Rauner's communications staff quits amid controversy over cartoon

Four members of Gov. Bruce Rauner's communications team resigned Thursday in the wake of a controversy stemming from a political cartoon critics labeled as "racist."

Out are Diana Rickert, Laurel Patrick, Brittany Carl and Meghan Keenan. All were hired in July as part of a previous massive staff shake-up in the governor's office.

Rickert served as deputy chief of staff for communications. Patrick was the governor's communications director, and the other two women were communication specialists.

A news release from Rauner's office stated Elizabeth Tomev is now the governor's acting communications director.

Multiple media outlets are reporting Rauner sought resignations from three of the staffers and asked one to stay, but she quit anyway.

Rauner came under fire in recent days for a statement issued by his office in regard to the cartoon published by the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute saying "as a white male" he had nothing to offer on the discussion of the cartoon. He then walked back the statement hours later.

The cartoon published last week, which depicted a black Chicago schoolchild begging for money from an older suit-wearing white man whose pockets were overflowing with TIF cash, was widely derided on both sides of the aisle as offensive.

Policy Institute officials initially defended the cartoon, saying the image was meant to illustrate school funding inequities, but eventually scrubbed it from its site.

A statement about the cartoon from Patrick released Tuesday said, "The cartoon was removed days ago. And the governor - as a white male - does not have anything more to add to the discussion."

The statement was immediately met with criticism.

State Rep. Christian Mitchell, a black Chicago Democrat, was particularly outspoken and was one of the first to blast the Policy Institute's cartoon. Mitchell called Rauner's response "cowardice."

"Is he saying his being a white male is more important than his role as governor? Is he saying he will no longer comment on issues because he's a white male?" Mitchell said at the time.

In news releases sent out by the Illinois Policy Institute, other prominent black Chicagoans, including former ABC7 reporter Charles Thomas and Eddie Read, chairman of the Black Independent Political Organization, have since declared that they did not find the cartoon racist and understood its point about the effects of the city's heavy reliance on TIFs that siphon money away from schools.

By nightfall Tuesday, Rauner issued his own statement, saying earlier comments from his office "did not accurately reflect my views" and he could "understand why some people found the cartoon offensive."

Rauner, a wealthy businessman, donated to the Illinois Policy Institute before he was governor. Last month's hires included the institute's former president as Rauner's chief of staff and Rickert, who was the group's spokeswoman. The staff housecleaning, which saw roughly two dozen people either fired or resigned, came shortly after the Democrat-run Legislature dealt Rauner a major political blow in ending the state's roughly two-year budget impasse. Several Republicans broke ranks and voted for the spending plan that includes an income tax increase over Rauner's objections.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rauner says no comment on political cartoon as 'white male'

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