On Juneteenth, a day that many black Americans consider their Independence Day, Gov. Bruce Rauner touted his achievements for minorities, saying he’s done more for African-Americans than “any other governor.”
“We’ve done historic things for the black community; I would argue, more than any other governor,” Rauner said, speaking on WVON AM radio Tuesday morning. “Creating economic opportunity, making more equality in contracting. We’ve done historic things, and we’re going to keep on fighting.”
A little later, appearing at a church in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, Rauner spoke to a group of mostly black entrepreneurs, saying, “I am all about black business.”
“Black business entrepreneurs take the risk, but they’ve got extra burdens, more barriers, more discrimination, more lack of access,” Rauner said to a largely receptive audience. “And we’ve got to take that down, eliminate those barriers and get equal access.”
Rauner noted his administration had created the Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurs program, which helps support black businesses through mentoring and networking. The governor also touted $15 million in grant money in the new state budget to be made available to minority businesses in Illinois.
Several attendees said they were appreciative of Rauner’s efforts, although they said they were aware that, in an election year, the governor’s political motives shouldn’t be overlooked.
“It’s typical of elected officials at this particular time to give us speeches on what they want to do, what they’re going to do,” said C. Dwayne West, 45, who runs a digital media company. “But at the end of the day, everything is about results. And I’ll be satisfied when I see some people who can give testimonies who’ve gone through the system and been able to secure grants.”
Democratic gubernatorial rival J.B. Pritzker blasted Rauner for his remarks, calling him “a failed governor using a day that commemorates freedom and the fight for justice to grandstand and spread lies.”
“Bruce Rauner fabricated a track record of standing up for the black community when he’s been nothing short of a failure,” the billionaire said in a statement. “While Rauner pays lip service, Illinois’ black unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. That’s after Rauner’s budget crisis crushed small businesses, decimated social services, reduced access to child care assistance for working families, and forced anti-violence programs to freeze operations.
Rauner picked up just 7 percent of the African-American vote in the 2014 general election, according to CNN exit pols at the time.
Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, the date when a Union Army general landed in Texas and ordered the state to put a stop to slavery. It wasn’t until this day, months after the Civil War’s end, that many former slaves learned of their emancipation.
Former President Barack Obama released a video statement, through the Obama Foundation, talking about the importance of that day.
“It’s a celebration of progress, a milestone on our journey toward a more perfect union; an affirmation that, despite the most painful parts of our history, over time, America does change for the better,” Obama said.
Contributing: Associated Press