(Photo via JB Pritzker Twitter account)
The latest release of FBI wiretaps obtained by the Chicago Tribune have created a firestorm of criticism for the Democratic front-runner for Illinois governor.
Billionaire and heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune J.B. Pritzker was taped in November of 2008 speaking to then Gov. Rod Blagojevich about who should be appointed to then President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Pritzker is heard dealing with the now-imprisoned governor on the pressure to appoint an African American to Obama’s Senate seat but criticized the president’s mentor, former state Senate president Emil Jones.
Pritzker: “I’ve got a great idea for you though.”
Pritzker: “I’m sure you’ve thought of this one but, Jesse White. Even though I know you guys aren’t bosom buddies or anything. It covers you on the African American thing. He’s totally he’s totally, you know. He’s senate material in a way that Emil Jones isn’t, if I may say.”
Pritzker: “I mean, you know. He’s just. I don’t know how to say it exactly but Emil’s a little more crass.”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, “crass” is also described as “stupid,” “dull,” or “dense.”
Pritzker later jokes with Blagojevich about appointing firebrand pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the seat, repeating “God-damned America” back to the governor. Wright, former President Barack Obama's former pastor, used the phrase in a sermon that went viral. Blagojevich eventually appointed Roland Burris, who also is black, to fill the seat.
The former Senate president and mentor to Obama, Jones said Pritzker should withdraw from the race, even after a public apology. Jones has endorsed Chris Kennedy in the primary instead of Pritzker before the tape was released.
The inflammatory remarks haven’t stopped other prominent black leaders, including Secretary of State Jesse White, from supporting Pritzker. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed him Wednesday.
The question now is how much will this affect Pritzker’s waning lead in the coming primary election.
“This feeds into Gov. Bruce Rauner’s narrative that Pritzker is part of the corrupt political establishment,” said University of Illinois-Springfield professor emeritus and long-time statehouse observer Kent Redfield.
“There could be long-lasting damage that could either result in not winning the primary or not having all of your base behind you when you get to the general [election].”
Pritzker is leading in a recent poll but state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy have gained ground. In the last week of January, a We Ask America poll showed that Pritzker led the pack of six candidates for the Democratic ticket with just under 30 percent of the 800 likely Democratic voters saying they would vote for him if the election were held then. Notably, 38 percent were undecided.