We’re Talking About Blago Tapes … Again? | WBEZ
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On Background: WBEZ's Politics Podcast

February 9, 2018: Why Those Blago Tapes Are Still Haunting Pritzker

We’re less than six weeks to primary day, and candidates for governor made some moves that could have big consequences leading up to March 20.

  • Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker was forced to apologize for how he talked about African-American politicians on taped phone calls from 2008 between him and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. We explain what he said then and what the candidates are saying now.
  • State Rep. Jeanne Ives is defending her controversial political attack ad targeting her Republican primary opponent, incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner.

WBEZ’s politics team broke all of that down during our weekly Illinois Elections 2018 podcast. You can get the podcast delivered to you every week by subscribing here. Below are highlights.

Pritzker-Blago phone tapes don’t sound good for J.B.

Political reporter Tony Arnold: If you just start with that recorded phone call, which was made public by the Chicago Tribune this week, what you’re hearing in these phone calls is J.B. Pritzker really in adviser mode to Blagojevich. At that time, Blagojevich was appointing a new Illinois senator to replace the seat vacated by Barack Obama. And it’s interesting this conversation is even happening at all because it was well-publicized at this point in time that Blagojevich was under investigation.

Pritzker: I’m sure you thought of this one but: Jesse White. Even though I know you guys aren’t like bosom buddies or anything, it covers you on the African-American thing.

Blagojevich: Correct.

Pritzker: He’s totally, he’s totally, you know, he’s Senate material in a way that Emil Jones isn’t, if I may say.

Blagojevich: OK. ...

Pritzker: Emil’s a little more crass.


Arnold: Pritzker’s had to spend the week apologizing. He had a long, drawn-out press conference on Chicago’s West Side the day after this story was published to say that in this conversation he was “not his best self.”

Another Democrat running for governor, Daniel Biss, has said that this conversation is between two people who are unaware of what their privilege looks like.

Why the tapes spurred a backlash

Political reporter Dave McKinney: Remember the context of the times. Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader, was calling Blagojevich and weighing in [on Obama’s replacement]. Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey, the head of the Senate Democrats political operation, was doing the same thing. Everyone was trying to get in Blagojevich’s ear.

The thinking was that a departing black Senator Obama should be replaced by another black politician. That’s why Pritzker and Blagojevich were rattling off a bunch of names of prominent black politicians, weighing the pros and cons.

But the trouble is that you have two white men, Blagojevich and Pritzker, basically grading black politicians on their political viability. And to borrow Pritzker’s term, it sounds crass.

Jeanne Ives doubles down on controversial ad


McKinney: As outrageous as it is in its depictions of transgender people, of union members, of women who favor abortion rights, it’s carried some benefits for her. I guess number one would be we’re all talking about her. It also fires up her conservative base of Republicans. And this week, after an appearance at the City Club, Ives basically said, “What’s the big deal?”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.

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