Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker dropped by Riverside Foods on the morning of May 17 to go grocery shopping with and for a Riverside woman.
No, the billionaire governor is not moonlighting as an Instacart shopper. But he did want to highlight how the recently passed package of tax cuts will help parents struggling with high prices and rapid inflation.
Pritzker walked the aisles of Riverside Foods with 34-year-old Riverside resident Laura Pfeiffer, a mother of two and a student at University of Illinois at Chicago. Working from Pfeiffer’s shopping list, Pritzker picked out milk, eggs, produce, spinach, butter, popcorn and a host of other staples that filled five grocery bags. The bill came to $95.39, which Pritzker paid.
The event was arranged as an exclusive with WGN-TV but the Landmark was on hand to observe and talk to Pritzker.
Pfeiffer, the mother of an 8-year-old daughter and a toddler son, was picked to have Pritzker shop for her because the governor’s team wanted to have a mom with at least one child younger than school age.
Pfeiffer said that a friend of hers told of the opportunity.
“She sent me a text saying our state rep, Mike Zalewski, had this opportunity with Governor Pritzker,” Pfeiffer told the Landmark. “I just kind knew someone who knew someone.”
During his interview with WGN political reporter Tahman Bradley, Pritzker emphasized how the recently passed $1.8 billion package of mostly temporary tax cuts will help people struggling to pay bills.
In addition to suspending the 1-percent state grocery tax for a year and suspending an increase in the gas tax for six months, the state will send $50 checks to adults and $100 for each dependent child up to three for families with a joint income of less than $400,000 or an individual income of less than $200,000. Homeowners will get property tax rebates of up to $300.
Pritzker said that the checks will go out in the next few months.
“Everybody needs it as soon as possible,” Pritzker said.
Pfeiffer said that while the cut in the grocery tax is small every little bit helps.
“[Price increases have] been noticeable I think for a while, but in the past couple months especially,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer said that she enjoyed meeting and shopping with governor.
“It was really fun and I’m so glad I got to do it,” said Pfeiffer, who moved to Riverside nearly two years ago after living for six years in Cyprus.
Pritzker said he came to Riverside for the event because it is a typical suburb and he has friends here, presumably referring to Michael Zalewski, a fellow Democratic state legislator, and Carrie Zalewski, whom he appointed chair of the Illinois Commerce Commission in 2019.
“It’s a great town and I have friends here in Riverside and it’s nice to see them as well,” Pritzker said.
It was not Pritzker’s first visit to Riverside. He marched in Riverside Fourth of July parade in 2018 when he was a candidate for governor.
When asked by the Landmark, Pritzker said he was endorsing Michael Zalewski in his state representative primary race against challenger Abdelnasser Rashid, saying that Zalewski, who is the chairman of the House Revenue and Finance Committee, has been a partner in improving the state’s financial condition.
“He’s a true leader and I want him to get re-elected,” Pritzker said.
Zalewski was at Riverside Foods during the governor’s visit, but stayed in the background.
Pfeiffer said she found Pritzker friendly and down to earth. Cashier Ariana Silva, who rang up the groceries, agreed.
“I was a little nervous but as soon as he looked at me as a person, I felt very normal, like any other person coming in here asking me questions about the store,” Silva said. “He really liked the store. He commented that he liked the atmosphere.”
That was the impression Riverside Foods co-owner Anthony Garbis got too.
“It was great, definitely a little overwhelming at first, but once I got to meet him he was a really down-to-earth guy,” Garbis said. “He seemed to really care. It was nice to have him in, great for the store. It seems like he really does care.”
Co-owner Peter Boutsikakis was happy that Pritzker visited as well.
“We really appreciate him paying attention to a local, independent business here,” Boutsikakis said.
Pritzker spent nearly an hour at Riverside Foods. After helping Pfeiffer put her grocery bags in the back of her Chrysler minivan, Pritzker and Zalewski stopped by the Riverside home of John, Gelse and Ethan Tkalec.
Waiting for them was ShawnTe Raines Welch, the wife of Illinois House speaker Chris Welch and a candidate for judge in the 4th Judicial Subcircuit.
Raines-Welch said she was there in her capacity as a member of the Proviso Township Mental Health Commission, even though the Tkalecs live in Riverside Township. Pritzker chatted with the Tkalecs for approximately 15 minutes.
Ethan Tkalec, 18, suffers from giant axonal neuropathy, an incurable disease. Pritzker said he stopped by because he had helped resolved an issue with the state aid that Ethan was receiving and he wanted to meet Ethan and his parents, see how they were doing and highlight the rebuilding of the state’s social services, which he said were decimated under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“I wanted to meet him and talk to his parents about what they’re getting from the state and how that’s going for them and hear what challenges are still ahead,” Pritzker said.
Ethan said that meeting the governor was “cool.”