CAIRO — As Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza traveled to Cairo on Tuesday to deliver turkeys and hams and visit with social service providers in deep Southern Illinois, she also took a shot at Gov. Bruce Rauner. Referencing his outerwear preferences, Mendoza upped the ante in their ongoing war of words.
“You’ve heard the saying, ‘All hat and no cattle’? He’s ‘All Carhartt and no heart,” Mendoza, a Democrat, said of the Republican governor. “We can hope that maybe during this holiday season, like Ebenezer Scrooge, he will be visited by some spirit that will tell him it’s time to care about Southern Illinois.”
Mendoza made the comment to media outside Family Counseling Center Inc.’s office in Cairo after delivering 60 turkeys and hams and bags of food donated by her staff in Springfield and Chicago.
While in the area, Mendoza also had dinner with Mayor Tyrone Coleman and Mayor Pro Tem and Councilwoman Connie Williams on Monday evening. She said they discussed Housing and Urban Development’s ongoing relocation of 400 residents from two unsafe public housing complexes, and the mayor’s hopes for the city’s future. As well, she toured Family Counseling Center Inc. and the Cairo Women’s Shelter.
In response to Mendoza’s comments, Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Rauner said, in an emailed statement, “This sounds unfortunately like a campaign stop to attack the governor. Poorly timed for the people of Cairo and certainly not in the job description of comptroller. There is a mountain of unpaid bills that need her attention.”
Last week, when Rauner visited a reclaimed strip mine in Saline County near Creal Springs to announce an off-road vehicle trail, the governor was asked why he had not spoken to Mendoza personally since she was sworn in. Rauner responded by saying it wasn’t necessary to talk to her directly because his team “is talking to her all the time.” Rauner then went on to say that Mendoza “really works for Speaker Madigan.” He did so in the context of saying that what Illinois needs in order to grow its economy is more balanced budgets. The discord between Madigan and Rauner that resulted in a lengthy standoff over the budget hammered the economy of Southern Illinois, particularly one of this region's largest employers, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, as well as hospitals, social service providers and others.
“They (Madigan and Mendoza), they just think taxes, more taxes, higher taxes are the answer. It’s not the answer. We gotta grow. Grow good payin jobs in Southern Illinois. Don’t tax people and push the jobs out,” Rauner said last week.
Mendoza’s spokesman, Abdon Pallasch, said the statements Mendoza made about the governor were in response to questions from a TV news reporter. Responding to the comment from the governor's office that her Cairo visit amounted to campaigning, Pallasch said the official business for the comptroller was to speak with social service providers in Cairo that had been waylaid by the state’s protracted budget impasse about efforts to get them caught up on the money owed them by the state, as well as deliver the donated food. Pallash provided a transcription of Mendoza's comments in Cairo to the newspaper, which was not in Cairo Tuesday.
Mendoza spoke by phone to the newspaper as she traveled from Cairo to her next destination. “I feel like something has to be done to breathe new life into this part of the state,” she said, in the phone interview. “And I think that starts with just being present and listening to people and hearing their concerns.”
Rauner has not visited Cairo since the housing crisis came to a head with HUD’s relocation announcement on April 10. Recently, the newspaper asked Schuh, the governor’s spokeswoman, what the governor’s office had done to assist the federal government with the relocation effort or in addressing Cairo’s long-term recovery.
As described in a recent article by The Southern, Schuh outlined items that included state officials helping with grant writing and conducting a housing inventory, and then said the state was waiting for more information from HUD that it had not been provided to determine if anything else could be done. A HUD deputy undersecretary offered to call Schuh and provide the governor’s office with whatever information she needed. Schuh declined to take the call, saying the governor’s office was working through the congressional delegation so that everyone remained on the same page.
Mendoza said she doesn’t have all the answers for Cairo. Still, she said showing up and listening is important, as is, she said, being truthful with people. “The governor needs to stop being dishonest with the people of Southern Illinois,” she said.
“To come to this part of the state that really has been decimated by jobs leaving this state — manufacturing is gone — and then give false hope and false promises to people for some votes is pretty disgusting. And I think that needs to stop,” Mendoza said. “We need to be honest with the people of Southern Illinois that there’s problems. That we need time to fix them. But that we need a governor — and I know for sure it’s not this guy — who will focus attention, put some tender loving care into Southern Illinois.”
Mendoza is supporting Democratic candidate J.B. Prtizker.
In Creal Springs last week, Rauner also addressed the housing and economic crises facing Cairo. Rauner said the state “definitely has a role” to play in helping Cairo but he said the housing situation is “primarily a federal issue.” Rauner mentioned the grant-writing and housing survey assistance provided to Cairo by the state that Schuh had previously noted to the newspaper. "We’ve been in constant communication with the federal government on this," Rauner added. "We’re pushing them to move this along."
“But the reality is what we need is more economic opportunity in Cairo,” Rauner continued. “I’m not ready to announce it today but we’ve got several ideas that we’re going to do from the state point of view to help bring more economic development there. Let’s you and I keep in touch and we’ll be announcing that in the near future.”
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI