Fed up with the Democratic Party, former ABC7 Chicago reporter Charles Thomas, who retired in 2017 after nearly 26 years in broadcasting, took $50,000 on September 16 from a conservative super PAC that’s funneling tens of millions of dollars into Republican candidate Darren Bailey’s campaign for governor. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Bailey’s campaign to unseat Democrat incumbent JB Pritzker.
With the General Election just three weeks away, political ads featuring Thomas endorsing Bailey are hitting the television airwaves. In the ad, Thomas says, “I met the man. He’s a family farmer. Somebody who understands what it’s like to go to work every day. Somebody who’s fair-minded. I can trust this guy. I can trust this guy.”
The ad features Thomas in a nondescript high-rise office with the cityscape of Chicago blurred behind him.
“Yeah, a farmer from southern Illinois? Yeah, yeah—A farmer from southern Illinois,” Thomas says in the ad as it closes.
The ad was produced by the People Who Play by the Rules Super PAC, which was founded by conservative radio host Dan Proft and largely funded by the megadonor Richard Uihlein, a Lake Forest executive, who, with his wife, Elizabeth, runs the Wisconsin-based Uline products distribution company. On October 5, Uihlein pumped an additional $13.9 million into the campaign to defeat Pritzker. The hefty donation brings his total contributions to Bailey’s campaign to over $50 million.
Crain’s Chicago Business last month reported that GOP supporters believe Uihlein is paying for the Chicago City Wire, a broadsheet newspaper that’s designed to look like a legitimate publication but is a propaganda tool that’s being used to support Bailey’s campaign. The publication that was mailed to many homes attacks Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot with negative stories on crime and education.
Thomas’ endorsement of Bailey came as a shock to many Blacks in Chicago who have known Thomas, a Black award-winning journalist who spent nearly three decades covering politics in Chicago.
During a recent one-on-one interview with WVON Radio Host Perri Small, Thomas said this is the first time he worked on a political campaign after serving as a consultant for four years. When Small asked Thomas why he’s supporting Bailey, Thomas said, “Because I met Darren Bailey. I’ve talked to him. A lot of the things they say about him are not true. You mentioned that he’s an extremist. Then you mention the abortion issue. For instance, he’s pro-life in case—the only exception being is when the mother’s life is endangered. I’m the same way. I’m pro-life, unless the mother’s life is in danger.
“The other thing is that he’s pro Second Amendment, the right to bear arms in the Constitution. I have a FOID card. I don’t have an AK-47, but I have a FOID card. I believe that people have a right to defend their homes and we are not to obviously adjudicate or legislate exactly what those rules are, but what’s extreme about that? Darren Bailey is not a Klansman. He’s not a Nazi. He doesn’t belong to the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers or any of those groups that get the bad rap in the media these days.”
Thomas, who grew up in a predominately Black neighborhood in Missouri, said his father was a diehard Democrat who supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt “before most Black folks were Democrats.”
He then said, “Remember we were Republicans back in those days. He was a Democrat until his death. I lived in Missouri. I lived in California, in Pennsylvania, in Illinois for most of my adult life. I have never, never in my life pulled a Republican ballot. Never, never.”
The radio interview grew intense when Thomas accused Pritzker of taking Blacks for granted during his first term in office.
Thomas said, “The reason I’m doing what I’m doing right now is not because they’re paying me $50,000. Keep in mind I got expenses too. I got to pay people that work with me. But why I’m doing this is because of this, ‘if you ain’t a Democrat, you ain’t Black.’ This [President] Joe Biden BS. I’m tired of that. I’m not going to do that anymore. And I’m not going to have JB Pritzker come up here and talk about he’s going to give us equity in the weed business, and we got nothing. Zero. He took us for granted. He played us.”
When asked where Bailey stands on the cannabis issue, Thomas replied, “Darren Bailey voted against cannabis being legalized. But I did ask him very pointedly, I said, ‘what would you have done if you had been governor and the legislature Democratic supermajority overruled you and legalized cannabis despite your veto? He said, well I would have to make sure everybody got their fair share. And I said does that mean Black folks would have got 15 to 20 percent of the stores that are already there. He said, ‘well I guess so if that is what equity is.’
“But he also said I believe in opportunity, that equity had to be organic. It has to happen. Opportunity is that the Democrats don’t put all these regulations on cannabis ownership that makes it impossible for a Black person or a Latino person to get a dispensary. We can’t sell weed? That’s what they did with regulations. They took us out the game, so we missed all the good spots. The Loop spots, the North Side, the suburbs. We missed all that. Those are the places that are going to make money.”
When Small asked Thomas how did his relationship with Bailey and Proft come about, he said, “I met Darren Bailey about a month or month and a half ago. To be honest we clicked because of our faith. And we talked. I liked the guy. I met his wife, Cindy. We clicked. I got a call from Dan Proft who is with the People Who Play By the Rules PAC and he said, ‘Are you interested in the campaign?’ I said, ‘Well, I like Darren.’ And he talked about what he wanted, which is to get this candidate elected governor who is a conversative without a doubt. I said ‘Well my goal has been for years, even before I stopped being a reporter, I noticed a problem that Black people automatically voted for these Democratic politicians keeping and returning them to office, despite the fact that public schools for instance in Chicago were worsening; despite the fact that the criminal justice system continued to disappoint Black folks with wrongful convictions and police brutality ala Laquan McDonald.
“I saw all that happening. I also saw that taxes paid by homeowners in the south suburbs were sometimes double the rate what people on the North Shore and places like Winnetka and Wilmette were paying. All of these things I just mentioned are controlled by the Democratic Party. These are the people we continue to return to office.”
Bailey’s chances of winning the governor’s race are slim. Poll tracker FiveThirtyEight rates Pritzker as “very likely” to win the Illinois governor’s race, giving him 99 chances in 100 of being re-elected. In addition to Trump’s endorsement, Bailey has also won the endorsement of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.
Last week, Bailey and Pritzker went head-to-head during a televised debate. Bailey drew gasps and laughter from the crowd when he answered a question about his views on abortion. He was asked whether he favored exceptions for rape and incest when it came to bans on abortion but didn’t answer the question directly, instead taking aim at Pritzker.
The debate moderator asked Bailey: “Aside from saving the life of the mother, would you ban all abortions including in cases of rape and incest?”
“Illinois has the most permissive abortion laws in the nation. Nothing’s going to change when I’m governor. I couldn’t change them if I could,” Bailey replied.
“JB Pritzker stays up at night trying to dream up new abortion laws,” Bailey said, and that comment elicited what appeared to be gasps from some in the crowd.
In August, Pritzker strongly criticized Bailey for comparing abortion to the Holocaust, but the Republican defended his comments, saying members of the Jewish community had supported the original remarks, made in 2017. “The Holocaust is a human tragedy without parallel. In no way was I attempting to diminish the atrocities of the Holocaust and its stain on history,” Bailey said in August.
“I meant to emphasize the tragedy of millions of babies being lost. I support, and have met with, many people in the Jewish community in Illinois, and look forward to continuing to work with them to make Illinois a safer and more affordable place for everyone,” he said.
In 2019, as fast-food workers struggled to make a living, Bailey voted no to legislation that mandates a minimum wage of $15 an hour by the year 2025. The bill passed anyway and was signed into law. During the debate, Bailey, when asked whether he would support the $15 minimum wage law, said he would leave it in place, but Democrats don’t believe him. “People have made their adjustments to the $15 minimum wage,” he said,