Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker spoke at the Black Women of Illinois forum Saturday, in his latest apology tour stop following the release last week of his FBI-wiretapped conversation with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich capturing the candidate making racially charged comments.
About 75 South Side residents watched as Pritzker joined primary competitors state Sen. Daniel Biss and anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman to talk about education, health disparities and pensions — but the billionaire candidate wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room.
“My intentions were good, but I didn’t speak well and I didn’t use the right words,” Pritzker said. “When I make a mistake, I own up to that mistake, but I hope that a lifetime of work standing up with the African-American community to do things with you, to raise people up, that that will ultimately make your judgment clear.”
With less than 40 days before the March 20 primary, Pritzker is trying to regain the ground he’s lost in the wiretap scandal. A poll last week showed the frontrunner Pritzker in a statistical dead heat with the surging Biss.
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Pritzker was recorded in the tapes discussing potential African-American politicians to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then-President elect Barack Obama, with Pritzker referring to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White as “the “least offensive” who would cover the governor on “the African-American thing.” Pritzker also dismissed former state Senate President Emil Jones as too “crass” for the appointment.
Jones is among the critics who have called for Pritzker to drop out of the race in light of the tapes.
Martese Chism, a South Sider who attended the forum, said she didn’t accept the apology and that “the great civil rights leaders weren’t ‘safe blacks.'” Chism is a board member of National Nurses United, which endorsed Biss.
“Pritzker is young, so to hear him say that after all these great leaders have done is unbelievable,” Chism said. “If he wins the primary, I’d vote for him, but he would have to invite ‘unsafe blacks,’ people who are outspoken, to a meeting and put those same people in cabinet positions. That’s how we get our fair share.”
Deborah Cosey-Lane also attended the forum and said Pritzker’s focus on the labor movement, “reforming our prison system and protecting the environment” help make him the only candidate who can get the state back on track and beat Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“JB acknowledged that he made a mistake and I stand with him and know that he will fight for all working families as governor,” Cosey-Lane said.
Biss and Hardiman didn’t take direct hits at Pritzker over the tapes during the forum. Hardiman said he has no hard feelings for Pritzker, saying “now he knows what it’s like to be under the microscope like black people have been all their lives.”