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8 months, 4 weeks ago Sara Burnett, Associated Press

The bitterly contested race already is well underway

From Sara Burnett, Associated Press:

The candidates for Illinois governor sharpened their attacks on each other Thursday, with Gov. Pat Quinn saying Bruce Rauner's plan to tax some services will help wealthy people like Rauner but hurt hardworking families, and the Republican businessman calling Quinn's efforts to address improper political hiring "a charade."

Quinn and Rauner separately addressed a Metropolitan Planning Council forum in Chicago, one of roughly a half dozen joint appearances scheduled before the Nov. 4 election.

While the Labor Day weekend typically marks the start of election season, the bitterly contested race already is well underway.

Quinn paints the multimillionaire Rauner as out-of-touch with the middle class and says he got rich - and bought nine "mansions" - by putting profit ahead of people. Rauner has tried to chip away at Quinn's portrayal of himself as a reformer, saying the Chicago Democrat has continued the cronyism and corrupt practices of his predecessor, now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Rauner hit on that theme again Thursday, saying dozens of people who were improperly hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation because of their political connections are still working for the state.

"This already looks like another broken promise from Pat Quinn," Rauner said. "You've got to wonder if this is just another charade."

Last week, an Office of the Executive Inspector General review concluded more than 250 IDOT "staff assistants" got jobs in the past decade based on clout, when the positions should have been publicly available to any candidate and filled based on qualifications. Quinn's administration announced last week it was laying off 58 people who still held those jobs.

But they didn't get rid of others who have moved into other positions still on the state payroll.

Those include two former employees of ex-U.S. Rep. Philip Hare, a Democrat. The workers were hired by IDOT as staff assistants in 2010. Rather than follow typical state hiring procedures, IDOT gave them jobs using an exemption that is supposed to be used only when the job involves policymaking or confidential information. Their jobs involved planting trees and implementing training classes, the review found.

Quinn said his administration "acted promptly" to address problems at the department, including putting in a new transportation secretary who is conducting a full analysis of all positions. He wouldn't answer a question about why some of the improper hires still have state jobs.

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