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Candidates for governor latch onto Capitol doors as campaign issue

Copper-plated door. One three west wing State Capitol Springfield. | Dave McKinney/Sun-Times

Copper-plated door. One of three on the west wing of the State Capitol in Springfield. | Dave McKinney/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 7, 2013 1:24PM

SPRINGFIELD — Three sets of copper-plated doors installed at the Capitol for nearly $670,000 got slammed repeatedly Thursday as the gaudy and controversial showpieces triggered a new round of finger-pointing in the 2014 race for governor.

Through an aide, Gov. Pat Quinn derided the doors that are part of a nearly finished $50 million Statehouse renovation as “excessive” and openly questioned the judgment of Capitol Architect J. Richard Alsop for allowing them in the first place.

“The governor is concerned about the architect’s judgment and some of his decisions,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said, adding her boss was “surprised” at the doors’ extravagant look when he first saw them.

“Gov. Quinn believes any capital project must always be conducted in a prudent and cost-effective manner, and it’s important for the architect to sit down with those he reports to and review these decisions,” she said.

Alsop has overseen the work, along with a bipartisan panel composed of the four legislative caucuses to which he reports.

An agency that Quinn controls, the Capital Development Board, also has had a hand in the renovation and signed off on the contractors responsible for constructing and installing the doors on the Capitol’s west side.

That fact gave Quinn’s Democratic primary rival, Bill Daley, an opening to attack the governor for not exerting control over that agency and blocking the six-figure bill for the doors, which are supposed to be in keeping with the historical character of the late-1800s building.

“The governor heads the board that approved this wasteful expenditure, so if the governor is not in charge, then who is running this state?” Daley said.

Another gubernatorial hopeful, Republican state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, tried to get out in front of the expanding controversy and insulate himself from similar allegations from his rivals for not speaking up against the doors before they got mounted.

Rutherford, who has his office in the renovated wing of the Capitol, called the doors “inappropriate” Thursday.

“I think that type of expenditure by whoever and however they did that is inappropriate at this — perhaps at any time — but particularly at this time,” Rutherford said at an unrelated news conference.

Alsop, who led reporters on a tour of the renovated area about two weeks ago, did not respond to the governor’s criticism of the doors or his judgment nor offer any more insight Thursday into the costs of other accoutrements such as 300-pound chandeliers and new sculptures of maidens erected in the renovated wing.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), defended the doors but said he wasn’t “in any position to judge” the scale of their price tag and insisted Quinn’s spokeswoman wasn’t either.

“I’m told that element of the project was part of the carpentry, woodworking line-item and came in under the estimates,” Brown said. “I’m not in any position to judge prices on things. That’s not my business or profession. Maybe Ms. Anderson, that’s her profession. I don’t know.”

Brown also said the decision involving the doors was part of a larger discussion conducted before the bipartisan board to which Alsop reports. The Capital Development Board, which Quinn oversees, also is part of the renovation effort, he said.

“This is all four caucuses, and it’s CDB involved,” he said.

Asked to respond specifically to Quinn’s charge that the doors appear “excessive,” Brown said, “I’m not going to get into whether this piece of ceiling tile or that piece works or not. We know from the first phase of restoration, when the House and Senate chambers were done, there was some handwringing about different aspects of it. There’s some handwringing now.”

Contributing: Natasha Korecki


Twitter: @davemckinney123

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