Comments may doom J.B. Pritzker’s candidacy
by RUSS STEWART
Thank goodness for that old curmudgeon, Emil Jones. The former Illinois Senate President has just put the word "uppity" back into the political lexicon. And he has probably put J.B. Pritzker’s campaign for governor into political oblivion. Stick a fork in it.
"Uppity" is a word that can be found in Webster’s Dictionary as a synonym for "uppish." It is generally perceived as describing people who are disagreeable or with whom one disagrees. Webster’s insertion for "uppish," which is an adjective and colloquialism, defines them as persons "inclined to be haughty, arrogant, snobbish." The operative noun here is "uppishness."
Doesn’t that sound like every politician on continental North America, and especially in Illinois, Cook County and Chicago? Good old billionaire J.B., back in late 2008 when his good buddy Rod Blagojevich was governor and contemplating from whom he could extract the most money for an appointment to Barack Obama’s soon-to-be-vacant senate seat, was on an FBI wiretap making some politically insensitive comments to the governor about which black leaders should be appointed to the seat. The contenders then were Jones, Secretary of State Jesse White, and U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.
As has been blared all over the media, Pritzker termed Jones on the wiretap as "crass," Jackson "a nightmare," and White the "least offensive." Pritzker promptly apologized, but Jones, who is supporting Chris Kennedy for governor, went on record as saying that Pritzker considers him to be an "uppity" black.
Jones reportedly was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times as saying, "What he meant by ‘crass’ is that I’m an uppity black. I fight for my people and, sometimes, that ruffles feathers. What he was saying in comparing me to Jesse White is that Jesse White is a safe black. Jesse White is not going to do what Emil Jones does. Dr. King was a crass black. Harold Washington was a crass black. It was said in a derogatory manner." As I said in this column’s first paragraph, stick a fork in J.B.
The billionaire’s excuse is that when talking to Blagojevich he was not his "best self" and "should have pushed back" against the governor’s comments. Sure. We can really expect him to "push back" against Mike Madigan. As Jones said of Pritzker: "He likes acceptable blacks who are meek and won’t say anything."
Polling thus far in the 6-candidate Democratic primary, which includes Pritzker, Kennedy, state Senator Dan Biss (D-9) and three others, has shown Pritzker the leader, which is wholly attributable to Pritzker’s willingness to spend his own wealth, which is estimated to be around $7 billion. Democratic politicians, including Speaker Mike Madigan, want Pritzker on their ticket because he can match Bruce Rauner (R) dollar-for-dollar, thus freeing-up money from their base – which is unions and trial lawyers – for other contests. Pritzker was the slated party candidate in Cook County, and the expectation between Democratic ward and township committeemen was that there would be a lot of trickle-down cash. With Pritzker atop the ticket, a lot of committeemen were (and still are) expecting an infusion of $50,000-plus. In Chicago and Cook County, never let it be said that money can’t buy happiness.
Pritzker trotted out a phalanx of politicians that Jones publicly derided as "safe blacks," including county board president Toni Preckwinkle and White, both on the ballot this year, and a smattering of aldermen who are not on the ballot until 2019. Conspicuous by his absence from the pro-Pritzker bunch was state Senator Kwame Raoul, who is running for state attorney general and faces a tough primary, with former governor Pat Quinn in the top ballot position. Raoul, who occupies the senate seat that Barack Obama vacated in 2004 to go to Washington, knows that being associated with the likes of Preckwinkle and Pritzker is not going to be helpful to his aspirations.
The 2010 census pegged Illinois as 14.3 percent black, but blacks comprise about 30 to 35 percent of any statewide Democratic vote, which are concentrated on Chicago’s South and West Sides, the south and west suburbs, and East St. Louis. Mayor Rahm Emanuel won the 2015 runoff because he received more than 65 percent of the city’s black vote, because he poured a lot of money into those ward and he got close to two-thirds of the non-Lakefront white ethnic vote. Pritzker was on track to replicate that strategy. No longer. When you have to hold a press conference to attest that you’re not in any way a "racist," it’s over. Pritzker began the campaign hyping himself as an "entrepreneur and philanthropist." No he can just go back to making money, and not have to give it to any Democrats anymore.
The black vote is now in flux, and Kennedy seems like the logical repository.
