J.B. Pritzker’s Campaign in Turmoil Just Months After Gubernatorial Announcement

PC: Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune

J.B. Pritzker announced he was running for governor in April. Since then his campaign has had very little to celebrate, and has taken some major blows, which call into question Pritzker’s character and ability to lead.

Shortly after he announced, news broke that Pritzker was using shady tactics to save thousands of dollars on his property taxes, likely to help fund his campaign. He saved $230,000 in property tax breaks and refunds, on a multimillion dollar mansion he bought and let fall into a state of disrepair, next door to the mansion he was already living in with his family.

A few weeks later, the Chicago Tribune released FBI wiretaps of conversations between Pritzker and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich, is currently doing 14 years in federal prison for attempting to sell Barrack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Pritzker’s longstanding relationship with the corrupt governor was never a secret, but the newly released audio reveals he was playing along with Blagojevich, and trying to use him to further his own political career.

On the recordings, Blagojevich and Pritzker can be heard discussing potential candidates to fill Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, and how it might benefit the governor politically.

Previously released audio from the 2010 trial featured a call between Blagojevich and then-advisor Doug Scofield. Pritzker was on Blagojevich’s short list for the vacated Senate seat, and he believed he could get a high-paying job as the leader of a private foundation funded by Pritzker if he appointed him.

Blagojevich said Pritzker could easily raise “10, 15, 20 million dollars.”

“I betcha J.B. can raise me money like that,” Blagojevich said. “If I can get J.B. to do somethin’ like that, is it worth, ah, givin’ him the Senate seat? Incidentally, he, he asked me for it. Don’t repeat that.”

With the release of the new audio, it turns out Prtizker wasn’t really interested in the Senate seat. When it came up, he asked Blagojevich to consider appointing him state treasurer instead.

“Ooh, interesting,” Blagojevich responded. “Let’s think about that. You interested in that?”

“Yeah,” Pritzker answered, “that’s the one I would want.”

Blagojevich also told Pritzker attorney general might be another option, if the state treasurer position didn’t work out. Blagojevich was still considering appointing current AG Lisa Madigan to the Senate, which would leave an opening for AG. Pritzker indicated he might be interested in that as well.

Pritzker’s campaign has tried distancing themselves from Blagojevich and the illegal activity that landed him in prison.

“There was nothing untoward about J.B. Pritzker’s conversations and throughout his career he has considered different ways he could serve the people of Illinois. The record is clear that Rod Blagojevich was having dozens of conversations with both elected officials and private citizens, including members of President Obama’s transition team, which is why he is currently in prison. J.B. has been a proud supporter of hundreds of progressive and Democratic leaders and organizations in Illinois and across the country, especially those who have been supporters of early childhood education,” said campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen.

It’s a difficult argument to make, considering their public relationship goes back two decades. Blagojevich has been one of Pritzker’s greatest political ally’s, standing behind him even when it wasn’t glamorous or popular. After Pritzker lost his congressional race in 1988, Blagojevich told the Chicago Tribune,

“We are going to hear a lot more from J.B. Pritzker, because ultimately, in the long haul, quality will emerge, (as will) J.B.’s knowledge of issues and his commitment to those issues. This was a good first start and I think J.B. has a tremendous future. Remember, Abraham Lincoln didn’t win his first election and Mario Cuomo lost several races before he got elected. For J.B., this is only the beginning,”

Pritzker has repaid Blagojevich’s undying loyalty and political favors with financial gifts. The Pritzker family donated at least $140,000 to Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaigns between 2002 and 2006. And in 2006, Pritzker donated $500,000 to help Governor Blagojevich rebuild a fire-damaged Pilgrim Baptist Church. He was named chief fundraiser for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center later that year.

Pritzker was looking for the ultimate political favor in asking the governor for the state treasurer appointment. Based on their conversations, it seemed that the governor was committed to finding Pritzker a suitable position in the Illinois government. It would have been difficult for him to say no to somebody that had his back financially for many years.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered by Pritzker and his campaign. Just a few months in, Pritzker is already looking like the ultimate insider, with his hands in places that should be cause for concern. He’s losing the trust of voters in Illinois, and it’s only a matter of time before more of his corrupt background becomes clear.