Exclusive: Sen. Mark Kirk: No more talking about race, ethnicity

SHARE Exclusive: Sen. Mark Kirk: No more talking about race, ethnicity

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., up for re-election, told the Chicago Sun-Times he won’t be talking about race or ethnicity in the future.

“I would say that whenever a targeted member talks about race or ethnicity, it is impossible for him to get it right. So I’ll leave it at that,” Kirk said.


Kirk is in one of the biggest Senate contests in the 2016 cycle. He is a major Democratic target and his main competition is Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

Democrats jumped on Kirk after he made a comment about African-Americans at the end of a Peoria Journal Star interview – about how “we drive faster” through a black community.

RELATED: Sen. Mark Kirk ahead of Rep. Tammy Duckworth in Senate fundraising

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee seized on those words, sending out a statement that Kirk “reinforced an offensive stereotype” after forwarding to reporters a Huffington Post story about Kirk’s remark.

Let’s look at the politics.

It’s been six years since Kirk has been in a campaign. Perhaps he’s rusty. Who is “we?”

Kirk knows or should know to be very careful. Democrats are monitoring every word he says. Republicans do the same. If Duckworth made a verbal goof, GOP operatives would flag it for reporters.

This is just the latest of a string of Kirk quotes that has created a headache for his team. When it comes to gaffes, Kirk’s political problem for the moment is Kirk — not Duckworth or other Democrats. Kirk is undermining his own brand.

But let’s pull back and look at more of what Kirk said in that interview. Asked by the Journal Star about how to encourage more industry in Illinois, Kirk talked about his big picture.

“I’m very focused on fostering an African-American entrepreneurial class using my position as senator. . . . I’ve held an ‘Entrepreneurial Idol’ competition at Chicago State University.

“I want to make sure we have elected people constantly looking at helping the African-American community. With this state and all of its resources, we could sponsor a whole new class of potential innovators like George Washington Carver and eventually have a class of African-American billionaires.

“That would really adjust income differentials and make the diversity and outcome of the state much better so that the black community is not the one we drive faster through,” Kirk said.

Kirk told me he would not say it that way again.

Chicago State serves a largely African-American student body. After I read Kirk’s quotes to CSU President Wayne Watson, he said to me, “And that’s what he got in trouble for?”

When Kirk was running for Senate, he met with Watson and asked what he could do to help. To Watson’s surprise, he told me Kirk called “the day after he won.”

Together, they created what would become the Entrepreneurial Idol program at CSU.

Budding entrepreneurs compete for $7,500 and a chance to showcase their plan to business leaders and government officials. This year marks the fourth competition.

“The issue is not driving through the black community. The issue is what he’s done. . . . In this instance, Sen. Kirk’s actions . . . speak louder than his words, however one may want to interpret,” Watson said.

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