Happy birthday, Illinois! New celebration video!

Rauner, Pritzker join in marking state’s bicentennial with downsized event at Chicago’s Navy Pier

By Ted Cox

Happy birthday, Illinois!

The state celebrates its bicentennial Monday in a dramatically downsized gala at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his soon-to-be successor, Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, join in marking the day Illinois formally became a state 200 years ago in an event slated to start at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom.

But it’s hard not to see it as one last botched job by Rauner as he prepares to leave office next month after one term.

The Rauner administration formed a Bicentennial Commission in 2016 leading toward this date. But, as the State Journal-Register pointed out over the weekend, Rauner failed to fund it with state money and instead relied on public-private partnerships. According to the Springfield paper, Indiana raised $55 million for its bicentennial two years ago, and Mississippi raised $90 million for its last year, but Deputy Gov. Leslie Munger said the Illinois Bicentennial Commission raised just $1.4 million by comparison.

According to the story, the state concentrated instead on remodeling the Governor’s Mansion and creating a Bicentennial Plaza brick walkway between the mansion and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield.

A yearlong attempt to arrive at the state’s “Top 200” people, places, and things was plagued by poor promotion, resulting in embarrassments such as REO Speedwagon being voted the state’s top musicians in an online poll conducted in part through the State Journal-Register.

Just two months ago, the Bicentennial Commission announced grand plans to have a celebratory gala at Chicago’s United Center, which can seat more than 20,000 for a Bulls game, and could no doubt accommodate more with floor seating.

Instead, according to the Springfield paper, the state had to shift the venue when it became apparent the arena would be largely empty, and in the end it didn’t move enough tickets to even sell out the Grand Ballroom with its capacity of 2,200.

The good news there, according to sources, is that REO Speedwagon’s planned performance has been scaled back as well. The band will not perform, but instead lead singer Kevin Cronin will stage an acoustic performance. Buddy Guy will follow, and the enduring dean of Chicago’s great electric blues artists has reportedly insisted on getting a half-hour of stage time, which should include “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Miguel Cervantes, star of the Chicago production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historical rap musical “Hamilton,” will indeed perform “The Gettysburg Address Rap,” in honor of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who, yes, was voted the state’s top leader in another “Illinois Top 200” online poll.

Abraham Lincoln was voted the state’s top leader. Whew. (National Archive)

Abraham Lincoln was voted the state’s top leader. Whew. (National Archive)

Renowned Chicago TV news anchor Bill Kurtis will play host to the event, with the Blackhawks’ Jim Cornelison singing the national anthem. Eli’s Cheesecake has reportedly executed a birthday cake, with slices to be distributed to those in attendance.

Six major Chicago sports franchises will all present the championship trophies they’ve won over the years, and George Wendt and Robert Smigel will revive their “Saturday Night Live” characters Da Superfans in what will also constitute a salute to Illinois entertainers.

But in actuality the event is probably more suitable for an appearance by Smigel’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Rich Miller, of CapitolFax.com, wrote a column last week citing a few last lapses by Rauner in attempts to pass legislation through the General Assembly. “More proof, as if we need it, that Rauner wasn’t cut out for the job,” the headline read, with the story concluding that in the end Miller “just gave up and pounded my head on my desk.”

Monday night will determine if the state’s bicentennial gala gets tacked on to that list.

In the last “Illinois Top 200” category, mourning Lincoln after his assassination was voted the state’s most unforgettable moment, beating out the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory. What that says about the state’s 200-year history is debatable, but in any case the bicentennial gala is unlikely to unseat it as a memorable event.

Even so, 200 years is something to celebrate, and so is Illinois. Please return to the top of the story to see the One Illinois video marking the state’s birthday if you haven’t already.

And many more, Illinois!