Democratic Illinois governor candidate J.B. Pritzker was captured by newly released FBI wiretaps making racially insensitive comments during a call with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Pritzker said that a popular lawmaker was the “least offensive” African American to appoint to a Senate seat. The unreleased recording was published by the Chicago Tribune late Monday from a decade-old investigation of Blagojevich. Blagojevich who is a Democrat now imprisoned for convictions that included trying to trade an appointment to Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash.
Pritzker apologized on Tuesday during a news conference at a Southern-style cafeteria on Chicago’s West Side where he was joined by African-American supporters. “I regret the conversations in many ways, the words that I used, and the things that I didn’t say on that call that I would have preferred to have said… I can do better and I have,” Pritzker said. “I clearly made a mistake that day and I clearly wasn’t my best self.”
Pritzker suggests in the recording that Blagojevich appoint Secretary of State Jesse White rather than other African, including Jesse Jackson Jr. or Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. He says doing so “covers you on the African American thing.”
“Of all the African Americans that I can think that are sort of like qualified … and people will say ‘Oh - that’s, you know that’s, that’s a pretty good pick,’ the one that’s least offensive and maybe gets you the most because it gets you that secretary of state appointment is Jesse White.”
The recording also revealed that Pritzker saying that the secretary of state position is “the key spot … that controls jobs, etc.”
Pritzker is also heard laughing as Blagojevich jokes about appointing Obama’s former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose comments dogged Obama’s 2008 campaign. Among other things, Wright said the U.S. brought on the Sept. 11 attacks by committing terrorism against others and that people should sing “God Damn America” rather than “God Bless America.”
Blagojevich mimics Wright, imagining him saying “God Damn America” on the floor of the Senate.
“That’s funny,” Pritzker says. Pritzker’s running mate, state Rep. Juliana Stratton, is African-American. White, who’s backing Pritzker and appeared in an early campaign ad for him.
Pritzker’s opponents condemned the remarks. State Sen. Daniel Biss described the exchange as an example of a system “rigged to benefit a few at the expense of all of the rest of us.”
“The notion that the white male governor and the while male billionaire are going to, in a jokey conversation, divvy up the spoils for other communities is dangerous,” Biss said.
According to political experts said the recordings are likely to hurt Pritzker’s bid. Black voters make almost 30 percent of the Democratic electorate in Illinois.
“(Blagojevich) is still a potent political figure and you don’t want to be associated with him,” said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. “If your narrative is that the white power structure is slanted against African Americans, this feeds into that.”