He called former State Sen. Emil Jones “crass,” laughed at Rev. Jeremiah Wright, suggested that Secretary of State Jesse White was a “safe” Black and said it would be a nightmare if former Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr. became a U.S. senator.
Years later, Jay “J.B.” Pritzker campaigned in the Black community and scooped up endorsements from top Black leaders with a platform for struggling poor residents. Though he has been exposed as a candidate who demeans Black leaders, some of Chicago’s Black aldermen are still supporting Pritzker in his bid for governor, believing he’s still the best candidate to represent the Black community. It’s a developing story that may seal the political fate of not only Pritzker, but of Chicago’s Black leaders who remain behind him.
Now more than ever, there is growing concern that any politician can come into the Black community and say and do what he or she wants without facing any repercussions for his or her actions.
While some Black aldermen forgave Pritzker for his comments he made on an FBI audiotape, it is disrespect unchecked in the eyes of many Blacks–some of whom believe Pritzker should withdraw from the gubernatorial race. In 2019, the Black aldermen and leaders who remain supportive of Pritzker may face the wrath of angry Black voters who have grown disillusioned with Chicago’s political establishment.
Pritzker is already feeling the heat on social media after a campaign staffer received a lot of support for announcing her resignation on Facebook, where users say they will not vote for Pritzker in the March 20 primary.
Critics say the audiotape capturing Pritzker’s damaging comments showed his true colors, but
the situation speaks just as loudly about the state of Black leadership in
Chicago, particularly the city’s Black aldermen. In the past several years, they have been accused of ignoring their constituents
while supporting controversial politicians who have disrespected and used the Black community to achieve their own political ambitions.
Activists have criticized the aldermen for remaining silent after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected for a second term, while a tape showing a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times was suppressed. They were also accused of not fighting for a community benefits agreement from the Obama Foundation as it prepares to build the Obama PresidentialCenter and Library.
Pritzker’s case is the latest disappointment–one that may have confirmed doubts about whether the city’s Black aldermen are leaders who have the Black community’s best interests at heart.
Along with the mayor, all of the aldermen are up for re-election next year.
Still, Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Roderick Sawyer 6th), Carrie Austin (34th), and Michelle Harris (8th) issued a statement supporting Pritzker.
“We continue to believe J.B. is the best positioned to beat Bruce Rauner in November and will maintain our support for his candidacy. But me will also look for clear assurances that his thoughts around matters of race and equity have evolved substantially since those calls were recorded in 2008. And we will continue to speak out and demand dignity and justice in the treatment of our community by all political leaders–Democrat or Republican.”
Another alderman, Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) stood behind Pritzker at his press conference, but was not included in the joint statement emailed by the Black aldermen. On Wednesday, embattled Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who faces reelection this year, released a statement supporting Pritzker.
“I’ve seen J.B.’s record, and I know what’s in his heart,” Preckwinkle said in a news release touting Pritzker’s work on early childhood education. “This is a leader who has been there for our communities. Right now, the only question our community should be asking is who has a record of showing up for us, and I truly believe that J.B. is that leader.”
But anger in the Black community is growing over Pritzker’s comments and the unwavering support from the city’s Black aldermen.
On Feb. 6, Pritzker staffer Kina Collins announced her resignation on her Facebook page.
“I am no longer a part of the JB [sic] Pritzker for Governor campaign. I resigned this morning. I will not stand by a candidate who feels that way about Black folks,” Collins wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday afternoon. “Character is not what you do when the whole world is watching; character is what you do when no one is watching. I stand with the people. I withdraw my support and endorsement for him as governor. I apologize to my community for being a part of the campaign, but when you know better you do better.” The announcement drew plenty of support from other Facebook users, some who say they will not vote for Pritzker.
“Glad you shared that; now he will not get my vote for real, thanks my beautiful niece for the info,” said Henry Robinson.
Betty Waters, another Facebook user, wrote, “Thanks Kina for putting light on this. Hadn’t planned on voting for him anyway.”
