Which do you imagine is the more difficult task: governing Illinois or completing a home remodeling job?
True, projects around the house can be exasperating, what with cost overruns and paint samples that don’t look as good on the walls. But home renovations are nothing compared with fixing this state’s many problems. So we’re wondering: If J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate for governor, made such a mess of rehabbing his two Gold Coast mansions, what might that say about his ability to rehab state government if he’s elected?
First, there is Pritzker’s toilet scandal. In 2015, during the renovation process of one mansion, M.K. Pritzker – the candidate’s wife – had the toilets removed, according to an email between a project manager and contractor. That was done in order to declare the home uninhabitable and therefore reduce the property tax bill. The reassessment, sought retroactively, over a few years saved the Pritzkers $330,000 in taxes – until word got out. Last month, Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard declared that tax reduction move was a “scheme to defraud” fellow taxpayers. Pritzker said he’d repay the money.
Now, we’ve got news on a decision regarding the renovation a decade ago of the second home. On Monday, the Tribune’s Todd Lighty reported that Pritzker, who is endorsed by unions and committed to “working together” with the labor movement, hired some nonunion workers on the renovation of his $25 million mansion.
There is nothing illegal about the use of nonunion help from three trades, but it would have been tricky to explain in Democratic circles, so the Pritzker family apparently wanted to keep the decision under wraps. “Now that the front yard is screened off and scaffold is going up, the job site has a much higher visibility,” a construction consultant wrote in 2007 to Pritzker’s brother-in-law Thomas Muenster, who oversaw the renovations. “We’re perfectly legal with our permits, but we do have a non-union mason, demo contractor and roofer working. We are a little concerned that the union (business agents) may come to visit.”
Pritzker’s campaign told the Tribune that the candidate had “minimal involvement in the renovation work.” About the toilet tax trouble, Pritzker said at a debate with Gov. Bruce Rauner, “we followed the rules.”
Anyone who’s ever redone a kitchen understands the headaches, and recognizes that every decision in the home renovation process has potential consequences. Whom to hire? How to handle permits? Everything could go swimmingly, or disastrously. In at least two instances regarding Pritzker’s homes, there was a slick move attempted that now looks bad for the candidate. Then there was an effort to shield him from blame.
What was the extent of candidate Pritzker’s involvement? Homeowners have responsibility for their remodeling work. Even if Pritzker wasn’t the point person, these are his family’s homes. So he owns what happened there.
The same will be true if he’s elected governor: Illinois is the ultimate fixer-upper, and he’ll be in charge.