By John Kass
If you look up in the sky and squint, you might see giant meat-eating bird-like creatures with great wingspans and soft skin, wearing suits, their wings locked as they circle above Illinois.
You’ve seen them before over the years, if you’ve watched the political skies, for Democrats and Republicans, when the wealthy get involved in politics.
But the raptors now in the sky are political hustlers waiting for their chance at multi-billionaire Chicagoan Ken Griffin’s money, to skim it or direct it and make big scores leveraging government.
They’ve been unleashed ever since Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel and the wealthiest man in Illinois, announced weeks ago that he’d put his own money up to change the broken politics of this broken state.
If Griffin is serious, here’s an idea. It doesn’t involve birds of prey. It involves ice. Hockey ice. And a hat-trick. A Ken Griffin political hat-trick:
Griffin should make a play in the race for Mayor of Chicago, and for Cook County Board President. And then send Pritzker packing. Mayor Lightfoot is weak, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, for all her ruthless ability, has a weakness, too. Her weakness is crime in Cook County. As the state’s top Democrat, Gov. J.B. Pritzker owns the crime issue too.
All three Democratic bosses are intertwined now.
I don’t want Griffin’s money. But this is the way for Griffin to have great impact, if he’s truly playing to win.
He says he’ll fund an opponent of Pritzker, who, Griffin says, “doesn’t deserve to be the governor of Illinois.” On this many would agree. Griffin is also sick and tired of Chicago’s ever increasing violent crime, and he’s considering relocating his Citadel headquarters out of Chicago.
“It’s becoming ever more difficult to have this as our global headquarters, a city which has so much violence,” Griffin was quoted as saying. “Chicago is like Afghanistan on a good day. And that’s a problem.”
If he’s truly sickened by Chicago violent crime, Griffin will get involved locally. And many would agree with him, including the middle class who’ve fled as refugees away from the violence, and the bad and costly public schools.
Griffin started in business as a college sophomore at Harvard. According to a 2001 profile by Hal Lux in “Institutional Investor,” in 1987 Griffin raised a $265,000 limited partnership–including money from his grandmother–and he called it “Hedge Fund #1.”
After grandma’s boost for that first fund–not all that much different than a father and uncle helping a son and nephew open a supermarket or a diner–Griffin started making it big. Ultimately, he made a fortune that was recently valued $28 billion, making him the wealthiest man in Illinois and one of the wealthiest in the nation.
He didn’t inherit that $28 billion. It wasn’t given to him. He earned it. But, like other wealthy people when it comes to politics, Griffin lives in a bubble. He must rely on political types to guide him. And all the political types around the wealthy playing in Illinois politics–Democrats or Republicans–have their own political agendas and self interests as they help shape which candidates are funded.
And Illinois is the state known for its ravenous bi-partisan political Combine.
Pritzker is not widely considered a business genius. He was born on third base thinking he hit a triple. Gov. Commodious Maximus is worth far less than Griffin, about $3.6 billion. But I don’t know if that $3.6 billion in Pritzker bucks includes all the cash he’s squirreled away in offshore accounts, or the cost of those famous toilets of his.
So, what should Griffin do if he’s serious about wanting change?
Again, I don’t want his money. I’ve spent my life fighting political hustlers, some of whom leverage contributors for fools to make their own scores through government and slap taxpayers around like the chumbolones we’ve become.
But Illinois and Chicago are well past the tipping point. If Griffin wants to listen to the siren songs of the Combine hustlers, I can’t really stop him. He should think on what happened to former Gov. Bruce Rauner who listened to them, until he wised up.
If he’s serious about fixing the broken politics of Illinois, there is something he can do to reach his goal of ridding us of Pritzker.
Yes. That Ken Griffin hat-trick:
Mayor of Chicago; Cook County Board President, and the governor’s office.
Let’s start with Chicago, the engine that drives the entire state. Griffin can make an immediate impact there.
He can find $15 million to help fund Paul Vallas. That would immediately make Vallas a strong, serious candidate and push the weak pretenders out of the way.
Does anyone think Vallas can’t manage the city? Most people think he’s just about the only one out there who can do the job. Chicago doesn’t need a messiah or some foul mouthed pouty rhetorician. Chicago doesn’t need celebrity basketball friend.
Chicago needs a manager if Chicago is to survive.
Vallas is strong on the two issues voters care most about: crime and the schools. Lightfoot despises him because he’s publicly mocked her mishandling of police manpower issues.
And the militant leaders of the Chicago Teacher’s Union and others of the left hate Vallas because he’s identified the one other issue besides crime that would also unite parents and taxpayers across racial and demographic lines and offer some hope for Chicago’s future:
Real School choice.
The knock on Vallas is that he won’t play along to raise money. He knows what to do, he can read budgets while the others can’t, he knows where bodies are buried and he’s creative. But he can’t raise money from the business community, because they want a servant in the mayor’s office. And Vallas won’t play their game.
I’ve repeatedly told Vallas not to run, not unless he has real money behind him. But Griffin has real money. He could fix all that with his pocket change.
And then we’d see a campaign of ideas beginning now, versus a campaign of race and fear and idiotic clichés in January and February of 2023. Or do you think Chicago would be better served with the usual suspects playing race cards and saying the usual stupid things, in a city gone past the tipping point?
