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Barbs fly between Rauner and Pritzker in first TV debate of governor's race
Chicago Tribune
Friday, September 21, 2018  |   Article  |   Rick Pearson and Mike Riopell
Candidates--Statewide (12)

A bitter race for Illinois governor that has played out in TV attack ads for more than 16 months carried over to the debate stage Thursday as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker assailed each other’s character and integrity before voters.

But in the first face-to-face meeting of the contenders for governor, it was Rauner’s exchange with third-party candidate Sam McCann, a Downstate Republican state senator running under the Conservative Party banner, that was the sharpest.

McCann, of Plainview, has sought to exploit divisions toward Rauner among the GOP’s social conservative base over the governor’s signing laws expanding abortion, immigration and transgender rights. The division was laid bare in Rauner’s narrow March primary victory over state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican.

Rauner has sought to tarnish McCann’s third-party candidacy by alleging he was backed by the governor’s chief political nemesis, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, to help Pritzker.

On Thursday night, Rauner called McCann a “phony candidate,” prompting McCann to respond, “Get used to it, brother. Get used to it.”

READ MORE: Rauner rips third-party conservative challenger as ‘Madigan pawn,’ gets called ‘lying liar who lies’ in return »

Rauner said of McCann: “He has received funding from Mike Madigan for his campaign. He was put on the ballot by Mike Madigan’s attorney.”

“You’re a liar. You’ve been lying to the people of Illinois from the very beginning,” McCann replied.

“You said you had no social agenda, and all you’ve been able to accomplish is to make yourself the most progressive liberal governor the state of Illinois has ever had,” McCann said. “You’re a liar and a thief.”

That prompted Rauner to ask McCann if he was “getting paid on a per-interruption basis by Madigan or a lump sum?” Rauner added, “He has one purpose on being on that stage and (that’s) to help Mr. Pritzker be victorious for Mike Madigan.”

“We’re here to take both of you out,” McCann responded, referring to Rauner and Pritzker.

The exchange underscored bad blood between Rauner and McCann that was exacerbated when the governor backed a failed primary challenger to the state senator’s 2016 re-election.

It also gave McCann, whose candidacy is being funded largely by the operating engineers union despite its endorsement of Pritzker, some much needed publicity in his long-shot bid for governor. And it helped Pritzker by adding another voice to criticize Rauner while drawing some attacks away from the Democratic contender.

Still, the hourlong debate put in person some of the name-calling featured in the millions of dollars in TV advertising that has been expended by the wealthy major candidates, Rauner and Pritzker.

Rauner continued his attempts to portray Pritzker’s support for a graduated-rate income tax to replace the state’s currently mandated flat-rate tax as “proposing a massive tax hike on all the people of this state.”

That prompted Pritzker to interject, “Gov. Rauner, you’re lying. You’re lying again.”

Full Tribune coverage of the upcoming midterm elections »

Pritzker has said his tax proposal would lower taxes on middle and lower incomes and raise taxes on the wealthy, and he accused Rauner of “standing up” for a currently unfair tax system.” But Pritzker once again declined to provide any specifics about income-tax rates, saying he would have to “negotiate” those with lawmakers.

“Mr. Pritzker cannot be trusted when it comes to taxes,” Rauner responded. “This election is about taxes and corruption. Two things: taxes and corruption. Mr. Pritzker is a disaster on taxes. He cannot be trusted.”

Pritzker responded by saying Rauner “has a casual relationship with the truth,” adding, “he’s been lying for three and a half years, and now he’s lying about me.”

Rauner also sought to draw a bigger distinction between the two candidates’ wealth. In the past, the governor has noted he earned his income as a successful equity investor while Pritzker inherited his wealth as an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune.

Rauner told Pritzker on Thursday night, “It’s easy for you to sit on the sidelines and criticize when you haven’t done an honest day’s work in your life.”

“During the course of my life, I’ve stood up for working families all across the state of Illinois. I’ve expanded early childhood education,” Pritzker replied. “I’ve become a national leader on it.”

Libertarian candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson contended that because of the wealth of the Republican and Democratic nominees, Rauner and Pritzker “have no clue what it’s like to live in the conditions we live in.” He proposed that residents earning less than the poverty level pay no income taxes.

After devastating effects from the state’s historic budget impasse on higher education, Rauner pledged that if re-elected, “I will reverse the years of underfunding of our universities, just as I reversed a decade of education cuts from Madigan’s majority in the General Assembly.”

But Pritzker warned Rauner’s pledges couldn’t be trusted, alluding to the Republican governor’s original opposition to a new funding formula for grade schools and high schools that he termed a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools, and ended up signing a bill that gave even more money to CPS.

