Illinois Governor JB Pritzker is used to not knowing what day of the week.
He became accustomed to 12 to 16 hours of workdays, every day since March 5. That’s when he told Illinois about the fifth confirmed corona virus case, a briefing he had held at the governor’s office, his staff standing shoulder to shoulder behind him before moving away from social was something.
Since then, for almost 40 consecutive days through elections, weekends and executive order rafts, Pritzker has led an afternoon briefing that has raised his profile as he mapped out the state’s COVID-19 containment strategy and displayed empathy for the counting of deaths that continues to increase.
The crisis has been the only thing on the governor’s mind from when the day started around 5am to after 10pm. news broadcast.
“None of my staff members have a day off – including me, but more importantly they are – because, I think, I count 32 days,” the governor said during a long interview with WBEZ by telephone from the 15th floor office suite at James R Thompson Center, which has become the nerve center of the COVID-19 state.
“It’s not like you turn it off when you get home,” Pritzker said. “There’s no end to the day, really. Just that kind of thing [day] blend into the other … Literally, I don’t know what day it is unless I look at my phone, and I see what day of the week. “
A crisis can bring out the best and the worst in people chosen by America and Illinois for public office, and this can be a moment of Pritzker’s legacy.
The death toll from COVID-19 reached 528 Illinois when he agreed to a telephone interview with WBEZ on Thursday, a number that would increase to 720 on Sunday. The total represents more than a fivefold jump since early April, an alarming number are African-Americans.
What emerges from an interview with Pritzker is to look into some of the most dramatic and radical decision-making of any Illinois governor, when he chooses to close a large swath of the country’s economy and dictate that residents remain at home for all but important reasons.
The governor was honest about the heavy emotional impact of the battle that had befallen him and his staff and outlined in more depth his frustrated interactions with President Donald Trump and the White House in an effort to secure life-saving ventilators for personal protective equipment and illness for Illinois health workers.
The fight with the federal bureaucracy catapulted the governor of any first term to the national level, noted in New Yorker, that New York time, etc cable news network. Not the attention that anyone expected two years ago.
“I didn’t expect to experience a pandemic”
This moment is not what Pritzker offered when he invested more than $ 171 million of his own wealth to defeat the incumbent Republican incumbent in 2018.
He specifically focused on passing a large progressive agenda through Springfield, which he did without appearing to sweat a lot. The series of major victories he secured at the Capitol last spring marked one of the most successful legislative sessions in memory.
Until about a month ago, the focus in 2020 was a continuation of the series, turning towards November when Illinois voters would be asked to sign the governor’s biggest campaign board: cancel Illinois fixed income tax and replace it with a level sliding scale designed to make rich people pay more.
But his pursuit of income tax status is now in the backburner, flooded with an all-out press to prevent hundreds, even thousands, of Illinois residents from dying from the deadly new corona virus.
“I want to balance the state budget. I want to make sure more children can go to college. I want to make sure the teachers are paid properly and everything I do for the position must be done, “said Pritzker. “You know, I didn’t expect to experience a pandemic. But it focuses the mind when every day, you know that everything you do has the potential to save someone’s life.”
So far, Pritzker has used his authority by passing Democrat-led majorities in the Illinois House and Senate, which cannot yet be held. Pritzker instead runs the state government through the power of the questioner. His 20 executive orders arising from the original COVID-19 disaster declaration closed schools and bars and restaurants in Illinois and required Illinois people to take shelter in their homes, all to slow the spread of the virus in an almost helpless population 12.7 million people.
While most remain silent in public, some Republicans have grumbled behind the scenes about continuing to use the governor of executive authority without a check and for frequent criticism of Trump’s handling of the national COVID-19 response.
Pritkzer has received a lot of public attention, first of several to go through with the main country in the middle of the plague, and later in the state failure to process unemployment claims in a crisis, because the state’s website has repeatedly crashed because of huge traffic volumes. House Republicans has scheduled a press conference on Monday to complain about the problem of jobless claims. Questions have also been raised about the country’s response to the outbreak in a state prison.
But to break up one of the 16 hours the governor has been working, lately, typical partisan sniping doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on his calendar.
‘All easy decisions have been made’
The governor arrives at the Thompson Center at 8 or 8:30 every morning and usually meets first with his chief of staff, Anne Caprara, and his communication team. Two or three times a week, there are calls with the White House or Vice President Mike Pence, head of the president’s coronavirus task force. Pritzker also received a call arranged by the National Governors Association, devising strategies with other governors on how to deal with the White House.
He or his staff also set fire to the phone every day to try to secure the equipment needed in the COVID-19 battle from manufacturing sources in China, an effort that according to Pritzker has “spent a lot of time and a lot of staff time.”
And every second or third day, he said, has involved time with his legal staff examining the records of Illinois detainees to reduce the population in state prisons, which have emerged as COVID-19 hotspots. At least two Stateville Correctional Center prisoners have died because of COVID-19 and dozens of others have been sick there.
So far, through executive pardon and other measures, around 500 prisoners throughout the system have been released.
“All the easy decisions have been made or are in the process of being made: people who commit crimes without violence, people who are nearing the end of their sentences … things like that,” he said. “What’s more difficult is what I spent with my legal staff, where we reviewed people who might be involved as accessories in violent crimes but were sentenced the same as those who directly committed the violence. . “
But every day, at around 12:30, Pritzker, a group of aides and the Director of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike set up in his office to examine the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths from the previous 24 hours.
