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What I learned from a leaked post of a Pritzker campaign aide in a charcoal mask

Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker holds a press conference before greeting voters at the CTA Roosevelt Station, Wednesday morning, Nov. 7, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker holds a press conference before greeting voters at the CTA Roosevelt Station the morning after he won the Nov. 6 election. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

I am that former Pritzker campaign staffer who posted an Instagram video in October of a colleague wearing a charcoal face mask and pink nail polish after a long day at the office.

I posted the video to my private Instagram account late on a Saturday night after a 14-hour workday. Five days later, at the precise moment when it would inflict the most harm on the Pritzker campaign, somebody leaked a screenshot of the post to the media. The leak came just days before Halloween and after NBC’s Megyn Kelly ignited a media firestorm on Oct. 23 by making racially insensitive remarks about blackface.


It never occurred to me for a moment that my colleague’s face mask resembled blackface, and I had no idea Kelly was planning to defend blackface on national television three days after I posted the video.

To anyone who was offended by the image, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. It was taken out of context and I simply did not see what now seems so obvious. What I found humorous about the video was my colleague’s impersonation of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs while tending to his pores.

Childish? Yes. Poorly timed? Absolutely. Intentionally racist? Not in the least.

As you may know, the Pritzker campaign is being sued for $7.5 million. The 10 plaintiffs, who were current or former campaign workers at the time the suit was filed, allege a pattern of racial discrimination and harassment.

I do believe that one of the plaintiffs had valid concerns about the campaign’s strategy. We both believed the campaign needed to do more Latino outreach. The campaign eventually did invest more time and resources on reaching out to Latino communities, and I was thrilled to see that our agitation paid off.

Despite my best efforts to validate and address some of the plaintiffs’ other concerns, I believe the screenshot of my Instagram post was leaked to the media by one of the plaintiffs. I had accepted that person’s request to follow me on Instagram several months before the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have been roughed up by the ruthless nature of Chicago politics. Three years ago, I had to file a police report after receiving a death threat while helping out in an aldermanic campaign. More recently, I left a job because my repeated complaints of harassment fell on deaf ears for more than a year.

Should I decide to remain politically involved, I’m sure this will not be the last time I take an elbow in the name of democracy.

Joining the J.B. Pritzker and Juliana Stratton campaign was a breath of fresh air. I was inspired to see so many women and people of color in leadership positions. I have worked on many campaigns and this was by far the most respectful and humane campaign I have ever been a part of. They bent over backward to respond to a variety of human resources complaints. They were fair-minded and evenhanded.

I do not blame the Pritzker campaign for taking swift action against my colleague and me for our thoughtless and childish behavior. We are all human, and if J.B. Pritzker is allowed to make mistakes, we are, too.

An important piece of context was missing from this story. I am the granddaughter of a civil rights activist and the niece of a feminist activist who worked on Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign. The never-ending struggle for social justice pulses through my veins. My background is in community organizing and I always approach my work with humility, knowing that we are all a work in progress.

I see this experience as the ultimate “teachable moment” and an opportunity to evolve beyond my shortcomings. I hope J.B. and Juliana’s administration will be as diverse and humane as their campaign was and that all of us will learn the lessons of 2018.

This momentary lapse in judgment and the perfect storm of events that followed it cannot change who I am at my core or discourage me from carrying on the legacy of the generations of activists who came before me.

Carolyn Mehta was the Pritzker campaign’s deputy Get Out the Vote director from June to October of 2018.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.


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