“Virtually everything that you just tried to take credit for happened in spite of you, not because of you,” Pritzker replied to Rauner. “Seven-hundred thirty-six days without a budget in the state.”

McCann, who also is seeking organized labor backing to go with his socially conservative credentials, criticized Rauner’s failure to reach a labor agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the state’s largest employee union.

“He famously said in his first campaign that he would shut the government down just to destroy that union,” McCann said.

McCann also took a more veiled shot at Rauner in discussing outmigration from Illinois to other states when he said businesses are looking for a good infrastructure as reasons for investing and creating new jobs in the state.

“You can’t have a strong infrastructure system if you don’t partner with the federal government,” McCann said. “I look forward as governor of Illinois with partnering with our congressional delegation, partnering with the Trump administration, actually having a relationship with the president and the administration.”

Follow the campaign trail with 'Morning Spin,' the Tribune's daily politics newsletter »

Rauner has walked a tightrope over the controversial president, reflecting the diversity of views in largely Republican Downstate areas who support Trump and those in the GOP-leaning suburbs who don’t.

The first of four scheduled candidate forums leading up to the Nov. 6 general election was broadcast by NBC-Ch. 5 and Telemundo Chicago, and sponsored by the Union League Club of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League.

The stakes Thursday night were potentially highest for Rauner, the first-term incumbent who has been trailing Pritzker by double-digits in two independently conducted polls.

Unlike his first bid for public office four years ago, when Rauner was able to use debates to repeatedly attack the record of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, the governor found his own tenure coming under scrutiny from Pritzker, who has never held an elected position.

Three other face-to-face meetings between Rauner and Pritzker are scheduled: Oct. 3 at ABC-Ch. 7 Chicago; Oct. 9 before the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board and Oct. 11 in Quincy.

As a precursor to the forum, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza released a report at a New York financial conference to try to buttress Democratic criticism of the governor’s fiscal management over the state’s historic budget impasse. Mendoza is an ardent Rauner critic.

The two-year budget vacuum was the result of a clash of ideologies with Rauner pushing for a pro-business, union-weakening agenda against Democratic majorities in the Illinois House and Senate. It ended last year when some GOP lawmakers crossed over to join Democrats in overriding Rauner’s veto of a tax-hike budget package.

Mendoza’s report noted that lack of funding to public universities and community colleges led to a loss of nearly $1 billion in economic output and a drop in students and jobs. It also said grants to nonprofits decreased by 38 percent from the year prior to the impasse, a possible indication of social service providers closing their doors.

rpearson@chicagotribune.com

mriopell@chicagotribune.com


Morning Spin
Chicago Tribune
Friday, September 21, 2018  |   Editorial  |   Editorial Board

The popularity of Chicago’s Riverwalk has created a dangerous mix of cyclists trying to navigate through crowds of strolling families and partiers drinking at the bars and restaurants along the waterway, a situation downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly said he aims to end by outlawing riding on the path.

Reilly introduced an ordinance Thursday requiring cyclists to walk their bikes, and for the Department of Transportation to put up signs “indicating that the operation of bicycles is prohibited on the Chicago Riverwalk.”

“We’ve gotten dozens and dozens of complaints about near misses and collisions on the riverwalk involving pedestrians and bicyclists,” Reilly said. “So common sense would dictate if you’re on a busy pedestrian path you would walk your bike, just like we require people to walk their bicycles on congested sidewalks downtown. So this simply codifies the signage that already exists on the riverwalk that says, ‘Walk your bicycle.’ ”

A complete ban on biking is unnecessary, Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke said in a statement. While bikes should be walked when the riverwalk is crowded, there are times when it’s safe for cyclists and pedestrians to share the path, Burke said.

“Unlike a typical sidewalk, the riverwalk was conceived from the beginning as a multi-use path for both bicycling and walking,” Burke said. “It’s important that biking remain an option because the majority of people aren’t comfortable riding on city streets, and the riverwalk is a popular connection between the lakefront and downtown jobs, retail and entertainment.”

Fines would range from $50 to $200 for each offense. Reilly’s ordinance was sent to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee. (John Byrne)

What’s on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel has no public events scheduled.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner and first lady Diana Rauner are attending the Polish American Medical Society gala Friday night in Chicago.

From the notebook

*Raoul gets backing of gun control groups: Giffords, the group founded by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and the Illinois-based G-PAC committee endorsed state Sen. Kwame Raoul for attorney general in his contest with Republican Erika Harold.

“America experienced three of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history in just the past year. Over 38,000 people in our country were killed by a gun in 2016,” said Giffords, who was among 18 people shot as she held a constituent service meeting in a Tuscson, Ariz., supermarket parking lot in 2011.

