The wealthy Democratic money-man, who financed a program former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton created to help Flint, is doing well in his campaign for Illinois governor — but records show he has a history of using black people as political pawns.
Federal law enforcement officials captured phone conversations between billionaire J.B Pritzker and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in secret wiretaps as they investigated the latter for political corruption. Most of the nearly 10-year-old discussion revolved around debating which black state politician Blagojevich should use to replace then-outgoing Sen. Barack Obama.
The 2008 conversation, unsealed in May 2017, is likely to become a topic of conversation as Pritzker’s campaign for governor shifts into overdrive. He currently has an 18 point lead in the polls over incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, according to a Victory Research poll conducted in April. But the conversations are damning — as was his role in a sketchy Flint jobs program Clinton spearheaded during the 2016 presidential election.
During one conversation, Pritzker gave the now-disgraced former governor a new name as a potential senate pick to replace Obama, who had to resign his position after winning the 2008 presidential election. Their discussion entailed hashing out which black politician would be best to fill the then-soon-to-be-open senate seat.
“I’m sure you thought of this one, but Jesse White,” Pritzker told Blagojevich, referring to the possibility of choosing Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to fill Obama’s seat. “Even though I know you guys aren’t like, you know, bosom buddies or anything, it covers you on the African-American thing.”
“(White)’s totally, he’s totally, you know, uh, he’s Senate material in a way that Emil Jones isn’t, if I may say,” Pritzker said, referring to former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. Pritzker added, “I mean, you know. He’s just — I don’t know how to say it exactly — but Emil’s a little more crass.”
Elevating White to the Senate would open up another appointment for secretary of state, a coveted position in Illinois politics, Pritzker noted.
“But if you’re forced to put an African-American in the spot, which my guess is you’re not forced to do anything, but my guess is a lot of pressure to do it. Of all the African-Americans I can think [who] are sort of like qualified and vetted — and people will say, ‘Oh, that’s, you know, that’s, that’s a pretty good pick,’ — the one [who]’s least offensive and maybe gets you the most because it gets you that secretary of state appointment is Jesse White,” Pritzker told Blagojevich.
White is the least offensive option, he said on the tape. The Pritzker Family Foundation gave $250,000 in 2012 to a charity run by White, who was the first statewide office holder to endorse Pritzker’s run for governor.
Pritzker, for his part, is campaigning in Illinois on his $100 million endowment of Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, which includes such social justice centers as the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Children and Family Justice Center. He subsequently now has the support of a dozen of the city’s 18 black aldermen, including at least 15 black state lawmakers who endorsed him.
Clinton faced a similar situation during her 2016 presidential campaign and knew black voters were a real weak spot in the Sanders coalition. She also knew no Democrat can win without these voters — most black Democrats were Clinton supporters. Clinton did everything she could to own the toxic water issue in Flint during the Michigan primary election. She pushed the Flint Water Initiative shortly after the crisis came to the fore in March 2016.
Conservatives called the move a political ploy; but Chelsea Clinton, who collaborated on the project in March 2016, pushed back against accusations the jobs program was meant to help her mother’s presidential campaign. Sanders, an Independent and self-described socialist, ultimately won Michigan but lost Flint to Clinton.
The initiative received raved reviews from Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who attended the March press conference.
Clinton “came to Flint when the water crisis hit,” Weaver told fellow Democrats in July 2016 during a speech at the Wells Fargo Arena. “She joined with our community groups and our churches. Hillary said, ‘I will do everything I can to help you get back up and to help you get your strength,'” Flint’s mayor added.
The program’s management is shrouded in mystery, but The Daily Caller News Foundation managed to track down one of its organizers in Flint.
Dartanyan Jamerson, director of Mott Community College’s Workforce Development Department, assured TheDCNF the program was a success, but he has not provided documentation supporting his assertion. Neither Clinton nor Pritzker have responded to repeated requests for comment from TheDCNF regarding the effectiveness of the initiative.
Pritzker kickstarted the Flint Water Works Initiative with a $500,000 donation shortly after the secretary of state announced the project in March 2016. The money was eventually directed toward the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, which received more than $22 million in contributions and grants in 2016 — $3 million in 2015 — according to the charity’s tax documents.
Mott Community College was then tasked with using the donation to train nearly 100 of the city’s 10,000 unemployed. Flint, a mostly black Michigan town, was sent sprawling in 2014 after state officials switched the city’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The switch resulted in an elevated level of lead in the town’s drinking water, 2016 reports revealed.
Clinton championed the program during the 2016 presidential election while fending off a surging candidacy from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Conservatives thought the project was a political ploy designed to give Clinton a win in Flint.
The town’s citizens have been struggling for several years to bring back their city, which was once a thriving auto manufacturing hub. State officials and local residents have also been unable to get the small, mostly black town’s water system up and running after lead contaminated its water supply. High levels of lead are believed to be a significant contributing factor to outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint.
Officials switched the small eastern Michigan city’s water supply in 2014 to the Flint River in a bid to save money. But the state applied the wrong regulations and standards for drinking water, which ultimately resulted in corroded pipes. The lead leaching did not come to the fore until significant levels of contamination were present in the water supply, a pair of scientific studies showed. A federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016.
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