Preckwinkle backs Pritzker, shrugs off ‘casual conversations’ with Blagojevich

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (left) testifies at a state Senate and House hearing last month. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; J.B. Pritzker (right) speaks at a news conference in December. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

When another round of embarrassing secretly recorded telephone conversations with Rod Blagojevich surfaced this week, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker called Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Pritzker is a “decent” person, Preckwinkle said, and efforts to portray him as otherwise are “misguided and wrong.”

“We’ve all had casual conversations which we might not be happy to see on the front page of the newspaper,” Preckwinkle said. “I think this is one of those instances.”

Preckwinkle said Pritkzker told her that his comments denigrating some leading African American politicians in the 2008 conversation with the now imprisoned governor “don’t represent him on my best day.”

That echoes what Pritzker said at a Tuesday news conference he called to apologize for the remarks. But it was apparently enough for Preckwinkle to officially endorse the billionaire on Wednesday. Her support was no secret.

She has publicly said that as vice chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, she was supporting Pritzker and voted for the party to slate him as its endorsed candidate.

Preckwinkle is the latest in a slew of high-profile political endorsements unveiled by the billionaire candidate. Her decision comes after multiple meetings with Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss, the two other front runners in the six-man race to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

She joins U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and State Treasurer Mike Frerichs in endorsing Pritzker.

RELATED:Insults from Pritzker say more about him than the African Americans he dissed

“I’ve seen J.B.’s record and I know what’s in his heart,” Preckwinkle said in a news release, touting Pritzker’s work on early childhood education. “This is a leader who has been there for our communities. Right now, the only question our community should be asking is who has a record of showing up for us, and I truly believe that J.B. is that leader.”

Recordings of Pritzker weighing pros and cons of political appointments with Blagojevich surfaced earlier this week. In one of the conversations recorded by the FBI and obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Pritzker suggested that the appointment of White to Obama’s Senate seat would be “the one that’s least offensive and maybe gets you the most.”

Pritzker also told Blagojevich that former state Senate President Emil Jones was too “crass” for the U.S. Senate, and then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. would be a “nightmare.”

In a statement from challenger Bob Fioretti’s campaign, the endorsement is Preckwinkle taking care of one of her contributors.

“Whether it is handing out lucrative Cook County contracts or endorsing candidates who disparage African Americans, Toni Preckwinkle always takes care of her contributors,” The statement said. “Much like the countless number of county vendors and property tax lawyers who have contributed to her campaign coffers, the Pritzker family has been very generous to Toni Preckwinkle. And Toni knows how to give back.”

Aaron DeGroot, spokesperson of the Illinois Republican Party, called Preckwinkle’s endorsement old news and said it was a distraction tactic.

“In the worst week of his campaign, J.B. Pritzker is trying to make Toni Preckwinkle’s old endorsement news again,” DeGroot said. “Now that Preckwinkle’s dreaded soda tax is repealed, Pritzker is re-running her old endorsement to distract from his disparaging remarks about leaders in the black community caught on FBI wiretaps.”

Cook County Republican Party Chariman Sean Morrison, who also represents Palos Park on the county board, said it was no secret that Preckwinkle is friends with Pritzker and Balgojevich and the move was “political fanfare at its best.”

“It’s a shame that she’d overtly offer support after the surprising things he said,” Morrison said. “Politics trumps views, I guess.”

Preckwinkle said that it would be up to Pritzker and his campaign to do damage control on the backlash the tapes have caused. Moving forward, she said that she believes the people of Cook County would be better served by a Democrat than by Rauner.

“Frankly, all three of them have pretty similar ideas about the direction the state needs to go and very similar values,” Preckwinkle said. “I think that Pritzker is the best candidate of those three.”

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