By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The value of the Black vote in the gubernatorial race took a new turn on June 19 when Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st) endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy over fellow Democratic gubernatorial contender, J.B. (Jay) Pritzker.
Rush’s endorsement of Kennedy was met with silence in the Black community where Pritzker has aggressively campaigned since he announced his bid for governor on April 6, 2017.
Rush said he endorsed Kennedy because of his work on civil rights and gun violence in the Black community.
Pritzker bagged the endorsement of outspoken Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-4th). Pritzker also has numerous endorsements from some 14 labor unions, including the huge AFL-CIO. Labor unions are concerned that Rauner’s anti-work proposal will hurt Illinois’ blue- collar employees and working-class.
With his appeal in the Black community weakening, Rush’s endorsement gave Ken- nedy a much-needed boost in the race for governor. It has not fazed or stopped the momentum of Pritzker. Chicago’s Black leaders have rallied around Pritzker hoping their support will help the billionaire unseat billionaire incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner.
It’s a high-stakes political race among candidates of wealth and privilege where high unemployment, poverty, health care, education and crime have become talking points to win the Black vote.
Pritzker is worth $3.4 billion—more than three times wealthier than his Republican rival. With billionaires hurting the middle-class and poor as they occupy the White House and the governor’s mansion in Springfield, Pritzker may change perceptions that wealthy politicians can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. When he speaks, he doesn’t exude aristocratic arrogance or blue-blood snobbery. He’s real, passionate and sometimes animated.
He is riding a wave of discontent from the state’s two-year budget crisis that has left billions of dollars in unpaid bills to school districts, transportation projects and health care facilities.
With no end in sight to the debacle, the road to Springfield is looking rosy for Pritzker, but with the gubernatorial election still a year-and-a-half away, anything can happen, so he remains cautious and optimistic.
On June 19, Pritzker sat down with the editorial staff at the Chicago Crusader to talk about his experience in helping Blacks in Chicago and the economic challenges facing the city and the state.
One challenge is equal and sufficient funding for education. Illinois ranks last when it comes to equal and adequate funding for the state’s school districts. Children in poorer districts remain severely disadvantaged because the funding for districts is largely based on property taxes. Pritzker said he wants to change this formula to level the playing field.
“Let’s stop fighting over crumbs. We have to change the school formula to make sure it’s more equitable. We have kids who go to school in this state with no school books. This is not right,” Pritzker said.
He went on to say Rauner is “mostly responsible” for economic problems at Chicago Public Schools. But, Illinois’ biggest problem, Pritzker said, is the state budget crisis.
“We need a budget and 719 days that we’ve gone here in the state without one, and why is it that we’re in a special session, and a budget that came out of a backroom somewhere that was written by Bruce Rauner, and he calls it a compromise and puts it out there as if he compromised with anybody except himself. It’s not a compromised budget.
“I’m hopeful because you have to be hopeful. But, I’m also pessimistic because he’s putting a budget out today and he’s launching attack commercials. They sent mailers into almost every democratic district across the state attacking democrats. So, I don’t see how you’re going to get a compromise if you’re on the attack and you’ve given everyone a budget that you’ve never seen before.
“I decided to run for governor because everything that we care about is under siege by Bruce Rauner and his partner in Washington, Donald Trump. I’ve spent a lifetime of my adult life working hard for at-risk kids in low-income communities, making sure they got school breakfast, making sure they get quality pre-school, quality child care, fighting for civil rights as chairman of the Illinois Civil Rights Commission, which you know, is the state’s civil rights court. I grew up in a home with parents who cared deeply about social justice and economic justice. It was part of our religion. It was also part of my parents’ values. The values they gave us and instilled in us; we were carrying out those values in our home.
“Bruce Rauner has been cutting pre-school and child care assistance programs. Donald Trump is trying to get rid of the ‘No Kid Hungry’ program. Rauner doesn’t have anything to say about it. He’s isn’t standing up against Donald Trump. He’s not stopping any of that from happening. He’s letting ACA get repealed. So those are things that motivated me to run for governor.”
With Kennedy still campaigning in the Black community, Pritzker said he’s not concerned about a possible split Black vote.
“I’m working hard for every single vote in the African-American community. I have spent a lot of time and focus on the South and West sides and really all over the state, in Peoria and other areas that have large African-American populations. I have a real history of standing up for the Black community, of doing things that I think are important for not only children, but for adults in the African-American community. I feel good about our prospects for winning.”
Some blame poor Black voter turnout in helping Rauner defeat incumbent Pat Quinn in 2014. Pritzker isn’t concerned about it happening again. Still, he is cautious.
“I think we have to do everything we can to get the votes out because we got to win in 2018. We just don’t have a choice. And, I hope that we’ll be able to make people understand how detrimental it would be for them if Rauner gets re-elected.”