COMMENTARY: A Candid Conversation With JB Pritzker

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker recently found himself in an unenviable position. His comments during a candid conversation with ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich nearly ten years ago, were recently made public.

Perhaps you’ve been in a position where you’ve uttered an opinion about someone or referred to something in a flippant manner and your words traveled beyond your intended audience. We all can relate to speaking during an unguarded moment with a trusted confidant or members of your inner circle of friends, when you may have used language or made comments that would not be considered politically correct.

But you’re not running for governor.

Given what you’ve heard on the news and through political advertisements paid for by current Governor Bruce Rauner’s campaign, you are certainly aware Pritzker is feeling the heat and would have probably given anything to ensure those specific cringeworthy comments remained private.

I was among several members of the Black press who directly questioned J.B. Pritzker and his running-mate for Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton during an exclusive interview at the administrative offices of the historic Chicago Defender.

Credit must be given to Mr. Pritzker for immediately reaching out to those offended, and apologizing where appropriate. He also wasted no time speaking directly to Black voters on the city’s South and West sides.

Some view that as merely political pragmatism, others have called it courageous.

Pritzker forthrightly admitted he should have “pushed back” on comments made by Blagojevich during those wiretapped calls. He maintains it was “one day and one call” and that he’s tried to “demonstrate through actions over a lifetime,” that he is a friend of the Black community.

I believe he sincerely regrets the comments he made, and not only because they became public.

Were the comments considered offensive? Clearly the answer is “yes.”

Were the comments insulting to those mentioned in unflattering terms? Clearly, the answer is “yes.” In fact, in response to Pritzker’s revealed comments, the venerable Emil Jones Jr.—who was among those mentioned—called on him to drop out of the race.

Were the comments tinged with the subtle arrogance of elitism? Again, the answer is “yes” but these are the types of discussions that take place among political elites. If you’ve followed Illinois politics at all, you already know this is the tone and tenor of conversations by well-connected political heavyweights—no matter what the color.

There are also lessons for those considering a run for political office in the future.

So much has happened in the past, especially as it relates to Illinois governors. If you desire to obtain political office in Illinois and you are speaking to one (or one that hopes to be one) consider the fact that you might be recorded.

That’s a sobering thought, but an unfortunate political reality.

Speaking to a governor who at the time was under investigation, had his conversations monitored and recorded for years, was impeached, convicted and now sits in prison related to federal corruption charges, has become a problem for J.B. Pritzker, but it could also end up being a problem for many of the state’s political players and perhaps even some on the national level.

Am I reaching? I don’t think so.

Are there more recordings coming? Perhaps. In fact, Pritzker told us he has asked that all the recordings be released to hear his words—and the words of others—in context, not after what he referred to as “selective editing.”

The message I received from J.B. Pritzker and his running-mate Juliana Stratton during our nearly one-hour round-table discussion is a message they hope spreads beyond those embarrassing leaked comments.

Their message is that Gov. Rauner has failed the Black community and what has occurred during his administration disproportionately and negatively impacts those who are most marginalized. Many social service programs, senior care, child care, violence prevention, and after school programs “have all been devastated under this governor’s failed leadership,” said Stratton.

Beyond individuals being cast in a somewhat negative light during recorded conversations, the community must ask tough questions to find out why these comments have caused such a stir.

Is it because each day it seems there are reminders that we are not in a “post-racial” society?

Is it because the Black electorate is again being forced to conduct a realistic assessment of its political strength and how it should be used?

As the old saying goes, “It’s chess not checkers.” Unfortunately, too many times, Black voters are considered mere “pawns” in the political game.

But they are not thin-skinned, nor are they naïve.


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