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Kennedy accuses Pritzker of trying to buy forgiveness for insulting black pols

J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy

Chris Kennedy, running for the Democratic nomination for governor, is accusing of J.B. Pritzker of donating cash to black politicians to buy forgiveness over secretly recorded remarks he made to then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. | Sun-Times file photos

Chris Kennedy on Friday accused billionaire rival J.B. Pritzker of trying to buy forgiveness for insulting comments he made about black politicians in a wiretapped conversation with Rod Blagojevich — with $159,000 in contributions to Cook County Democratic ward bosses, many of them African-American.

Pritzker’s parade of contributions includes $29,500 to Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, $27,500 to Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), $16,000 to Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and $15,000 to Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

All of them stood with Pritzker, even after the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner was quoted in the wiretapped phone conversation in 2008 with Blagojevich as pitching Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White as the “least offensive” choice to fill the Senate seat being vacated by then President-elect Obama. Pritzker described now former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) as too “crass” for the job.

“Since J.B. Pritzker started his apology tour for those comments about African American leadership, he’s s given $374,000 to political organizations across the state, more than $159,000 of which went to committeemen in the Cook County Democratic Party,” Kennedy said.

“He’s taken pay-to-play politics and amplified the system from pay-to-play to fund-to-forgive and fee-to-forget. He’s buying off the leadership.”

The always outspoken Austin was furious when told of Kennedy’s charge.

“I’ve sat quiet long enough. And I’m not gonna sit and die and let Chris Kennedy slander me. The hell with Chris Kennedy. I’m more than insulted by this so and so. Nobody can buy Carrie. Nobody! J.B. didn’t give me a dime when I endorsed him. Not one dime,” Austin said, her voice rising.

“I hope he don’t get nobody’s vote except for Sen. Emil Jones, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis. If they don’t see that they’re trying to divide the black community, they are fools.”

Austin said the $29,500 she got from Pritzker is the Democratic frontrunner’s “donation to help me get his word out.”

“I have worked my behind off for J.B. Pritzker and everybody on that ticket. Elections nowadays are extremely expensive — especially on a local level for us,” Austin said.

“If J.B. Pritzker has the finances to assist us with workers, materials, so be it . . . I work on behalf of the Democratic Party . . . There are judges and other elected officials on this ticket who don’t put out any help for us. Are you saying I’m supposed to pay it out of my pocket for elections? Who’s supposed to give the help? You have to pay the workers. You have to buy them lunch. You have to buy gas. Everywhere I go, I’m either speaking on his behalf or putting out literature on his behalf.”

Scott said it’s “insulting” for Kennedy to suggest “that my integrity can be bought for $16,000 . . . My integrity is worth way more than that.”

Like Austin, Scott said the $16,000 from Pritzker had nothing to do with his endorsement. But it will help “build an organization” in Scott’s West Side ward that has not existed for decades, the alderman said.

“Unfortunately, nobody does that for free anymore. Anything that he has given me goes directly to help build my organization. Help put guys on the street. Help individuals who ordinarily don’t have a job. . . . Because J.B. has the wherewithal to help build organizations and Kennedy doesn’t, that does not mean he is buying the black vote.”

Mitts said she supported Pritzker “based upon what he was going to do” for residents of her impoverished West Side ward and because he “understood that there was a lack of economic development and education in our community.”

She added, “He hadn’t given me a dime, and I was still standing behind him . . . The money came afterward and I’m grateful for what he has given to us. It will help out with events in the community that we’re trying to put on and it goes into the campaign.”

Burnett accused Kennedy of making “unfounded desperation claims” with just over a week to go until the March 20 primary.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said it was “disrespectful, counter-productive and in bad taste” for Kennedy to “go after” black elected officials who stand with Pritzker simply because they accepted Pritzker’s money to help get out the vote.

“That was not in exchange for my support. My support was done many months ago,” Sawyer said.

Kennedy is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and the son of former U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, both of who were assassinated.

The younger Kennedy is relying heavily on support from African-Americans, particularly older black voters who fondly remember his family’s ties to the civil rights movement.