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Pritzker pledges support to — and seeks support from — black women

Rep. Juliana Stratton, J.B. Pritzker's running mate, speaks at a news conference Thursday addressing veteran's affairs. File Photo.| Erin Brown/Sun-Times

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker on Friday vowed to a room of more than 600 African-American women that he’d be an “ally,” while calling them the “lifeblood” of a “resistance and grassroots movement.”

The strong words of support come with less than four weeks to go before the March 20 primary — and just over two weeks since Pritzker was forced to go on damage control amid the release of FBI wiretaps by the Chicago Tribune that revealed an embarrassing conversation Pritzker had with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich about African-American politicians.

But Pritzker’s campaign, and those in attendance at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 hall, said the event had been planned for weeks — and heavy hitting Democrats such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, say they’re still on board with Pritzker.

Pritzker’s running mate is state Rep. Juliana Stratton, who is African-American.

In addition to Stratton, the other African Americans running in the hotly contested primary are gubernatorial candidate Tio Hardiman and three other lieutenant governor hopefuls —Patricia Avery on Hardiman’s ticket; state Rep. Litesa Wallace, who is running with state Sen. Daniel Biss, and Ra Joy, on the ticket with Chris Kennedy.

As the lunch began, Kennedy’s campaign blasted out an email to supporters, claiming Pritzker has made the “false claim that he supports women,” citing media reports that Pritzker did “very little to promote and empower women in leadership roles at his company.” Pritzker’s campaign said “JB is proud of his record of promoting, mentoring and investing in women in the technology and investment industries.”

“This is a room full of powerhouse women,” Pritkzer said to cheers.

Pritzker vowed to be an “ally” to black women, “reversing the systemic disinvestment that has impacted too many communities and lifting up black women entrepreneurs, the fastest growing group of small business owners in the country.”

“Since January 20th of 2017, we have seen a resistance and a grassroots movement take hold in this country like nothing that any of us have seen in an awfully long time,” Pritzker said. “Women, and specifically black women are the lifeblood of that movement.”

Speaking before the lunch, Preckwinkle said the power of African-American women voters can’t be underestimated, citing the Alabama Senate race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore. She said having Stratton as Pritzker’s running mate will help to get black issues on the forefront within the governor’s administration.

And Preckwinkle once again defended Pritzker regarding the FBI tapes: “First of all it’s hard for me to remember conversations that I had 10 years ago. Secondly, there isn’t anybody who wouldn’t be uncomfortable with something they said on the telephone, wouldn’t want it on the front page of a newspaper,” Preckwinkle said. “So, I think this is kind of a mountain out of a molehill.”

Stratton called the event “a reminder of our collective power and that we want to claim our seat at the table and want to be part of the decision making about our communities and the policies that affect us and our families.”

And Hutchinson called African-American women voters “the most consistent loyal voting block we have.”

She called having Stratton, an African-American woman elected as lieutenant governor “historic and important.”

“It means having a voice in the room when administration decisions are being made,” she said.