Pritzker, Rauner keep their distance as they ‘come together’ for state gala

Just weeks after spewing insults at each other during a divisive election, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker thanked each other and voiced optimism for Illinois Monday evening during what was dubbed a “joint appearance” at the state’s bicentennial celebration in Chicago.

While both were in attendance, Pritzker and Rauner did not appear on stage together during the Navy Pier show. And both left before the event concluded.

The event celebrating Illinois’ 200th birthday marked the first time both appeared at the same event since the contentious election nearly four weeks ago.

Rauner spokeswoman Patty Schuh said both attended a veterans and VIP reception prior to the event. They chatted during the meeting with veterans, she said.

“Tonight we come together not as Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals, or Chicago or Danville, or Decatur,” Rauner said just before introducing Pritzker to the crowd. “Tonight we come together all as one people, as one state.”

Rauner then implored the audience to thank “our new Gov.-elect Pritzker and First Lady M.K” — with both standing up to wave.

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks Monday evening at Navy Pier for a celebration of Illinois' bicentennial. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks Monday evening at Navy Pier for a celebration of Illinois’ bicentennial. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Pritzker soon took the stage to express “all of our deep gratitude” to Rauner, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and the first lady.

“Thank you and let’s give them a big round of applause,” Pritzker said. “Thank you for your service to our state.”

“We should all celebrate the 200 years of progress that we’ve made but I want to say how important it is for us to look forward in this state,” Pritzker said. “Our best days are yet to come in Illinois. We should all be proud to be from this state, from the heart of America.”

Last week, Rauner told reporters he had only spoken to the incoming governor as he called him to concede on election night. The governor’s office on Monday said Rauner offered an olive branch and asked Pritzker to attend the bicentennial celebration. The governor’s office confirmed the two had not talked since election night, but said their staffs have been frequently meeting regarding the transition.

Speaking to reporters before the Monday celebration, Pritzker spoke optimistically about the state’s future — and avoided criticism of the outgoing governor, despite attacking him for more than a year on the campaign trail.

The governor-elect simply called the event a “great opportunity to celebrate the bicentennial,” when asked whether the event’s downgrade to a smaller venue — from the United Center to Navy Pier — signaled a failure on the outgoing governor’s administration. He was also asked to respond to Rauner’s comments last week that he’s “scared” for the state.

“I think we’ve got great days ahead and honestly I feel as if the opportunity that we have for reforming the state of Illinois to make sure that we’re on a good path fiscally and otherwise is one that I’ve been looking forward to carrying out. So that’s what we’re going to do,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said he’s included the voices of Republicans and Democrats within his transition in an effort to help end some of the gridlock.

“We’ve got to get rid of the bipartisanship in Springfield and instead problem solve,” Pritzker said “And we’ve got a lot of great people on both sides of the aisle who can help to do that.”

Besides the political appearance, the event largely honored the state’s veterans, with many in attendance. It was hosted by Bill Kurtis, and guests were fed a giant Eli’s Cheesecake shaped like the state’s Capitol.

There were some humorous — and politically awkward — moments, including an appearance by Robert Smigel and George Wendt as Bill Swerski’s Superfans.

The “Superfans” said “it’s a big deal” to have two governors appear together “outside of a federal prison.”

“It’s a classy move for Gov. Rauner. I mean it’s a class move inviting the guy who kicked his butt here today,” Wendt said.

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