'Nobody's pushover': Governor candidate Richard Irvin on COVID-19, crime and his GOP record

Despite an influx of cash from wealthy donors, Aurora Mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin said "I am nobody's pushover" when asked about the contributions during an exclusive interview Wednesday with the Daily Herald.

"I'm a combat veteran of the United States Army," Irvin said. "I'm a former prosecutor, a person who put violent criminals behind bars. I'm the mayor of the second-largest city in Illinois with a proven record of results getting things done.

"After having grown up in public housing with a teenage mother raising me, I am nobody's pushover. I'm offended when my opponents suggest that I'm a puppet. I'm my own man and I've always been my own man."

Irvin is running in a crowded race in the June 28 primary against state Sen. Darren Bailey of Louisville, businessman Gary Rabine of McHenry, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Monroe County and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg.

Irvin leads the pack for donations with $1.2 million garnered in two weeks, according to state records, and it's possible more is coming from Republican billionaire Ken Griffin, who's pledged to support a viable challenger to Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Regarding Griffin, "I think we'd all agree he's done a lot for the state of Illinois," Irvin said. But "it's just one person, one vote, and I look forward to listening to all the residents of Illinois about what we can do to take the state back."

All five Republican candidates have stressed reducing crime as a priority.

"As a community-based prosecutor, I worked side by side with police officers to root out crime - arresting drug dealers, gangbangers, wife beaters," Irvin said, "addressing quality-of-life issues in neighborhoods, just like the one I grew up in ... where there wasn't a whole lot of hope and (there was) a whole lot of drugs and gangs in my community.

"As mayor, I increased the number of police officers that first year, and I've done so every year since."

Several of Irvin's rivals have questioned his Republican credentials, and he did pull Democratic ballots in several elections.

"I'm a Republican," Irvin stated. "And I'll tell you who else thinks I'm a Republican - Barack Obama campaigned against me in 2005 when I ran for mayor." Then-Sen. Obama backed Democrat Tom Weisner for mayor at the time.

Irvin added that he was elected as a Republican committeeman previously and has a "conservative philosophy."

"I like to make sure that we do what people need to get the job done. To make sure we keep crime down, which we've done in Aurora. Make sure we are keeping taxes down and holding wasteful spending down. Make sure we maintain a fair and equitable government and root out corruption."

Under Pritzker, crime, taxes and corruption are "out of control" in Illinois, Irvin said.

However, he has welcomed Pritzker to Aurora, including at a COVID-19 vaccination event in March 2021. On COVID-19, Irvin differs from Pritzker, who instituted a statewide mask mandate indoors and required masks in schools.

"I'm generally opposed to mandates and I want to leave it to any local communities to make the determination of what's best for their local community," Irvin said. "I believe local school districts should make the determination of what's best for those school districts and the safety of the children in those districts."

However, "I believe in vaccinations. I've been vaccinated and I've been boosted."

Asked about his support both for Black Lives Matter and saying that "all lives matter" in a campaign ad, Irvin said the two are not "mutually exclusive."

"The reality is Black lives must be included in all lives," said Irvin, Aurora's first Black mayor. "To separate those two is offensive. I think to suggest Black lives are not included in all lives - this is the United States of America. We've got to start acting like we're united."

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  Mayor Richard Irvin speaks to the Daily Herald Wednesday in Aurora about his run for governor in the Republican primary. Brian Hill/
  Mayor Richard Irvin speaks to the Daily Herald Wednesday in Aurora about his run for governor in the Republican primary. Brian Hill/
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