“Illinois has not been immune to this deadly crisis. Somebody is killed by a gun in the state every seven hours. Kwame Raoul understands the toll this epidemic takes on communities like Chicago, the city he grew up in,” she said.

G-PAC said it decided to back Raoul after Harold, an Urbana attorney, said she was opposed to a state gun-dealer licensing bill approved by the General Assembly.

*On the “Sunday Spin”: Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson’s guests are Chicago mayoral candidate Gery Chico; Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association; and Bradley Tusk, former deputy governor in the Rod Blagojevich administration. The “Sunday Spin” airs from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN-AM 720.

What we’re writing

*Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker meet in first TV debate of heated Illinois governor’s race.

*Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle officially launches bid for Chicago mayor.

*Group calls on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to act on civilian police oversight before he leaves office.

*Durbin: Postpone Kavanaugh confirmation vote so FBI can investigate sex assault allegations.

*Speaker Michael Madigan writes he ‘didn’t do enough’ to address sexual harassment.

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel says police union was ‘wrong’ for defending disgraced ex-Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

*Chicago schools staff could face jail time for electronic communications with students, under proposed law.

*Tollway extends payment period for missed tolls because of its computer problems.

What we’re reading

*Suge Knight pleads to manslaughter over fatal confrontation, agrees to 28 years in prison.

*A year after Hurricane Maria, ripple effects continue for Chicago’s Puerto Rican community.

*NIU promotes interim President Lisa Freeman, hiring first female leader in school history.

Follow the money

*Friends of Michael J. Madigan, one of the campaign funds controlled by the speaker, reported taking in $503,800 on Thursday — with $250,000 coming from Democratic mega-donor Fred Eychaner. That comes on top of $1.5 million Madigan reported taking in last week from the Chicago Laborers District Council.

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.

Beyond Chicago

*Kavanaugh accuser won’t testify Monday but open to doing so later next week.

*Kavanaugh's classmates at Georgetown Prep describe alcohol-soaked party culture.

*Trump complains about lack of border wall funding in ‘ridiculous’ spending bill; shutdown possible in 10 days.

*Report details sexual misconduct by Iowa agency director, ex-ally of governor.


Rauner EPA withholds Sterigenics records from attorney general until local Republicans intervene
Chicago Tribune
Friday, September 21, 2018  |   Article  |   Michael Hawthorne
Attorney General (6) , EPA (41) , Rauner, Bruce

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is at odds with the state’s chief lawyer again, this time about the public health investigation of a suburban Chicago sterilization plant connected to the governor.

Urged by fellow Republicans to cooperate with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat who isn’t running for re-election, the Rauner-led Illinois Environmental Protection Agency instead refused in late August to provide Madigan’s office with key documents about highly toxic ethylene oxide gas emitted in Willowbrook by Sterigenics, a global sterilization company bought in 2011 by a private equity fund co-founded by Rauner. The governor still has a financial interest in Sterigenics, according to a report he filed in May with a state ethics commission.

After Madigan’s office filed another request for Sterigenics records under the Freedom of Information Act, the EPA took more than two weeks to respond, then withheld detailed reports about pollution from Sterigenics during the past two decades, records show.

The reason: Sterigenics had declared the documents are confidential business information.

READ MORE: Trump, Rauner have the power to shut down a toxic Willowbrook plant. Will they use it? »

One of Madigan’s top aides said it is unprecedented for the Illinois EPA to refuse to share information with the office constitutionally obligated to represent state government in legal matters.

“In sum, IEPA has left the decision on whether to provide emissions reports to the attorney general’s office to the company that has been and continues to release toxic chemicals into a populated community in DuPage County,” Ann Spillane, Madigan’s chief of staff, wrote in a letter to three local Republican officials dated Wednesday.

At issue are annual emissions reports filed with the EPA that break down the amount of pollution released into the air hourly by each source within a facility. Lawyers who specialize in environmental cases say the records are key evidence if the state decides to file a lawsuit against Sterigenics.

Rauner’s EPA director, Alec Messina, described the dispute as a procedural issue. The agency wanted to handle the information request through the public records law for tracking purposes, he said. He also said the agency’s chief lawyer had reached out to Sterigenics seeking the company’s approval to waive any privacy concerns.

“This is a non-issue,” Messina said in an interview. “We work well together with the attorney general’s office. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s wonderful.”

READ MORE: High cancer risk in southeast DuPage County linked to company co-owned by Rauner's former firm »

The Tribune first reported in February that enforcement of environmental laws has declined sharply under Rauner, largely because the Illinois EPA cut back sharply on using its most powerful tool: referring cases to the attorney general’s office for civil or criminal prosecution.

