Citadel founder Ken Griffin leveled harsh criticism at Gov. J.B. Pritzker and decried rising crime in Chicago—saying even his security staff have been targeted—as he gave his most explicit warning to date on whether his investment empire will remain headquartered in Chicago.
“It’s probably measured in years, not decades, if we don’t change course,” he said at an event today before the Economic Club of Chicago.
“Chicago has become smaller on a relative basis,” he said.
Crime is out of control in Chicago, Griffin said, and political leaders are doing little to address it. “It is a disgrace that our governor won’t insert himself into the challenge of addressing crime in our city.”
Many of Griffin’s criticisms were ones he’s made before, but the focus on crime was an addition to past critiques centered more on fiscal management, such as underfunded public-worker pensions and inadequate public education.
Griffin said he spoke with Pritzker on the phone when looting and unrest were afflicting Chicago following the murder of George Floyd. He advocated that Pritzker bring in the National Guard to restore order, he said. Pritzker did activate the National Guard on May 31 at Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s request.
“He says, ‘It won’t look good for there to be men and women on Michigan Avenue with assault weapons,’ ” Griffin said. (Pritzker’s chief of staff, Anne Caprara, tweeted that she was on that call and the governor “never said that.”) Griffin said today: “If that saves the life of a child, I don’t care.”
Pritzker’s office responded: “Ken Griffin is a liar.”
In a statement, spokeswoman Emily Bittner said: “He lied to Congress last year and he is lying to Chicagoans now. Gov. Pritzker is dedicated to the safety of this city and state, deployed the National Guard during the social unrest in the summer of 2020 and is making landmark investments in crime prevention. Even worse than his lies, Ken Griffin has actively worked to dismantle the vital ecosystem of social services that prevent violence, including mental health care, housing and paying a living wage. Gov. Pritzker will continue working to help local leaders as they confront the national epidemic of gun violence.”
Griffin’s criticisms of the Democratic Party in Illinois aren’t new, but his warnings about Citadel’s continued presence in Chicago take the argument to a new level.
Citadel employs 500 in Chicago in its hedge-fund business. An additional 650 work here for Citadel Securities, a separate company owned by Griffin that is a market maker for retail brokerages.
“We now have well over 1,000 people in New York,” he said. “It’s become the center point for our hedge fund. It’s becoming ever more difficult to have this as our global headquarters, a city which has so much violence. I mean, Chicago is like Afghanistan—on a good day. That’s a problem.”
He said carjackers had attacked his own security detail outside his Chicago home. “It didn’t go so well for the carjacker,” he said. He didn’t give details about the incident.
But the broader point: “There is nowhere you can feel safe today walking home at 9:30 at night,” said. “And you worry about your kids going to and from school. That’s no way for our city to exist. And it’s really hard to recruit people to Chicago when they read the headlines, they know the facts. I can’t look people in the eye like I did 20 years ago: ‘This is a great place to raise a family. This is a great place to call home.’ . . .I can’t give that same speech today.”
Murders in Chicago are up 4% year to date compared with 2020; up 57% compared with 2019; and 41% compared with 2018. Shootings year to date are up 11% compared with last year; 67% compared with 2019; and 49% compared with 2018, according to the Chicago Police Department. There have been 616 murders so far this year and 2,726 shootings, according to CPD. Chicago is not alone in seeing a spike in violent crime starting in 2020.
New York suffers from some of the same problems, he said, while the Sun Belt states are more friendly to businesses.
But the big advantages “Northern cities” have over their Southern counterparts are their universities, he said. “In Chicago, it’s called the University of Chicago; it’s Northwestern. In New York, it’s called Columbia; it’s Yale; in Boston, it’s Harvard.”
He warned that universities in the Sun Belt are improving, potentially creating a situation where the ease of doing business there trumps “the richness of human capital” produced by the U of C and Northwestern, among others.
Griffin took obvious pride in his central role in defeating one of Pritzker’s top priorities: a proposed state constitutional amendment to allow for a progressive income tax. Asked if there was a limit to his political entanglements and willingness to spend money to advance his beliefs, Griffin said, “We went pretty far on the fair tax bill, if I may say so.”
“We resoundingly defeated the governor—and resounding is the right choice of words, too,” he added. “We did for one simple reason: He’s not just coming for the rich; he’s coming for everybody. The graduated tax bill in Illinois was just another mechanism to take more money from the hands of hardworking Illinois families and putting it into the coffers of Springfield. And I know every person in this room would sign up for higher taxes if it meant reform of our pension plans and an end to corruption.”
That garnered perhaps the most enthusiastic round of applause from the luncheon crowd of the several Griffin received.
To illustrate the corruption, Griffin took a shot at a fellow corporate citizen of Chicago: energy conglomerate Exelon. The wide-ranging energy law Pritzker won last month from lawmakers in Springfield included hundreds of millions in ratepayer subsidies to the company to keep it from closing nuclear power plants it said it were doomed due to low wholesale energy prices.
“If you look at this state, Exelon just got a $700 million bailout for its nuclear fleet, having admitted it was engaged in corruption just a few months ago,” he said.
His reference was to Exelon-owned Commonwealth Edison, which in 2020 confessed to a nearly decadelong bribery scheme designed to curry favor with then-House Speaker Michael Madigan.
More political news: Griffin said he won’t support Donald Trump for another run for president. “I think it’s time for America to move on.”
Trump’s tenure was not constructive for the country, with the exception of his economic policies, Griffin said. The former president was “so pointlessly divisive,” he said, adding he was “appalled” by Trump’s willingness to attack people based on where they came from or the color of their skin.
And Griffin criticized the amount of time and energy spent on cryptocurrencies, calling it “a Jihadist call” that some people don’t believe in the dollar. Still, while he’s not a fan of the resources allocated to the digital assets, he said his firm would trade cryptocurrencies if they were properly regulated. And he praised Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler for paying greater scrutiny to cryptocurrencies.
“I wish all this passion and energy that went into crypto was directed toward making the United States stronger,” said Griffin. “What a crazy concept this is, that we as a country embrace so many bright, young, talented people to come up with a replacement for our reserve currency.”
Griffin has long been a crypto skeptic. In 2018, he questioned the value of cryptocurrencies, lamenting how younger investors have been attracted to the digital coins rather than stocks of companies that drive economic growth.
Crain’s reporter A.D. Quig and Bloomberg contributed.