The evening started early and with sober clarity at the Holiday Inn at Merchandise Mart, where Chris Kennedy’s camp had set up. Guests started arriving just as polls closed. Family and friends mingled in a small ballroom set up with rows of chairs in front of a big screen. There was a sense of hopefulness—15 percent of voters were undecided when polls opened, after all.
But the quiet mood was a sign of what was to come for the Kennedy camp.
I moved on to what was predicted to be a victory party. Stop No. 2 on my election-night crawl took me to the Hilton on Michigan Avenue, where Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign team had assembled at the same place he celebrated when he took office nearly four years ago. This time, though, there were no high-fives or chest bumps–at least not while I was there. At that point uncertainty was heavy in the small ballroom as Rauner had yet to be declared the winner.
Would the third time be the charm? I arrived at J.B. Pritzker’s election-night party just in time to see him and running mate Juliana Stratton take the stage for rousing acceptance speeches.
And while he set some spending records during his campaign, it didn't make for a luxe victory party. Wine and soda were free, but no canapés were passed—instead, I spotted some chips for sale in the hallway. Bruce Springsteen's go-big-or-go-home lyrics were pumped into the Marriott Hotel ballroom. It felt celebratory but it certainly wasn’t the over-the-top-kind-of-affair you might expect from a billionaire.
But it didn't need to be to attract a billionaire's guest list. I spotted some notable names in the crowd, including businesswoman Desiree Rogers, retired CBOE Chairman Bill Brodsky, Chicago Ventures partner Kevin Willer, city Treasurer Kurt Summers, and his sister and fellow billionaire, Penny Pritzker. They stood close to the stage to support Pritzker, now a treasured commodity in Illinois Democratic circles.
By the time they finished, some 800 guests were revved up and ready to dance. I thought a conga line had started—but it was just a queue for selfies with the candidates.