2018 looks like a replay of 2004. In that Democratic senate primary, won by Obama, an astounding 764,163 ballots were cast in Cook County, out of a statewide total of 1,310,129, and Obama got 464,917 of them in Cook County and 655,923 statewide. Turnout won’t be nearly as high on March 20.
Obama, when the 2004 campaign began, was a South Side state senator with a funky name. He faced Blair Hull, a wealthy businessman who sold his trading firm to Goldman Sachs in 1999 for $531 million, gave $260,000 to Blagojevich in 2002, spent $29 million during 2003-04, and had the endorsement of Blagojevich. So certain was his victory that U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9), a darling of state "progressives" and protege of Nancy Pelosi, got out of the contest. Hull faced eight candidates, including county treasurer Maria Pappas, state comptroller Dan Hynes, backed by most white ethnic Democratic organizations and John Stroger, and Gery Chico, once city school board president. Obama’s only prominent supporters were Jones, Michael Jordan and the Jacksons, father and son – which is why the former president calls Jones his "godfather."
Obama was early out of the gate in opposition to the Iraq War, opposed Bush administration policies, and bonded with all the anti-Bush Howard Dean supporters. When it was revealed that Hull struck his first wife in the shin in 1998 and that she had filed a petition for an order of protections, calling him a "violent man with an ungovernable temper," his campaign instantaneously collapsed, and Obama moved into the void, getting 52.8 percent of the vote, with Hull at 10.8 percent and Hynes at 23.7 percent.
My prediction: Pritzker was never very likeable, which is an occupational hazard for billionaires. Kennedy has to move quickly to lock in the black vote, because Biss will get a solid majority of the white liberal vote. The governor was really hoping to run against Pritzker in November and fervently hoping that these FBI wiretaps would not surface until September. Without Pritzker as his opponent, Rauner must seriously rethink his strategy.
MAYOR: The 2019 Chicago mayoral race, which former police superintendent Gerry McCarthy informally launched on Feb. 11, will not be short, but it will be mean and nasty. McCarthy, at a fund-raiser at the Irish American Heritage Center, decried the "economy of gun violence" in Chicago. "People have become numb. For every shooting, 70 people move out of Chicago…and these are tax paying, middle-class people. For every shooting, taxpayers pay $1 million for medical, hospital, ambulance and investigatory fees. For every murder, the cost is $8.5 million."
McCarthy was especially emphatic about the Emanuel administration’s policy on lawsuits concerning the police, whether it is alleged excessive force or wrongful arrests. "We set a (city) budget, and then we blow a hole through it. We settle every case, and those settlements are huge," he said.
Arrests are "way down," he said, and "there is not one part of the city that is safe," because of procedural shackles put on the police. Regarding gangs and gang members, "we (the police) used to be able to get them off the streets and into some social structure. Now they stay on the streets and usually die within 18 months as a felony victim."
The 2019 contest, said McCarthy, will be about "performance," noting that the mayor has not done so. McCarthy told me that his early polling pegs the mayor’s "approval" at less than 40 percent and that, in a McCarthy-Emanuel race, they are both just under 40 percent. The candidacy of Paul Vallas barely causes a ripple. There are two keys to the contest.
First, Emanuel’s West Coast and Clinton Era contacts will enable him to raise at least $25 million to win a third term. McCarthy’s theme is "Get in the Game," and the game in 2019 is to get into the runoff, which means McCarthy must finish second in the February primary and have a one-on-one with Emanuel in the April runoff. In 2015, the non-Emanuel voters broke heavily for the mayor in the runoff. "Next time (in 2019)," said a McCarthy campaign strategist, "they won’t," noting that polls show McCarthy with up to 25 percent of the black vote and that white middle-class voters will go overwhelmingly for McCarthy over Emanuel. "He (Emanuel) has no base," said the McCarthy source. "Nobody really wants him for another term, so to win he has to go negative" on his opponent.
And second, that is exactly what will happen, and the Laquan McDonald case will be writ large all over TV, with Emanuel trying to hang it on McCarthy, who was police superintendent at the time of the shooting, during 2014. But it is common knowledge that Emanuel suppressed the video release until after his re-election. The mayor may be in trouble.
Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.