At a February 6 event, J.B. Pritzker, flanked by African-American supporters, apologizes for comments he made in a phone conversation with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. Credit: Marcus DiPaola

Do you think that the feds are listening to us right now?

[Chuckles] I assume you’re . . . eh . . . you’re kidding . . .

All right, so the Irish try to replace the Irish when somebody retires, there’s always talk about replacing a woman in public office with a woman. In the context of race politics what’s your take on thinking that way now, after what you’ve gone through with the release of the wiretap?

Well, I mean, let’s say this. Politicians like to play identity politics in campaigns only often to leave communities behind after they’ve been elected. African-Americans are critical to electing Democrats across the country, but they’re often left out after someone gets elected. We’ve gotta remember that. This is not the kind of campaign I’m running. That’s not the kind of administration I intend to build. There are black staff members at all levels of this campaign. They’re helping guide us forward, they’re going to be part of this campaign throughout the general election and will help build a cabinet, an administration that reflects the diversity of the state. And I think you know I have a running mate in state representative Juliana Stratton who’s a fierce leader in the African-American community, and together we’ve crafted a number of policy proposals in collaboration with the community, and with many other communities. And we intend to govern the state that way, making sure that we’re very inclusive of a lot of different voices.

Why do you think it was OK to talk about black politicians in those terms at the time you were recorded?

My intentions on that call were to advocate for Secretary of State Jesse White to be named our senator. I stand by that fact, that Jesse White would have made a great United States senator for Illinois. I’ve known him for over 35 years. He sort of defines public service, and he’s a real statesman. My intentions, nevertheless, don’t excuse the words that I used, the word choices I made-and the words that I chose not to push back on, that were spoken on the call-don’t reflect the commitment that I feel towards removing systemic barriers and increasing opportunities for people of color. I’ve spent a lifetime standing up for and with the African-American community, and I feel very sorry that I was using language that can be and often is used to, you know, limit the potential of African-Americans. And it was wrong. I didn’t intend it, but it happened, it was wrong. And when I’m wrong I say I’m wrong, and I take responsibility for it.

What are you doing to change? Will you seek counseling?

Well, there’s a long history of the African-American community providing

really important support for Democrats, and ignoring African-Americans I think is wrong. To me, you know, it’s important to recognize that the kind of administration that I’ll build, the kind of policies I’ll put in place will be very good for the African-American community. And despite the mistake and the regret that I have over that mistake from ten years ago, my experience over a lifetime doing big things to help the community-like expanding the school breakfast program that President Obama put in place and providing early childhood education; working to change the law to expand and make universal preschool and child care for African-American children; and the fact that I ran the Illinois Human Rights Commission, the state’s civil rights court, and turned it around so people could get justice; and the fact that I supported in a major way [Northwestern’s] Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Children and Family Justice Center, both of which serve people who have been wrongly incarcerated or people who need representation when they’ve been caught up in the either the juvenile justice system or the criminal justice system more broadly-I think all of those things are demonstrations of a lifetime of commitment on my part. And I think you know I’m certainly-I think one very important thing is just recognizing that that call ten years ago was a mistake and wrong and that I’m apologizing and have apologized for it.

Why do you think millennials-especially African-American millennials-should support you?

I’m glad you asked that, Mark. I’ve spent my life fighting to advance the values of social and economic justice, and equality, and inclusion. My record shows that. There’s no other candidate with a record as strong and long as mine is in doing exactly that-living up to those values of social and economic justice. I was raised in a home where we were taught not just the importance of living up to those values but the practice of them. That’s what I’ve tried to do during my life. My parents passed away a long time ago, but those values are carried on in me every day.

In this campaign I’ve put forward real plans to make a difference and create opportunity among African-American millennials and young people all across this state. We need to make college more affordable and bring investment into our community colleges, and higher-education institutions need to thrive. We’ve gotta bring jobs to the state and raise the minimum wage, raise wages for everybody in the state. We need to expand access to capital for small businesses in the African-American community and draw businesses big and small to Illinois, ensuring that they hire locally. I’m a big believer that if we create profits in the African-American community, create businesses that are owned by people who live in the community, that we keep the capital and the wealth in the community and thereby we can build up prosperity in the community. That’s something hugely important to me.

I’ll give you an example of one of the ways in which we’ll do that. I mean, of course I put forward a plan for small business development in the African-American community but I also believe we need to legalize marijuana, change the drug laws, and make sure there are real opportunities for African-American entrepreneurs to become owners of dispensaries, and owners of production facilities, and you know, that’s just a portion of my plan to legalize marijuana. I also think that there’s a big opportunity for us to direct much of the procurement that the state does to make sure that in black communities people have real opportunity to get those contracts and bring real dollars into the community. You’ve gotta appoint people to positions where procurement is important-people from the African-American community, I think-to make sure that that happens. But also you’ve gotta have a governor like me who cares deeply about doing that, and so I will. And you know the African-American community and so many communities in Illinois are under attack by a racist and bigoted, misogynistic president, and I’m someone who’s gonna stand up to Donald Trump and to protect communities in Illinois that are under attack by him.

I know that I’m a white guy, but I live on the south side, in Pullman. Will you do anything to rebuild the south side? Can we talk about that another time, J.B.?

Of course, Mark, it’s good to talk to you.