Major Chicago fundraisers, friends turn out for their candidates

Election night with Cheryl Whitaker, Penny Pritzker and William Kunkler

Melissa Harris

Chicago Confidential

November 8, 2012


For most of Election Day, Dr. Cheryl Whitaker nervously devoured an entire bag of Lay's potato chips while watching cable news.

By midnight, however, she had traded her living room for one of the cars in the presidential motorcade.

As the polls began to close, Chicago executives, major fundraisers and friends of President Barack Obama as well as Republican challenger Mitt Romney gathered at official venues for what they hoped would be a party, awaiting the outcome of a bruising race. In interviews Wednesday, they shared their memories of the night as well as of the campaign.

For Whitaker the celebration began to unfold about 7 p.m., when she, her husband, Dr. Eric Whitaker, and her two children drove to the Fairmont Chicago hotel, where they watched returns on two TVs from inside a small ballroom.

Elsewhere in the building were their friends of more than a decade — the president and first lady Michelle Obama. But even the Whitakers didn't get to see the president until after he knew he had clinched re-election.

"We got a chance to see him once things kind of settled down" at the Fairmont, Whitaker said. "He is always, and he was, pretty calm. ... We were all just relieved and happy. ... Everybody got a hug."

Joining the motorcade headed to McCormick Place, Whitaker recalled the celebration there as a blur. She remembers getting chills when the Obama family walked onstage. Sasha and Malia Obama, she said, "are growing up before the world." After Whitaker arrived home about 3 a.m., she stayed up two more hours watching the news and eating a dinner of broccoli and turkey.

"I couldn't eat (dinner) until I knew this was done," she said.

While Whitaker and her family prepared to head to the Fairmont, Penny Pritzker, national co-chair of Obama for America, arrived at McCormick Place, where she began doing interviews at 6:30 p.m.

"My favorite story from last night was, as I was watching the president give his (acceptance) speech, I realized there were two young children sitting on the floor, holding their flags, to one side of me, exhausted," she said Wednesday. "And there was a very successful hedge fund manager to my right. And there was a labor leader in front of me. And there were some good friends of mine who've been volunteering. ... Everybody was just there. There was no distinction. Everybody's just there for the same reason."

Pritzker, the chief executive of her own investment firm, PSP Capital Partners, also didn't go to bed after arriving home about 2 a.m.

"I sat up, and there were some people I wanted to communicate with," she said. "I wrote them and congratulated them or thanked them. I wanted to share the feeling of the moment. ... That personal touch, it matters."

In Boston, William Kunkler III and his wife, Susan Crown, both of whom raised money for Romney, did not wait to hear his concession speech at the Boston Convention Center. Exhausted from traveling, they left the party after Ohio was called. However, they did gather for brunch at the InterContinental Boston on Wednesday to hear Romney thank them and other fundraisers.

"I was amazed at how strong he was," Kunkler said. "Ann choked up a bit. She feels the country's loss, I will say that. ... He gave us an assessment of the race. I think it was honest. And there were things in his control, and things that weren't in his control."

Much has been made about the pivotal role Latinos played in this campaign as well as Obama's "ground game."

"(Romney) said this morning, with the Latino community, the No. 1 issue doesn't seem to be immigration right now," Kunkler said. "Their biggest concern, as far as what he understands, seems to be health care. And obviously the president addressed it with Obamacare. But I don't know how Obamacare is going to be financed, and we have not begun to really feel the effects (of it)."

As for the ground game, Whitaker participated, knocking on doors for three hours in Racine last weekend and in Milwaukee the weekend before.

"I don't think people realize how meticulous and well-done it is," she said. "We went out this last weekend, and there were a lot of names crossed out on the sheet because they had already contacted those people. Once they contact them, they cross them out. So that it's done, and you don't keep calling the same people. The list got smaller. They were much smaller that last weekend."

Understandably, Wisconsin's call for the president was among the highlights of the night.

"All of us had canvassed," she said. "We just jumped up and down, like 'Woo-hoo!' That sort of feeling that you participated and it might have meant something. That was a really great moment."

Exiting John Buck Co.

Jack Buck, son of John Buck Co. founder John Buck, will be leaving the real estate development firm to found an affiliated company to be called, for now at least, The Free Marketeers.

For three years, the John Buck Co. will have right of first refusal on any development deals Jack Buck sources. And the firm is paying the younger Buck a retainer in exchange for that right.

"He has helped bring in $400 million worth of development in the last 15 months, but most of his initiatives don't really meet our objectives," the elder Buck said. "They're really not related to our core business."

He cited his son's proposal to build a version of a Yotel — a hotel of chic but tiny rooms — as one such idea that was smart but didn't fit within the company's plans.

John Buck, 68, said he and firm principal Blake Johnson, who returned to the company in 2009, would handle new business development — along with Jack. The elder Buck said he was not prepared to discuss succession plans for the firm.

Jack Buck will remain a shareholder and will move his team into new offices by the end of the year. He declined to comment for this story.

Polk Bros. CEO named

Gillian Darlow, a principal at the Civic Consulting Alliance, has been named CEO of the nonprofit Polk Bros. Foundation, effective Jan. 7.

Darlow, 45, replaces Sandra Guthman, who will continue as the foundation's board chairman through November 2018. Executive Director Nikki Will Stein is retiring at the end of the year.

Polk Bros. was founded in 1988 and has since given more than $300 million to Chicago nonprofits, according to a news release issued Wednesday.

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential or Facebook.com/chiconfidential.