During Rauner’s first year as governor, the EPA referred 73 cases to the attorney general — by far the lowest number since 1991. The annual average during the first three years of his tenure is 80.

By contrast, the EPA sent 198 referrals a year on average during former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s first three years in office and 144 during the same time period under former Gov. Pat Quinn, the Tribune analysis found. Rauner’s enforcement record also pales in comparison to the same period under the state’s last Republican governor, George Ryan, when the Illinois EPA on average referred 201 environmental cases annually to the attorney general.

Messina acknowledged he had received calls Thursday about the Sterigenics dispute from state Rep. Jim Durkin of Darien, the House Republican leader, and state Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican. Curran and Dan Cronin, chairman of the DuPage County Board, have urged Rauner and Madigan to work together to overhaul the state permit that allows Sterigenics to release ethylene oxide into the air.

By the end of the day Thursday, Messina had ordered the emissions reports sent to Madigan’s office. The investigation continues.

mhawthorne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @scribeguy


Trump, Rauner have the power to shut down a toxic Willowbrook plant. Will they use it?
Chicago Tribune
Friday, September 21, 2018  |   Article  |   Michael HawthorneContact Reporter
EPA (41)

A company responsible for some of the nation’s highest cancer risks from toxic air pollution says its sterilization plant in west suburban Willowbrook operates well within the law.

Also vouching for the company is Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a former private equity executive who still has a financial interest in Sterigenics, a global corporation that uses highly potent ethylene oxide gas in Willowbrook and 16 other cities to fumigate medical instruments, pharmaceutical drugs and food.

“This is not an emergency,” Rauner said in his only public comments about a federal study released in late August that revealed significant health threats posed by the Willowbrook facility. “My understanding is that particular company has followed all the regulations and the proper procedures.”

Air pollution within legal limits can still be dangerous. With the Nov. 6 election just two months away, residents in traditionally Republican communities near Sterigenics are clamoring for a more aggressive response from local, state and federal officials. Yet quick action is unlikely for a variety of reasons.

READ MORE: High cancer risk in southeast DuPage County linked to company co-owned by Rauner's former firm »

Ideas floated so far by local elected officials — introducing legislation, passing resolutions, calling to revoke the company’s permit — either offer little leverage against the company or would take months, if not years, to wind through the legislature and courts.

Another option is buried in the same permit that allows Sterigenics to pollute surrounding neighborhoods. Written in obscure legal language, it gives Rauner — or President Donald Trump’s administration — authority to declare the DuPage County facility a threat to public health and seek a court order to immediately shut it down.

Bipartisan majorities of Congress included provisions in the 1970 Clean Air Act that enable environmental regulators to respond quickly to air pollution emergencies. Legal powers also can be invoked to address cancer-causing pollution, “the harm from which might take many years to manifest itself,” according to a guidance memo on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

"Compliance with all federal, state or local permits was never and is not a determination that a facility's operations are ‘safe,’ ” said Bruce Buckheit, a former EPA and U.S. Department of Justice lawyer who oversaw enforcement of air pollution laws during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Rauner administration, which has cut back on enforcement of state environmental laws, appears more inclined to work with Sterigenics than take the company to court. Nearly two months before the cancer report was made public, the Illinois EPA quietly gave the Willowbrook facility another permit to voluntarily install new pollution-control equipment, making it more difficult for authorities to pursue legal action against the company unless it can be proven the fix has failed to eliminate health risks from ethylene oxide pollution.

READ MORE: Rauner EPA withholds Sterigenics records from attorney general until local Republicans intervene »

Trump administration officials also appear to be reluctant to crack down on Sterigenics. “The agency will review its air toxics regulations for facilities that emit ethylene oxide,” an EPA spokesman said in a statement.

Neither federal nor state regulators have committed to anything beyond overseeing a consultant hired by Sterigenics to gauge the effectiveness of its new pollution controls, and using computer models to analyze the results.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat who isn’t running for re-election, said more information is needed from the Rauner-led Illinois EPA before her office can build an effective case against Sterigenics. Her office also is pushing the U.S. EPA to conduct long-term air quality monitoring in neighborhoods near the Willowbrook facility, rather than just a single test of its emissions.

“It is clear that the requirements for controlling (ethylene oxide) emissions … are alarmingly inadequate,” Matthew Dunn, chief of Madigan’s environmental enforcement division, wrote in a letter this week to Ed Nam, director of the U.S. EPA’s regional air division.

