Mar 13, 2023 - News

Paul Vallas' billionaire booster draws backlash in mayoral race

Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel, in 2014. Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Last week, billionaire Citadel founder Ken Griffin publicly threw his support behind mayoral candidate Paul Vallas. But that might not be a good thing for the front-runner's campaign.

Why it matters: Griffin, a divisive Republican who moved his hedge fund's headquarters out of Chicago last summer, poured millions of dollars into trying to defeat Democrats during the midterms.

Context: Griffin thumbed his nose at Chicago and Mayor Lori Lightfoot last year, publicly bashing the city over rising crime and relocating Citadel's HQ to Miami.

  • Public safety, the focus of Vallas' campaign, has been overwhelmingly cited by voters as the most important issue in the city.

The big picture: Griffin has long had his hands in local politics here, most recently boosting Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin to take on Gov. JB Pritzker in his run for re-election.

  • Irvin was among a slate of Griffin-backed candidates who lost in the GOP primary last June.

Of note: Griffin has put money behind Democratic mayoral candidates in the past, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

What they're saying: Vallas said his backers "know the city is in crisis and they need someone who can manage the city," per Bloomberg.

The other side: West Side Cook County commissioner Brandon Johnson quickly seized on Griffin's endorsement to paint his opponent as an ally of the GOP and "right-wing extremists."

  • The Chicago Teachers Union, which supports Johnson, criticized Griffin and other business leaders' support of Vallas, releasing a statement calling the front-runner "another suburbanite, business-aligned Republican who will side always with millionaires and billionaires over working families."

Between the lines: For many, Griffin represents very narrow interests. He famously poured millions of dollars into defeating Pritzker's Fair Tax referendum, which would have raised taxes on corporations. He's also been vocal about limiting labor unions' power in collective bargaining.

What we're watching: Pritzker has yet to make an endorsement.

  • The most powerful Democrat in the state with very deep pockets could become even more of a factor in the mayor's race now that his rival has lined up with Vallas.

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