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JB Pritzker’s race problem isn’t his alone

Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and running mate Juliana Stratton speak during a press conference last week. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and running mate Juliana Stratton speak during a press conference last week. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

I’ve covered enough election campaigns to be wary of last-minute accusations.

After all, in the waning days of a campaign, decent people have been accused of the most indecent acts.

So I didn’t think much about the discrimination complaint that was filed last week by ten JB Pritzker for Governor campaign workers.

But then I looked at backgrounds of the people making those allegations.

Most of them had experience working on other important political campaigns.

Jason Benton worked on the Hillary Clinton for America; Jelani Coleman also worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign; Kasmine Calhoun was with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic primary gubernatorial campaign of Philip Levine in Florida; Nathaniel Madison worked on the senatorial campaign for Doug Jones in Alabama; Tiffany Madison also worked on the Doug Jones senatorial campaign, and was a field organizer for Congresswoman Terri Sewells (D-Ala.); and James B. Tinsley, worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

These plaintiffs, all field organizers, alleged that the “vast majority” of African-American and Latino workers “on the JB Pritzker for Governor campaign are herded into race-specific positions … offered no meaningful chance for advancement and receive less favorable treatment than their white counterparts who engage with, as the campaign sees it, a more desirable constituency.

Pritzker called the claims “untrue” and vowed to fight the race-discrimination suit.

“Everybody that has been involved in a campaign before has seen a lot of craziness in the last few weeks of a campaign. So this is just more,” Pritzker said at a press conference.

He was joined by Juliana Stratton, an African-American female who defeated Kenneth Dunkin for the Illinois House seat before being tapped by Pritzker as his running mate.

The campaign released a “demand letter” that the plaintiffs’ attorney had sent to the campaign that included a request for “actual and punitive damages in the sum of $7.5 million.”

There’s no evidence that the lawsuit has had a negative impact on the campaign.

In fact, Pritzker’s unfavorable comments about black politicians, captured on a secretly recorded wiretap released by the Chicago Tribune, caused a bigger uproar.

During the recorded conversation, Pritzker mulled over which black politician would be “least offensive” to fill Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat when Obama won the presidency.

Pritzker was heard on wiretap calling former state Senate President Emil Jones “crass” and sizing up then U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. as a “nightmare.”

Black elected officials flanked Pritzker when he made his public mea culpa.

“I clearly made a mistake that day, and I clearly wasn’t my best self,” he said.

He later told a large gathering of black women in attendance at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 hall, he would be an “ally” to black women, “reversing the systemic disinvestment that has impacted too many communities and lifting up black women entrepreneurs.”

But the lawsuit alleges the JB Pritzker for Governor was a “cesspool of racial discrimination and harassment.”

For example, the suit alleges Kasmine Calhoun, a field organizer, was told she was “hired to meet a ‘Black Female organizer quota.’”

Calhoun was stationed in Peoria and was supposed to be housed with a family that was friendly to the campaign.

“But when the family found out Kasmine was Black, they denied her housing. As a result, Kasmine was forced to sleep in her car and at the campaign office,” according to the lawsuit.

It is hard for me to believe that these allegations are outright lies.

After all, these plaintiffs have a lot to lose.

And why would these professionals jeopardize their careers and future employment on other political campaigns to sabotage JB Pritzker?

Maybe we have become so accustomed to race-based politics that expecting African-American and Latino field organizers to go “round up 40 Black guys” for an event doesn’t seem like a racist request.

These African-American and Latino field organizers also allege, among other things, that the JB Pritzker for Governor campaign denied them “the same resources, such as housing and a safe place to work;” “equal opportunity to apply for positions of advancement,” “and the same privileges as their white counterparts, such as telecommuting.”

Hopefully, the deep pockets Pritzker will keep his word and “fight” the race-discrimination suit because these are the kind of lawsuits that corporations often settle without admitting any wrongdoing.

The voices of these campaign workers reflect the concerns of many workers from black and brown communities.

It is disappointing that the man who would be governor can’t see institutional racism for what it is.