Willowbrook is among a small number of U.S. cities that stand out in the latest federal assessment of toxic air pollution, released on the same day the Sterigenics cancer report was made public in late August. Seven DuPage County census tracts near the facility are among 109 nationwide with cancer risk scores greater than 100, according to the EPA, meaning if 1 million people were exposed to the same level of pollution throughout their lives (24 hours a day, for 70 years), 100 of them would likely develop cancer.

Most of the other tracts are in “Cancer Alley,” an infamous stretch of chemical plants along the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

Even more alarming are the results of an EPA investigation in Willowbrook. Based on air samples collected in May, a related federal health agency determined the cancer risks from breathing ethylene oxide pollution in southeast DuPage communities could be orders of magnitude higher than initially estimated: up to 6,400 per million, or more than six cases of cancer for every 1,000 people.

Neighbors have formed a “Stop Sterigenics” group, organized protests outside the Willowbrook plant and picketed the company’s regional headquarters in Oak Brook. Many have said they want the sterilization plant driven out of town if Sterigenics continues to release ethylene oxide into the community.

“Even if they stop tomorrow, there are going to be repercussions for our community for years, if not decades,” said T.J. Kelleher, a longtime Darien resident whose wife died of pancreatic cancer in February. “To think the very place my wife loved, the place where we raised our children, might have killed her is devastating.”

Kelleher is among 19,000 people who live roughly a mile from the Willowbrook facility. Four schools and a day care center also are close by, including Hinsdale South High School in Darien and Gower Middle School in Burr Ridge.

Local officials are scrambling to respond to the cancer report, mindful the political landscape of DuPage County is changing. Once a dependable base of power for Republicans in Illinois, the county has trended more toward Democrats in recent national elections. Hillary Clinton won nearly 54 percent of the DuPage vote in 2016, compared with 39 percent for Donald Trump.

READ MORE: Residents outraged by EPA pollution report call for Willowbrook Sterigenics plant to close »

With Democratic challengers in local congressional and legislative races making Sterigenics a campaign issue, two local Republicans — state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove and Dan Cronin, the DuPage County Board chairman — have urged Rauner and Madigan to work together to overhaul the facility’s air pollution permit. Sean Casten, a Democrat in a close race with U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, accuses the incumbent of putting the chemical industry ahead of public safety, citing Roskam’s 7 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters on public health and environment legislation.

While there is no evidence Sterigenics poses the type of immediate health threats seen in some work settings, federal records show the facility has been emitting ethylene oxide into surrounding neighborhoods for more than three decades.

Rauner’s ties to to the company date to 2011, when a private equity firm he co-founded bought Sterigenics for $675 million and quickly expanded its operations. The governor’s most recent state ethics statement, filed in May, shows he retains an interest in the fund used to buy the sterilization company, which in 2015 sold a majority stake to another private equity firm.

Sterigenics’ parent company is in talks for a sale worth as much as $5 billion, Reuters reported last month.

On its website, Sterigenics calls the use of ethylene oxide “a critical step … to protect patients who use these products from harmful bacteria that could cause infection or death.” Online statements from the company and an industry trade group attack the Willowbrook study and contend the chemical isn’t nearly as dangerous as the government has concluded.

“Healthy human bodies internally produces (sic) EO,” the company website says, using an acronym for ethylene oxide. “There is far more EO internally produced within our own bodies than the risk level stated in EPA’s … risk assessment.”

When asked about the U.S. EPA investigation, Rauner and local officials have made a point of noting it has been less than two years since the agency officially declared that ethylene oxide is far more dangerous than previously thought.

“This is something we are managing,” the governor said in response to a question from a reporter after an Aug. 28 event, “a product that needs to be managed carefully and we are going to try to reduce emissions over time.”

The volatile, easily absorbed chemical has been on the federal list of carcinogens since 1985. EPA scientific advisory boards concluded that ethylene oxide was extremely dangerous in 2007 and 2013, linking exposure to breast cancer and leukemia in particular. But it took the EPA until late 2016 to officially update its risk assessment for the chemical, largely because of industry opposition and bureaucratic inertia.

With the Trump administration focused on rolling back environment and safety protections, there is no guarantee federal limits on ethylene oxide emissions will be updated to reflect the latest science. Even under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Democrats who have been accused of being overzealous with regulations, the EPA failed to take action on dozens of chemicals with well-documented hazards.

“EPA and other agencies can move fairly quickly when there is a big spill, explosion, or some other visible industrial disaster or derailment.,” said Eric Schaeffer, who resigned in protest as the EPA’s top enforcement official during President George W. Bush’s administration and now heads the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project. “They are less effective in moving quickly to deal with surges in air pollution that are less visible — and most air pollutants are invisible.”

mhawthorne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @scribeguy