By the time I arrived at the meet-and-greet between Bruce Rauner and African-American ministers in Harvey, the Republican candidate for governor had left the building.
I wasn’t surprised because I had gotten a late notice about the Thursday morning gathering.
“Rauner didn’t put out a news release,” one man who attended the event told me. “We didn’t distribute any fliers. How did you find out about it?”
A tip from a source. That happens a lot during election season.
I was interested to know what Rauner was doing in one of the poorest suburbs in Cook County and what he had to say to black ministers.
“He told us how he wants to help the African-American suburbs,” said David Gethers, minister of St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Harvey, where the Rauner meeting was held.
Rauner has actively campaigned in traditionally Democratic strongholds in suburban Cook County since the primary election. And he has made an effort to reach out to minority communities and leaders.
The Rev. James Meeks, founder of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, which has a huge congregation, was an early backer of Rauner’s. Meeks is a former Democratic state senator, and once was considered heir apparent to Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH organization.
I’m told about 30 black ministers attended the event in Harvey on Thursday. The invitations were made by St. Mark Church.
So exactly what was Rauner’s message to them?
“He told us that he’s very interested in launching after-school programs to keep our children off the streets and prevent crime before it happens,” Gethers said. “He wants to lower the crime rate in our communities, but I was also interested in how he was going to help those who had been incarcerated. We have a lot of young people who have been released from prison living in our communities.”
Gethers said Rauner told his audience that he realizes people who commit crimes are likely to commit more crimes after their release from prison if they don’t get jobs.
“But very few people are willing to give people jobs after they’ve been in prison,” Gethers said.
Rauner said he would use his contacts in the business community to encourage them to create a program that would make more jobs available to ex-cons, Gethers said.
I do not want anyone thinking that this is a verbatim account of what Rauner said. Audiences have been known to hear things that were not said, and candidates have been known to say things they later don’t remember saying.
And people attending the same event often claim that they heard different things.
Still, I always find it interesting to hear what people take away from a campaign visit like this one because the perception may be more important than the reality.
J.R., Jordan, the son of the late Bishop Willie Lee Jordan, a revered religious leader who led St. Mark’s for more than 40 years, noted that the church has often supported Republican candidates.
Jack O’Malley, the last Republican state’s attorney in Cook County, was backed by St. Mark. Other Republicans the church has supported, according to Jordan, are state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and former governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan.
“Democrats haven’t done a lot for the African-American community,” Jordan said. “They make a lot of promises, but they don’t keep them.
“I feel it’s best that we give everyone a fair hearing. We wanted to hear what Bruce Rauner had to say and get away from the sound bites you hear on the TV news and campaign commercials.”
Rauner, according to Jordan and Gethers, said he would not tax pensions.
“He said that stuff on the Quinn commercials was a complete lie,” Jordan said.
Rauner also told the audience he’s not opposed to a minimum wage or increasing the minimum wage.
“But he is worried about the impact on small-business owners when the minimum wage is increased,’ Jordan said. “Those small-business owners may hire less people and that doesn’t help anyone.”
It became pretty clear to me that Jordan had been won over by Rauner.
“I would vote for him today, and I will vote for him in November,” he said.
Jordan and Gethers said Rauner also spoke about his interest in improving public education. They came away with the impression that Rauner, as governor, would increase school funding.
I asked if he said how he planned to do that. Rauner has said he would cut the state income tax, meaning Illinois would have less money for education, among other things.
I was told Rauner had implied that he might dip into his personal wealth to fund some programs.
“He would use his own money?” I asked.
“That’s what he said,” Jordan replied. “He said he had been investing his own money in education for years. He said one thing he would do is make sure every teacher in Illinois is certified, and he has funded programs in the past to make sure teachers are properly trained.’
Mike Schrimpf, Rauner’s campaign spokesman, said Rauner, through the Chicago Public Education Fund, has financed education programs that help teachers meet certification standards.
Schrimpf also noted that Rauner’s wife, Diana, through her Ounce of Prevention Fund, has raised money and channeled millions of the family’s person wealth into preschool programs for children in impoverished areas.
That may have been what he was referring to when he mentioned investing his own money in education.
I suggested that much of what Rauner had told the ministers sounded pretty vague.
“He came out to meet with us, to begin a relationship, so we feel comfortable with him and he feels comfortable with us,” Jordan said.
“I think people here came away with a good feeling about Bruce Rauner,” Gethers said.
Since the beginning of his campaign, Rauner has tried to broaden the Republican voter base.
It will be interesting to see the impact in November.