A black Republican mayor launched his campaign for governor of Illinois on Martin Luther King Day with a powerful video acclaiming the dreams of his great grandfather, who was born a slave.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, 51, is the fifth candidate to compete for the nomination to run against billionaire Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker in the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“Richard Baxter Irvin was born a slave, but he dreamed of being free,” Irvin said in his campaign launch video. “I don’t just share the name Richard Irvin,” he said. “I share his dream of what Illinois could be: where a growing economy provides ladders of opportunity for anyone willing to work; where families are safe; where kids are educated, not indoctrinated.”
In his campaign video, Irvin describes his own humble beginnings growing up in Section Eight public housing in Aurora.
“Mom had me at 16, a single mother working two jobs. Didn’t have much of a father, but my granddad, son of Richard Baxter Irvin, taught me to believe in myself, to do the best I could in whatever I did,” he said.
After graduating from high school, Irvin joined the Army and fought in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He later attended law school at Northern Illinois University, and following graduation became a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. He eventually a “community prosecutor” in his hometown.
Irvin ran for mayor of Aurora in 2005 and 2009, and lost both races. He later became a local GOP precinct committeeman. Irvin was elected as the first black mayor of Aurora in 2017, and takes credit for lowering the city’s crime rates. If elected, he would be the first black governor of Illinois.
The four other Republicans in the GOP primary are state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo; and business executives Gary Rabine of Bull Valley and Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg.
Irvin has chosen Rep. Avery Bourne, an assistant Republican leader in the Illinois House, to be his running mate.
The mayor is making crime a central issue of his campaign, saying in his video and on his website that “crime has exploded under J.B. Pritzker’s watch. … People do not feel safe in Illinois. So what has J.B. Pritzker done?”
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Irvin was recruited to run — and his campaign organized — by a network of GOP political operatives with ties to former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and ex-Sen. Mark Kirk.”
The rest of the slate consists of former Central District of Illinois U.S. Attorney John Milhiser for secretary of state; state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, for state treasurer; Deerfield attorney Steve Kim for attorney general; and McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi for comptroller.
Milhiser faces a primary, with his main competition coming from state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
Republican operatives putting together the slate Irvin leads did not recruit a primary candidate to run for U.S. Senate, where Democrat Sen. Tammy Duckworth is seeking a second term.
Irvin’s campaign has attracted the attention of hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who has said he is “all in” to defeat Pritzker.
“Unlike the current Governor who was born into wealth and has demonstrated little urgency or progress in improving our State, Richard Irvin’s life embodies the American Dream and a real commitment to making communities stronger,” Griffin said in a statement to from his spokesman at Citadel Strategies.
“From humble beginnings, he put himself through college with the help of the GI bill and chose to enter public service to make a difference in the lives of others,” Griffin said. “As Mayor of Aurora, he has successfully delivered on the issues Illinoisans care most about – strengthening the education system, improving public safety, creating economic opportunities and governing with integrity. I am excited that he has decided to join the race, and look forward to the opportunity to meet him and learn more about his ideas in the weeks ahead.”