EVERGREEN PARK – Illinois Treasurer and GOP candidate for governor Dan Rutherford carried on with his campaign Saturday, a day after holding a news conference to talk about an employee’s misconduct allegations he says are politically motivated.
Rutherford met with a group of first responders at an American Legion hall in south suburban Chicago. For about an hour, he answered their questions on pensions, jobs and taxes. No one asked about the allegations, which have not been detailed publicly and which Rutherford says have no merit.
Rutherford said afterward he wasn’t surprised the police officers and firefighters wanted to discuss economic issues and not the allegations.
“They have other issues that are important to them,” Rutherford said.
At Friday’s unusual news conference, Rutherford said an opponent in the governor’s race, Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, was behind unspecified allegations made by a treasurer’s office employee against him. Rutherford said an attorney representing the employee had been on Rauner’s payroll and had demanded $300,000 on the employee’s behalf to “walk away and keep it under wraps.”
Later that day, the attorney, Christine Svenson, denied any political motivation. She didn’t name her client or detail the allegations other than to say they were “serious and real.”
Rauner’s spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, reiterated previous statements Saturday denying any involvement.
“As reporters uncover more details about this, it is now obvious that we had nothing to do with it. Rutherford’s allegations are absurd and he needs to start answering all the questions directed at him,” Schrimpf said.
Rutherford and Rauner are among four candidates seeking the Republican nomination in the March 18 primary. The others are state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn faces one primary challenger, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman.
At Saturday’s Rutherford campaign event, attended by about 40 first responders who braved a snowstorm to get there, the questions focused on Chicago workers’ underfunded pension funds and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pursuit of a deal with workers that would avoid raising taxes or cutting services.
Rutherford reiterated his belief that the recently enacted state pension reform law will be found unconstitutional. He is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by some of the largest labor unions in Illinois challenging the pension law.
But he stopped short of promising the city workers that he would take their side in the Chicago pension dispute, other than to say he believes in the employees’ right to consider and accept a pension deal.
“There has to be consideration and acceptance,” Rutherford said.
Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who invited Rutherford to speak, said the first responders he chatted with after the candidate’s appearance consider the unspecified allegations from an unnamed employee “mudslinging.”
“Quite honestly, I think that the stuff that they’re talking about is kind of irrelevant to us,” Garrido said. “Whatever situation that’s going on there, for the people I’ve been talking to, it’s mudslinging; it’s politics.”
Associated Press writer Kerry Lester contributed from Springfield.