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Pritzker to remain neutral in mayoral race: ‘My intention is to stay out’

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference at Cinespace Chicago Film Studio, Thursday afternoon, Feb. 28, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference at Cinespace Chicago Film Studio, Thursday afternoon, Feb. 28, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

If either of the two mayoral candidates facing off in the April runoff was hoping for a little endorsement bump from the state’s governor, they can both forget about it.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that he plans to vote in the mayoral runoff election between Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot, former head of the Chicago Police Board, but he will stay publicly neutral, as he did in the campaign leading up to Tuesday’s first round election.

The Democratic governor also dismissed speculation that his budget proposal could push the state’s bond rating to junk status.

Speaking to reporters at Secretary of State Jesse White’s Black History Month celebration, Pritzker said he had no plans to get involved in the historic match-up that will end in Chicago electing its first African American woman for mayor.

Pritzker said he was “so pleased to know that we’re going to be making history … when we elect a new mayor.”

“I’ll be supporting whoever wins that runoff because I want to work with the mayor — whoever that person is,” Pritzker said. “My intention is to stay out, and of course I’ll end up voting, but … unlike previous governor[s] my job is to work with the mayor of the city of Chicago to make things happen.”

Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle

Lori Lightfoot (left) and Toni Preckwinkle, shown at their election-night parties on Tuesday. | Sun-Times photos

The governor has some history of his own with Preckwinkle — and White.

Last year, the Cook County Board president endorsed Pritzker in his run to unseat former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner — and helped Pritzker recover from an embarrassing racial episode.

Preckwinkle’s endorsement came a day after the release of secretly recorded telephone conversations between former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the billionaire gubernatorial candidate in which Pritzker denigrated African American politicians under consideration for Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

In the 2008 conversation, Pritzker was recorded telling 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.” Pritzker suggested that White would be “the one that’s least offensive and maybe gets you the most.”

Preckwinkle was one of the black politicians who rode to the rescue, saying that Prizker was a “decent” person — and efforts to portray him otherwise were “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 then. “I think this is one of those instances.”

The governor also addressed speculation Thursday that his budget could push the state’s bond rating to junk status, saying Wall Street rating agencies care about “bringing revenue as fast as humanly possible, they don’t really care so much about whether it effects the middle class and those striving to get there.”

“I understand their perspective, they’re all about investors, that’s really who they are speaking to,” Pritzker said. “Who I’m speaking to are the middle class, working class people who’ve been put upon by an unfair tax system that, unfortunately taxes them to a greater degree than it does people who earn higher incomes.”

Fitch Ratings said the “2020 executive budget plan recently introduced by Illinois’ governor would not materially address the state’s structural budget issues in the current fiscal year or the next.” That statement, made in a Tuesday news release, also said the budget relies “heavily on non-recurring revenues and large savings from an uncertain pension proposal that poses risks for the state.”

The governor brushed off the criticism and said he’ll begin talking to leadership within state government about a rate structure for the graduated income tax in the next week or two.

He also said that his graduated income tax plan “will, in fact, improve the finances of the state, stabilize our state and put us in good condition in terms of our fiscal soundness.”