Another Facebook user wrote, “Brian Mullins I don’t know you, but this is sooooo refreshing!!!!!! Standards and Morals.”
One Chicago resident, Murray Gilford, is the chairman of “Throw the Bums Out,” a new group that aims to oust Black elected officials.
“They have not represented the economic, educational, social and political interests, i.e., Black voters who put them in office,” Murray said on his Facebook page. “With the midterm and Chicago’s municipal elections on the horizon, believe me, we’ve got something to say and we are not afraid to say it.”
Pritzker was riding a wave of momentum in the Black community with running mate, former State Rep. Julianna Stratton. However, on February 5, the Chicago Tribune published a bombshell story about a FBI-wiretapped telephone conversation on Nov. 14, 2008 between former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Pritzker.
Now in jail, Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence after being convicted for trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama before his successful bid as the nation’s first Black president.
During the conversation, Blagojevich and Pritzker discussed several Black leaders who could possibly fillthe Senate seat, and Pritzker brought up Secretary White.
“I’m sure you thought of this one,” Pritzker says. “Even though I know you guys aren’t like, you know bosom buddies or anything, it covers you on the African-American thing.”
Blagojevich replied, “Correct.”
Then Pritzker said, “(White)’s totally, he’s totally you know, uh, he’s senate material in a way that (former State Senator) Emil Jones isn’t, if I may say.”
Blagojevich then said, “Ok,” before Pritzker continued.
“I mean, you know. He’s just, I don’t how to say it exactly, but Emil’s a little more crass.”
Pritzker then noted that if White became the U.S.senator, the Secretary of State position would open up. Then he said, “It’d be a lot less pressure on you. You don’t have to put an African-American in that spot.”
A little later, Pritzker offers a name of a candidate whom he doesn’t want in the U.S. Senate: former Cong. Jesse Jackson Jr. “Oh god, please,” Pritzker said. “I mean it would be a nightmare. I hope you don’t do that.”
Later in the call, Pritzker is heard laughing as Blagojevich jokes about appointing Obama’s former minister, Wright whose fiery comments drew anger from white Democrats and conservatives during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“God [sic] damn America,”Pritzker repeated after Blagojevich mimicked Wright.
Pritzker also mentioned former White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.
When first asked to explain the conversation and its tone, Pritzker told the Tribune on Monday, “All I would say is I think that there needs to be more, you know, people of color that serve in
public office. I mean that’s something I’ve supported a lot of candidates over the years who are people of color, and Jesse White, I think, a beloved person in the state of Illinois, so I can imagine
that’s what I had in mind.”
In the 2008 Democratic primary for president, Pritzker endorsed Hillary Clinton over Obama.“I regret some of the things I didn’t say and some of the things that I did,” Pritzker said during a press conference on Tuesday.“On that call, I was not my best self. I can be better. I have been better and I can do better.”
During a brief interview with the Crusader, Pritzker reaffirmed his regret for making the comments, but said his work of fighting for civil rights and creating jobs on the South and West Sides will stand out at the polls.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the folks who talked about the work I’ve done over the years.”
In response to Pritzker’s apology, White said, “I have the great pleasure of knowing J.B. Pritzker for almost 40 years. I know where his heart is. He apologized to me and that was good enough.”
In a story in the Chicago Sun Times, Jones criticized White and the some of the city’s Black aldermen for still supporting Pritzker.
“He (Pritzker) likes acceptable Blacks who are meek and won’t say anything. They are all safe Blacks. A safe Black is not gonna challenge or do anything. This is Black History Month. You’ve got to stand for something.”
Gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy said in a statement, “To use the term ‘least offensive’ to describe anyone, particularly one of our state’s longest serving African-American leaders, is dismissive and disrespectful.”
Congressman Danny K. Davis commented, “Conversations like these do more harm to bridging the ‘divide in political discourse.’”