Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the leading Democrat candidate for governor in Illinois, apologized Tuesday for comments he made in 2008 as he joked about Barack Obama’s “God d*mn America” scandal earlier that year.
Pritzker’s comments, made in conversation with now jailed ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, were recorded by the FBI. The surveillance audio has now been made public, and features Pritzker — long a patron of the Democratic Party machine — scheming after the 2008 election about what to do with Obama’s soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich was being monitored because authorities suspected that he was looking to “sell” the Senate seat he had the power to fill in the interim until the next election.
Those caught on the FBI tapes include long list of Illinois pols who were calling Blagojevich to plead their case to be awarded the seat.
One snippet of the FBI tape has already figured prominently in a campaign ad for the incumbent governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, who is seeking re-election. In that ad, Pritzker can be heard urging Blagojevich to make him the next Illinois State Treasurer or Attorney General.
But, now a new snippet of the tape has emerged revealing Pritzker engaging in racially-tinged humor with ex-Gov. Blagojevich and talking about filling positions in state government with token African-Americans so that the Democratic Party could maintain its claim to represent the black community.
As reported by Capitol Fax, the banter between Pritzker and Blagojevich reveals how the white Democratic Party establishment in Illinois plots to placate blacks who provide crucial votes:
“I’m sure you thought of this one, but [Secretary of State] Jesse White,” Pritzker tells Blagojevich. “Even though I know you guys aren’t like, you know, bosom buddies or anything, it covers you on the African-American thing.” […]
Pritzker notes that elevating White to the Senate would open up another appointment for secretary of state, an office coveted for its patronage jobs. “It’d be a lot less pressure on you. You don’t have to put an African-American in that spot,” Pritzker says. […]
“All I would say is I think that there need to be more, you know, people of color that serve in public office,” Pritzker said. “I mean, I think that’s something, I’ve supported a lot of candidates over the years who are people of color and Jesse White’s, I think, a beloved person in the state of Illinois, so I can only imagine that’s what I had in mind.”
Later in the conversation, Blagojevich launched into a series of off-color jokes about Obama’s racial makeup and his connection with former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers and the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who infamously preached “God d*mn America” from the pulpit of Obama’s church. All the while, Pritzker laughed:
Blagojevich: And how about this one? God, if I knew for sure, I wasn’t running again…
Blagojevich: How about Rev. Wright?
Pritzker: Oh, my God! [Both laugh] Bill Ayers!
Blagojevich: How about f-ing sending Rev. Wright there? I’d bet ya he’d take it.
Blagojevich: Huh? Would that be f-ing funny?
Pritzker: Hilarious. Oh, my God. [Both laugh]
Blagojevich: Yeah. [Laughing] Right there on the Senate floor. It’s not ‘God Bless America,’ it’s ‘God Damn America!’
Pritzker: God damn America.
Blagojevich: ‘Well now, when Barack was in Sunday school, I used to tell him’…
Pritzker and Blagojevich were also recorded disparaging prominent black politicians in the state.
In a press conference Tuesday, Pritzker, surrounded by supporters from the black community, apologized. But his Democratic opponents pounced on the controversy.
State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), who is currently a distant second in the polls, blasted Pritzker’s remarks as “racially insensitive at best and at worst reveal[ing] an attitude that is disrespectful to African Americans,” as quoted by the New York Times.
In his own press conference, Biss cast the conversation between Pritzker and Blagojevich as emblematic of a white power structure in Illinois politics that he is running to change.
— Daniel Biss (@danielbiss) February 6, 2018
The fallout from the controversy remains to be seen. The primary is March 20.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.