By every measure, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is a failure. She helped demonize the police. She did not stop the looting and riots that savaged the city. She rolled over for the militant leaders of the teachers’ union again and again. She lost control long ago. She knows it. And so does Chicago.
And she’s kowtowed to the non-prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx—and Foxx’s patron Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot endorsed Foxx for re-election to satisfy Preckwinkle. It was a weakling’s move in a city being hollowed out by violent crime.
As Lightfoot flounders with next year’s mayoral election campaign taking shape, former President Barack Obama’s basketball buddy, Arne “The White Shadow” Duncan, makes his move. The White Shadow is being positioned for a run by David Axelrod and the rest of the Rahm Emanuel crew arranging glowing media coverage. If you’ve been reading johnkassnews.com, you know this.
I’ve been warning you about The White Shadow rollout for months now, long before other media bothered to notice. Now his insiders have set him up to meet with the Chamber of Commerce as part of his roll-out. The public relations machine starts to hum the song of invincibility, to drown out all the idiotic things Duncan has said.
Other candidates push forward. This delights Lightfoot. Not all challengers are weak like the White Shadow. Some are decent folk, savvy politicians. They have talent. But that’s what Lightfoot needs, a crowded field, and the other hopefuls jumping in only improve her standing. They make her look stronger than she is.
Lightfoot desperately needs a large field of contenders, and she’ll play her race card again and again as she has in the past. She has nothing else. “Come one, come all,” she says, gleefully.
She can’t run the city. But can The White Shadow–raised by Chicago media that is as weak and woke as he is, run the city? He seems like a nice fellow, but is he a real manager? No.
He’s a public relations/media creation, but without the hard management chops. He hasn’t yet opened the books on his Chicago CRED program, though he gets oodles of publicity for it.
Who’ll run the city if the White Shadow is installed? The guys who brought him to this dance.
Lightfoot has proven she can’t run anything. Yet how would Duncan stand up against her?
She’s no mayor, but she is a tough streetfighter. She’s tiny and Arne is tall, but if Lori met Arne Duncan in a dark alley–without Duncan protectors like Axelrod and Rahm and Sun Times investor Michael Sacks—what would happen?
Lori would leave The White Shadow in a puddle of his own making upon the ground.
I’ve only been covering Chicago politics for the past, oh, thousand years, but I’ve learned one thing. By the time voters start paying attention to mayoral candidates, the campaign matchups have already been set, and the outcome predetermined, as if by design.
Can Chicago afford the same cynical politics again, even as violent crime increases, even as the government schools continue to hurt the most vulnerable kids, and as the middle class leaves?
You know this.
The second part of the Griffin hat-trick is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Toni is ruthless, a smart operator, so formidable that the Republicans don’t have a candidate to face her.
But if Griffin can find one, if he could find an African American strong on crime, perhaps someone with a law enforcement background, Preckwinkle would be stunned.
Violent Crime is Toni Preckwinkle’s Achille’s heel, particularly in the Cook County suburbs where the Republican votes for the governor’s race are to be found.
Liberal Chicago corporate legacy media doesn’t hold Toni to account on crime, and she likes it that way. She controls the courts and the prosecutor’s office and the jail, but social justice warriors in Chicago media roll over for her.
But many suburban voters are refugees from Chicago violent crime. And Preckwinkle has exacerbated this by reducing the population of the Cook County Jail. Preckwinkle allies, Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans, and Kim Foxx help violent offenders to walk the streets free pending trial. And as they await trial, many victimize others through crimes of violence.
She runs the budgets of Evans, Foxx, and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. She depopulates the jail. Crime goes up. And corporate Chicago media give Preckwinkle a pass.
Much of this has to do with Kim Foxx, Toni’s political baby and Soros-backed catch-and-release prosecutor. Foxx who cut that sweet deal for Jussie Smollett, is the albatross around Preckwinkle.
A decent candidate with $5 million of Griffin money could occupy Preckwinkle on the crime issue alone and keep Toni focused in the suburbs. And it would drive a larger turnout of voters for Gov. Commodius Maximus’ opponent.
Would that Preckwinkle opponent win? Probably not, given the way Democrats play racial politics, but it would provide valuable training and exposure for some talented newcomer. And more importantly, those anti-Preckwinkle votes in the suburbs would be anti-Pritzker votes.
And that’s how you take Pritzker out, by not ignoring the votes in suburban Chicago.
With Vallas making a splash in Chicago on ethics, crime and schools during the stretch run in the campaign for governor, with Preckwinkle on the defensive on crime in the Cook County suburbs, all of it poses problems for Pritzker.
Unfortunately, Griffin has many advisers. Will he follow my advice? I don’t know.
Some of those hustling birds of prey circling Illinois and eager for Griffin’s money are from the Combine; those Republican handmaidens to boss Democrats who broke the state years ago. A few took Rauner’s money, too ,until he wised-up.
Like Rauner at first, Griffin hasn’t been eating, sleeping, drinking and breathing Illinois politics. Griffin, like Rauner, spent his years making money, not playing politics. When it comes to politics, the wealthy are always in a bubble, until it bursts.
I’m no financial expert. I could give two figs for the intricacies of high finance and can just about pay my bills.
But I do know a little bit about politics and positioning. Now it’s all up to Griffin. If he wants to make his mark, he’ll go all out for the hat-trick.
What we all do know now, is that Chicago and Illinois are well past the tipping point.
And they’re running out of time.
(Copyright 2022 John Kass)