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Illinois First Lady to Focus on Children, Executive Mansion

Bruce Rauner completed a furious first week as governor of Illinois. His high-profile wife is not far behind

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    Bruce Rauner and his wife Diana walk home after voting in the Illinois primary election on March 18, 2014 in Winnetka, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

    Bruce Rauner completed a furious first week as governor of Illinois. His high-profile wife is not far behind.

    Diana Rauner is gearing up as first lady, hiring a prominent Springfield political aide as chief of staff and contemplating initiatives that could include children's advocacy and restoring the capital city's Executive Mansion.

    The 53-year-old Democrat, who is wife to a Republican governor, has a doctoral degree in developmental psychology and a professional reputation of her own, plans to be a supportive wife and an activist with a second job. She will not step down as unpaid president of the early childhood education not-for-profit group Ounce of Prevention, even though the organization receives state grants.

    "The work that I care the most about is vulnerable children and families and I'm always going to be thinking about that," Rauner told The Associated Press. "I have very high hopes for this administration for the vision and leadership Bruce has around education, but also an appreciation for the interconnections between education and health and all sorts of human services."

    Rauner is whip-smart, ardent and sensitive, said Lula Ford, an Ounce of Prevention board member who was an assistant cabinet director under Republican Gov. George Ryan and later served two terms on the Illinois Commerce Commission.

    "I've never seen her be anything but respectful of other people's opinions, and that's what you always have to be," Ford said. "She's a true lady and she'll bring all of that charm to whatever she needs to do."

    The governor, who spent last week issuing executive orders and undoing ones by his predecessor, has pledged to live in Springfield, unlike the past two executives. In perhaps a nod to that promised presence, as well as to her serious agenda, Diana Rauner named Sara Wojcicki Jimenez as her $100,000-a-year chief of staff. A former television reporter, Wojcicki Jimenez has a reputation as a serious-minded spokeswoman and adviser to Democrats and Republicans.

    Lance Trover, a spokesman for Bruce Rauner, would not respond to questions about whether anyone else will join Wojcicki Jimenez on Diana Rauner's staff. But her salary is not out of line.

    The late Lura Lynn Ryan, who promoted reading programs as first lady from 1999 to 2003, had at least two people working for her — one who was paid by the Department of Human Services, not the governor's office. Each made about $81,000 in 2001, according to state records maintained by The Associated Press — or about $108,000 today.

    One task Wojcicki Jimenez has on her to-do list is leading the first lady's efforts on restoring the 1855 Executive Mansion, "which we want to do at lightning-fast speed," Rauner said.

    Rauner recognizes that spending cuts are her husband's mantra, and she knows that could also affect Ounce. She said that because she doesn't receive a salary, she wouldn't personally benefit from any funding Ounce receives from the state.

    "Diana definitely knows the boundaries and she would not jeopardize the Ounce or herself," Ford said. "They (the public) will be watching. You know they're going to put a microscope on her."

    Despite the high-stakes, intersecting worlds of government, social service and politics she is entering, there's the traditional — perhaps stereotypical — part first ladies play. Rauner says the role of spouse is as critical as any.

    "First and foremost is just to support Bruce, and to really kind of be there for him and with him and make sure he's eating and sleeping," she said, "but also thinking about how things are going for him. And you can kind of see how only one person can do that."

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