How anti-Pritzker PAC is trying to suppress the Black vote in Chicago

An anti-Pritzker PAC distributes signs and leaflets on the South and West sides aiming to keep Black voters from polls.

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Signs distributed by an anti-Gov. J.B. Pritzker political action committee around the South Side. Political operatives say it’s an effort to suppress the Black vote.

Signs distributed by an anti-Gov. J.B. Pritzker political action committee around the South Side. Political operatives say it’s an effort to suppress the Black vote.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

It’s an old-school political technique — in the days before a vote, put election flyers under car windshield wipers. They are likely to be read since they are hard for a driver to ignore. 

In a parking lot in Bronzeville last week outside the Lake Meadows apartments, a multitude of yellow flyers — designed to look like road warning signs — were on cars in this heavily Black and overwhelmingly Democratic community. 

“Pritzker failed Black families. He must be punished,” screamed the headline about Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

The flyer goes on to slam Pritzker over crime, schools, jobs, taxes and cannabis licenses in Black communities — a conflation of city and state issues that includes distortions of the governor’s overall record.

Other yellow signs planted around the city’s other major Black communities on the South and West sides hit Pritzker on crime, saying, “Black kids are dying.”

Though all the messaging is anti-Pritzker, there is no mention of his opponent in next week’s race, Republican nominee Darren Bailey.

Who is paying for this?

The flyers and signs are bankrolled by the People Who Play By the Rules political action committee, launched in March and run by longtime GOP political operative Dan Proft, who is also an AM560 talk show host.

Proft’s PAC — an independent expenditure committee — is financed by Lake Forest mega-donor Richard Uihlein, one of the nation’s top contributors to conservative candidates and causes. As of Sunday, Uihlein has donated $24.8 million to Proft’s PAC. 

The PAC, under rules governing independent expenditures, is not supposed to communicate and coordinate with any campaign.

The race-based appeal is “insulting,” said Tumia Romero, an Austin resident who has seen the signs near the Eisenhower Expressway ramps and who is the chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. “They automatically believe that African Americans don’t have any analytical skills and that Black voters are dumb.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward includes Bronzeville, said the blatant use of race in the signs and leaflets was a form of “subliminal voter suppression.” She is hosting, with other Black elected officials and activists, a voter turnout event Sunday in Bronzeville as part of an “extra effort to rally the Black vote.”

One interpretation could be that it’s just an attempt to persuade Black voters to support Bailey. 

However, since the fear-mongering flyers and signs do not push Bailey’s candidacy, the strategy appears to be to depress Black voter turnout for Pritzker, political operatives said.

Democratic political consultant Ron Holmes, a veteran of many campaigns in Illinois where turning out the Black vote has been critical, said these Proft PAC appeals are “directly aimed at ensuring Black voters stay at home rather than vote for candidates who have been working in their best interests.”

A Republican strategist — who didn’t want his name used so as not to tangle with Proft — agreed, saying Proft’s PAC tactic is an attempt in Black communities to “make them not vote.”

This also comes as Proft’s PAC is running TV ads featuring former ABC7 political reporter Charles Thomas, who is Black, where, in one spot Thomas says Pritzker “needs to be punished” and “Black people should not vote for J.B. Pritzker.”

Proft’s PAC paid Thomas $50,000.

Proft, asked about his political operations, said in a text on Monday, “Here’s my answer: when you or any of the other [employees] of Pritzker’s comm shop take an interest in how and where and on what he’s spent $350M over the past four years on IL politics then I’ll entertain your feeble attempts to do a hatchet piece on me.”

What do Black voters think?

Voters interviewed Tuesday near where some of the flyers were distributed in Bronzeville said they wouldn’t be dissuaded from voting by the flyers and signs, although at least one person said they did raise questions. 

Jill Mars, 49, who is unemployed, said she recently registered and plans to vote in the upcoming election. The claims on the flyer gave her pause, leading her to ask a reporter if they were accurate.

If true, “It would cause me to not vote for him,” she said. But she said she still planned to largely vote for Democrats.

Retiree William Rowland, 66, said the flyers wouldn’t stop him from voting to reelect Pritzker.

“I know it’s a lie,” he said. “I try to follow a little bit of everything so no one can try to influence me. I know better.”

Beverly Stinson, 75, who is retired, lives in an apartment complex where the flyers were placed on the windshields of parked cars; she also has seen the “Punish Pritzker” signs while driving around. A lifelong Chicagoan, she said she’s seen similar tactics before.

“They’ve been doing this since I was a little girl,” she said. “It’s politics. If they don’t have anything to offer they try to find a bad point in you, and it’s really not a bad point if we pay attention and we read.”

Lynn Sweet is the Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief. Mariah Rush is a staff reporter via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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