Not paying close enough attention can haunt a governor

SHARE Not paying close enough attention can haunt a governor

Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and running mate Juliana Stratton speak during a press conference outside the Thompson Center, Thursday morning, Oct. 18, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The more I read it, the more skeptical I became of the racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the J.B. Pritzker campaign by 10 current and former field-level workers last week.

The initial demand for $7.5 million in one business day along with personal recommendations from Pritzker himself in exchange for their silence really hurts their claims in my eyes. The suit itself seemed hastily and sloppily drafted. The lawyers even spelled “Pritzker” wrong. Beyond that, other things look fishy.


Only one of the field organizers who sued has been on the campaign longer than two to five months (one was on staff just a few days). And yet the lawsuit complains about their lack of promotions and advancement in the campaign. That’s really odd. Who gets a job promotion after a couple of months knocking on doors and putting events together? Heck, who even expects one?

A Democratic family in Peoria was apparently so enthusiastic about supporting J.B. Pritzker that they offered to put up a campaign staffer in their home … only to reject that staffer because she was black? That sounds highly unusual.

And then the staffer had to sleep in her car until the campaign found her a hotel in “an unsafe part of town.” The campaign (which has broken a national campaign spending record, mind you) then wouldn’t move her because of a tight budget, so she quit? That appeared improbable to me.

The Pritzker campaign provided receipts to the Peoria Journal Star showing the campaign and a local party official paid for five different hotel rooms for that staffer over just seven days, and more than one room on some days. She then went to a staff retreat for two days in the suburbs, she was provided a room in a Peoria supporter’s home the day after that and she quit the campaign the following day “effective immediately.”

The lawsuit claims that when the plaintiffs “asked why J.B. Pritzker did not visit their office, they were told that ‘he’ll visit when they stop shooting.’ ” The campaign kept records of Pritzker’s 10 Chicago field office visits, however, and they show he visited every one of them a total of 31 times, except the two which opened in September, which his running mate visited. He visited the office listed in the lawsuit four times.

The lawsuit also alleges that a regional field director was “given a shiny new job title and pay raise,” but was “strongly encouraged” to cut off his dreadlocks, “therefore, he no longer comes across as crass and was the least offensive African American that could be put in that spot.”

Recognize that language? It’s a paraphrase of what Pritzker told Rod Blagojevich on those FBI surveillance tapes when he was trying to get him to appoint Secretary of State Jesse White to the U.S. Senate.

The dread-less staffer in question issued a statement on his Facebook account angrily denying that anyone had told him to cut his hair and even denying that he’d received a promotion and a raise.

But aside from all the very real problems and even sketchiness with this lawsuit, something must’ve happened. It’s not every day that 10 campaign staffers sue their employer for discrimination and retaliation a few weeks before an election. In fact, I don’t think anything like this has ever happened before in the history of American elections.

Would these young people really take a drastic step like this over absolutely nothing? I find that hard to believe.

Whatever the case, this should serve as a learning experience for Pritzker if he’s elected governor. A bomb unexpectedly exploded underneath him. As tempting as it is to just hire people, devise goals and metrics and then go focus on other things as long as everybody hits all their marks, he needs to make sure that the manner in which his managers are reaching their goals is also important.

If staff is being mistreated by middle and upper management, the responsibility ultimately falls on the big boss. And this time it fell on the top dog like a megaton of bricks. He’s got a double-digit lead, so he’ll likely survive it, although the plaintiffs’ lawyers are saying more people could be added to the suit.

But not paying close enough attention when you’re a governor can get people killed. Pritzker ought to know this because he’s been blasting Gov. ruce Rauner’s “fatal mismanagement” of the Quincy veterans’ home for months.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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