J.B. Pritzker scandal highlights importance of black vote in Illinois

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The political fallout for J.B. Pritzker may not be known for weeks, but it raises the issue about the importance of the African American vote for Democrats in the upcoming primary.

Pritzker caused quite a stir among African American voters when they heard secret FBI wiretap recordings of phone calls with Rod Blagojevich, in which he disparaged two powerful and popular African American politicians, Emil Jones and Jesse White. The two came up when Pritzker and Blagojevich were talking about who should be appointed to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Roland Burris, who actually got the seat, is now speaking out.

"There's gonna be some fallout, politicians make all kind of mistakes," Burris said.

Burris became Blagojevich's last-minute choice to fill Obama's seat in 2009, serving for nearly two years until the special election.

Burris said he was not surprised by the FBI recording, which captured Pritzker referring to Secretary of State Jesse White as the "least offensive" African American to consider for the seat, and former Illinois Senate Presient Emil Jones too "crass" for the job.

"I know those things are said behind closed doors, and we really talk differently publicly than you do when you're in private conversation with someone, and everybody does that," he said.

Pritzker apologized for those comments, calling it not his best day. But the firestorm that has erupted has raised an important reminder about the impact of the black vote this election year.

"To politicians who are trying to make it to the State House or the White House, you have to first come through the black house, or you will find yourself in the outhouse," said Monica Faith Stewart, former state representative.

"Democrats cannot win without the African American vote, I mean that's just plain and simple," said political strategist Delmarie Cobb.

Cobb said she does not believe the tape swill cause any significant defections from Pritzker's supporters, although a campaign worker did quit in disgust.

"Those who were with him now have to stay with him, because they have to justify why they were there with him in the first place," she said.

Cobb believes the Pritzker recording may actually energize African Americans to get out and vote. Burris, who wrote a book about his experience as a senator, is taking this approach.

"Should Pritzker win the primary? Guess what, I'll support him over Rauner any day. But my support right now is with Chris Kennedy," Burress said.

As if to remind voters that he has the support of key party leaders, Pritzker announced Wednesday that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has endorsed him.

And if Pritkzer's supporters now have to stick with him to justify their early support, Cobb believes the tapes give Pritzker's opponents the fodder they need to fight even harder to keep him from getting the Democratic nomination.
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