his meeting with the Illini Democrats, Pritzker toured the University of Illinois’ Research Park, which he compared to his own activities as a venture capitalist.

Pritzker used his own family story to promote the value of entrepreneurship and philanthropy — touching on the work of his father, Donald Pritzker and uncle, Jay Pritzker, who built up the Hyatt hotel chain, as well as his own company, and his work to expand Illinois’ school breakfast program and establish the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.

“I know I started out lucky in life,” said Pritzker, “but I know I have to work hard every day to earn what I’ve been given. So I’ve spent much of my life building things that would be good for other people.”

Illini Democrats President Spencer Hayberry says other Democratic candidates for governor — State Sen. Daniel Biss and former University of Illinois Board Chairman Chris Kennedy — are slated to come to Champaign-Urbana in the coming days.

Other Democrats who have announced their candidacies for governor in 2018 are Chicago Alderman Ameya Pewar and Madison County regional school superintendent Bob Daiber.

CORRECTION: This story has been correction to note that the late Jay Pritzker was J.B. Pritzker's uncle, not father. - JM 4/18/17