Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Quinn Mocks Rauner's $100,000 Parking Spot

The Illinois governor can't resist exploiting the income inequality issue

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    WARNING: This news might make you spit out your coffee. According to the Sun-Times' Michael Sneed, Bruce Rauner paid $100,000 for one parking spot. We repeat: $100,000. For a parking spot. Just one.

    The columnist hears that "rich man Rauner spent $100,000 on an extra parking space and storage space at 340 E. Randolph St., where he owns a $4 million penthouse and a $1.2 million condo purchased in 2008 — which already include three parking spots."

    While the Illinois GOP gubernatorial nominee considers Winnetka home base, he owns eight other properties including the schmancy downtown Chicago digs near Lake Michigan. He was reported to have purchased the apartment so his daughter could qualify for enrollment in Walter Payton College Prep, a selective enrollment school in the city's tony Gold Coast neighborhood.

    Rauner's vast fortune -- he's worth some $500 million -- has been both a blessing and curse for the 57-year-old founder of the Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR. Like Mitt Romney circa 2012, Rauner touts his track record as a successful businessman as evidence he's got the right stuff to whip the economy back into shape. On the flip side, his private-equity cred makes him something an object of scorn for Illinoisians who could never afford to drop $100K on a lone parking spot. 

    A few months ago, a veteran Democratic operative in Chicago told Ward Room that Rauner should simply "own" his rich-guy identity rather than adopt an Everyman persona that doesn't seem authentic and could possibly repel phony-sniffing voters. 

    Then this happened. The July 2 revelation that Rauner used a corporate tax loophole to avoid Social Security and Medicare payments was a major blow to the Republican's efforts to woo blue-state votes away from Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, whose bleak approval rating has alienated re-election-seeking Democrats who fear guilt-by-association.

    Now it appears that Rauner had no choice but to go negative or go home. On Friday he unleashed his harshest-ever full-scale TV attack on Quinn that knocked the governor for a set of "broken promises" on jobs, taxes and education. Striking back, Quinn's campaign slammed Rauner as "billionaire" -- a word worse than "sociopath" if you're running for office these days -- and brought up the tax-avoiding accounting strategy scandal.

    "It's worth noting that Rauner is paying for these false attacks, and many more to come, with cash he grabbed by jumping through elite tax loopholes that cause the middle class to pay more," sniped a Quinn spokesperson.

    The governor's team swiftly pounced on Sneed's parking space scoop and issued an anti-Rauner press release that Capitol Fax's Rich Miller called "juvenile," opining: "(W)ith this little gem, we've gone way beyond the legitimate issues with Rauner’s taxes and business practices and ventured into a pure 'OMG!!! He’s soooooo rich!!!!' rant."

    Maybe so, but what's shallow can also be smart strategy: As the wealth gap widens, and income inequality rises around the world along with have-nots' anger, Illinois' Democratic party would be remiss not to rally the base and leverage such a "gem" to their political advantage -- especially with midterm elections on the horizon.

    After all, "The power of income inequality as a political issue is evident in polls. The economy is still the number one concern of voters, left, center and right, in every opinion poll. Gallup polling from earlier this year found that 67 percent of Americans say they are concerned about income inequality," Juan Williams wrote in The Hill this week.

    Meanwhile, forget Superman-versus-Hulk. Who's the lesser of two evils: Mr. Burns or Quinnocchio?