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Rauner May Bring More Than Just Dogs, Van To Springfield


If Illinois had political gravity, it could be said that all things orbit around Chicago. Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife Diana vow to change all that by living in the mansion and running state government from Springfield.

  Some might find it surprising that a governor would need to make such a statement. The historic mansion, 150 years old and just a few blocks from the statehouse, is considered the official residence of the governor, but not all have made it their home.

Downtown Springfield business owner Mark Kessler says to him Rauner's move could mean moving jobs back to the capital city.

"Whether he lives here or not, I really don't care much. If he makes Springfield the seat of state government and fills up these offices and has department heads live in Springfield, he could live in Milwaukee," Kessler said.

Kessler owns Recycled Records. He started the business with his brother in the same building as a furniture store their grandparents started in 1910. The empty offices Kessler is referring to are a small portion of the estimated 600,000 square feet of unfilled offices in downtown Springfield. Kessler is surrounded by these empty buildings on Adams Street.

“I used to be able to sit at my desk in there and just look out the window and there would be people going back and forth on both sides of the street," he said.

An estimated 2,600 government jobs have moved out of downtown in the last twelve years, says Victoria Ringer, the head of Downtown Springfield Incorporated. Ringer, who promotes local businesses, says some of these jobs have shifted to Chicago.

"And that's 2,600 visits a day that aren't made to this area. So those are people not buying a soda, not getting a gift card, not paying for parking, not getting lunch, what have you. So that's been hugely impactful," Ringer said.

The second floor of Recycled Records overlooks a government building that has been empty for five years. The offices on either side of the business are empty as well. In the summer, Kessler puts speakers in the upstairs window and plays music.

"That's been the only advantage to having these buildings empty is we can play the music as loud as we want and nobody complains," he said.

Will the governor moving to Springfield really make a difference in helping to fill all that empty space? Chris Mooney says yes, but not necessarily the way you might imagine. He's Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs with the University of Illinois. Mooney thinks it will be less of an economic impact and more of a psychological one to have the governor living in Springfield.

“I think it symbolizes a recognition of downstate as an important and integral part of the state of Illinois," Mooney said.

Make no mistake, many in downstate Illinois have felt overlooked. Even though many past chief executives have maintained homes elsewhere, former governors Blagojevich and Quinn spent much less time in Springfield. Both chose to continue living in Chicago, leaving many residents of the capital city to feel shunned.

The wealthy Rauners have other homes – eight of them. It's not a requirement for the job to live in the executive mansion, but political writer and columnist Bernie Schoenburg with Springfield's State Journal Register newspaper says living in the state's capitol can be a positive.

In a city where government is still one of the top employers, Schoenburg says it will make a difference having the head of state in town, where he'll be able to regularly come in contact with state workers.

"These people are working harder than I thought, they have obstacles to overcome that I didn't know about, and as a manager I can find ways to make it better," Schoenburg said.

Rauner has been spotted out on the town during his first few weeks on the job. He's visited Springfield restaurants, a movie theater, even a local high school basketball tournament.

It's too soon to say if government jobs will come back to town, and there are plenty of other issues likely to divide the public's view of the new governor. But for some, where the governor spends most of his time is all about location, location, location.

Lisa Ryan is a graduate student in the public affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield. She previously worked at Indiana Public Radio and the college radio station founded by David Letterman. She is a 2014 broadcast journalism and political science graduate of Ball State University.
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