CHICAGO — The investigation that sent former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison is still causing political problems for Democrats, a decade after the FBI began secretly recording his profanity-laced conversations.
Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, a leading candidate for governor, is the latest forced to do damage control. He's heard on newly released wiretaps making disparaging comments about prominent Chicago African-Americans in a 2008 call with Blagojevich about filling a vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Pritzker, the pick of many in the Democratic establishment, apologized Tuesday at a news conference with several African-American supporters at his side. On Wednesday, his campaign touted an endorsement from Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, who said Pritzker is "a leader who has been there for our communities."
But the fallout has been harsh. A well-known African-American minister rescinded an invitation for Pritzker to speak at his church. Pritzker's rivals in the March 20 primary said he's now unelectable, and a Pritzker campaign field organizer publicly resigned over the comments.
On the recordings, Pritzker tells Blagojevich that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is the "least offensive" of the African-Americans being considered for Barack Obama's spot in the Senate. He also says former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones is too "crass" to be "Senate material."
Jones, who's supporting businessman Chris Kennedy in the primary, refused to accept Pritzker's apology. His response prompted the Chicago Sun-Times to put Jones' boldfaced message to Pritzker on the newspaper's front page: "Shove it up your crass."
The previously unreleased wiretap recordings were published Monday by the Chicago Tribune and quickly roiled the race.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner already has been attacking Pritzker in campaign ads that feature the earlier audio. Invoking Blagojevich is a strategy Rauner and others have used successfully before.
Even Democrats in safe political territory have seen their careers tainted. Jesse Jackson Jr. became a congressman at 30 and was often mentioned as a possible candidate for Chicago mayor until his name came up in the Blagojevich investigation.
Jackson, son of the civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson, acknowledged he was the subject of a congressional ethics inquiry for his role in trying to succeed Obama in the Senate. He wasn't charged criminally in the case, though years later he pleaded guilty to using campaign funds for personal items including a Rolex.
Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 on charges that included trying to trade Obama's Senate seat for campaign cash. He's serving a 14-year prison term.