“The meeting was probably the saddest part today,” the governor said.
Pritzker told how difficult it was to control emotions at the meeting. The number discussed is human life. Last week, for example, just when everything looked up, the unexpected nature of the virus reaffirmed itself wholeheartedly.
“We have a series of numbers [for] five days in a row that is relatively stable in terms of the number of cases and deaths, and that gives me hope. Every day, I will strengthen myself for the numbers, and the third day, fourth day, and fifth day. I am glad to see it, “Pritzker said.
“And then, the sixth day came, and we experienced a large increase in deaths and a large increase in cases. And that was the day we reported 73 deaths … I must say, it took a little wind from me, “the governor said.
He now recognizes that moment as the most memorable pandemic – and not in a good way. But he praised Ezike and other staff he described as “His people” for helping to keep this difficult time in perspective.
“In the midst of all this, you have to have empathy and a little humor every once in a while and just recognize sometimes how bad things are,” he said. “Also, when someone is overwhelmed by it, give them a little of your strength. I mean, all of that is very important, and I have seen it now in action all the time, day and night with my staff. “
With so many lives lost due to viruses, Pritzker said he could not reach every family but had talked to maybe a dozen who had lost loved ones.
“That is the fullest part of my job. That’s not something you can prepare for when you become governor, “he said.” I don’t like it. I did not enjoy it in any way, anything. “
The governor prides himself as an even-type person, not someone who screams.
But he admitted he had lost his temper several times over the past month because of what he said was The inability or unwillingness of the White House to deliver to her promise to help The Illinois COVID-19 response, started first with a failure to provide an adequate number of tests.
The president is said to be lured by the Illinois billionaire governor but last week called on Pritzker because he seemed “pleased” with the White House’s response during a private conversation but frankly criticized it in front of a television camera.
But to hear Pritzker’s side, the only person-to-person calls with Trump are pure frustration.
“On the phone with him, I respect the president’s office. But I am also very direct about what we need and what I expect and what I expect, “he said.
As was the case when in mid-March, Pritzker said he urged Trump to use the federal Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to change their factory lines to help in the production of ventilators and personal protective equipment.
“I begged him as a businessman and said to him,” Mr. “President, I was a businessman before I was elected president, just like you … I am not trying to deny that they deserve to be paid a normal price,” recalls Pritzker. “But what happens is, we pay four or five times, and the result is we compete with each other and the federal government. You can order on the market and let people get the normal profit while making sure the states get what they need.”
Trump ignored the idea, recalls Pritzker.
The president instead asked Pritzker what Illinois needed, in which the governor expressed more N95 masks, goggles and the like. Trump ended the call by promising to help.
“An hour later, I got a call from one of his advisers who said,” I spoke with President Trump and we will help you, “recalls Pritzker.” And he said, ‘We will do it in’ Trump time, ‘and he said the word said several times during the conversation: ‘Trump time.’ And then he said, ‘We will send 300,000 N95 masks and 300 ventilators, and we will give it to you in’ Trump time. ‘ So I thought, wow, that’s fantastic. Not regular time, ‘Trump time.’
One day passed. Then the others Then the others
“When the goods finally arrived, they were not as promised,” Pritzker said.
The state did get 300 ventilators for which Pritzker expressed its gratitude. But Illinois received 300,000 surgical masks, not the promised high-quality N95 mask.
“I called the White House adviser and said, you know, we got 300,000 wrong types of masks.‘ Oh, well, let me see inside that. ’I never heard of it.”
Another call from the adviser with offers of medical gowns and suits came, said Pritzker, but the promised items never arrived.
Asked if he ever understood what the term “Trump Time” meant, Pritzker did not hold back.
“I think it means never or very late and not what was promised,” he said.
On an A to F scale, Pritzker said he would rate D for the performance of the president managing the crisis, although the governor stressed the US Army Engineer Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency had done extraordinary in Illinois.
Asked to judge his own performance, Pritzker refused. He appointed Illinois as the second state to enforce home stay rules, one of a handful of states to close bars and restaurants and among the first to close schools, the difficult decision he admitted would sometimes take “extra days” to decide , but he said because he wanted to talk to other people and get their perspective first.
“I will not judge myself. I think it’s for others to do later when we’re all done here, “he said.” It’s very difficult to judge yourself in the midst of something where people are dying. You know, it feels like every day there is something I can do. “
The emotional mill for all this is real, the governor said, and he now sleeps about five hours a certain night. The only pause for him is at the end of the day.
“When I was just about to go to sleep, I flipped something like ‘Tiger King.’ I can really watch all the episodes of ‘Tiger King’ or at least fall asleep during each of them, so that’s how I divert my mind.
“From the moment I woke up and looked at my inbox and read the newspaper until when I watched the news at night after I came home, I thought endlessly about this,” he said. “It’s difficult. You ask my staff. They will tell you the same thing. It’s very difficult to turn this off.
“This is not normal, and this is very difficult,” said Pritzker, “and we are all looking for ways to distract us.”
Dave McKinney covered the Illinois state government and politics for the WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.
WBEZ Illinois state political reporter Tony Arnold contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter @tonyjarnold.
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