Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday denounced a recent television ad from an organization opposing Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reelection because she said it features racist images and uses a likeness of her in which her skin appears darker than it is.
Lightfoot called the TV ad “the ultimate dog whistle being propagated in support” of GOP candidate for governor Darren Bailey, a state senator from Xenia. Speaking at an unrelated event, Lightfoot said the commercial “darkens” her skin in footage from a speech she gave earlier this year at the City Club of Chicago during which she declared, “It will be the summer of joy in Chicago.”
The 30-second ad warns in big, white lettering that “CHICAGO VIOLENCE IS COMING TO THE SUBURBS” and shows a montage of video surveillance and TV news footage of various crimes that occurred in Chicago, including a shooting near the site of Puerto Rican Day festivities in Humboldt Park in 2021.
“I don’t think there’s any dispute that I’m African American,” Lightfoot said Tuesday. “I’m Black and I’m very proud of that, so why do you need to blacken what I look like to send this ad out to suburban communities
The ad uses “the oldest racist tropes that there are” at a time when people need to come together to solve problems facing the city and the rest of the state, she said.
“To make the scary Black woman even blacker, to show scary Black men on TV and to say to the suburbs, i.e., the white people, ‘You don’t want this coming to your town, so vote for Darren Bailey,’ that is the height of racism and cynicism and we don’t need it anywhere — certainly not in our politics,” Lightfoot said.
The ad was created by the independent expenditure political action committee People Who Play By The Rules, a Florida-based PAC headed by right-wing radio host Dan Proft and funded by Richard Uihlein, the Lake Forest packaging magnate and conservative megadonor.
Since the ad debuted Aug. 15, People Who Play By The Rules has reported spending more than $1 million on TV ads in Chicago and other markets, according to state campaign finance records.
In an email Tuesday evening, Proft called Lightfoot’s racism allegation “an insane assertion” from a politician who is trying to deflect attention away from Chicago’s crime issues and denied the ad changed the tone of Lightfoot’s skin.
“We did nothing to her pigmentation just as we did nothing to pigmentation of our pasty blowhard of a governor,” Proft said in the statement. “The video of Lightfoot was pulled from the web from her City Club speech.”
Uihlein gave the PAC $8 million during the Republican primary, much of which was spent aiding Bailey by attacking the GOP credentials of Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, one of Bailey’s top opponents in the six-man race. While the PAC is prohibited from coordinating directly with any candidate, Uihlein also gave more than $9 million directly to Bailey’s campaign.
Since the primary, the Uline packaging supplies founder has given $20 million to Proft’s committee but nothing to Bailey’s campaign, state records show.
Despite the committee supporting Bailey’s candidacy, his campaign noted in a statement Tuesday that it has “no communication with or control” over the PAC.
Bailey spokesman Joe DeBose said Pritzker and Lightfoot have control over crime afflicting Chicago “and they should be more concerned with the people being killed and set on fire in the city.”
The ad also warns that because of Pritzker “the lawlessness of Chicago will soon be the law statewide,” a nod to a provision of the 700-page Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today law, or SAFE-T Act, which instituted a host of criminal justice reforms in Illinois.
Proponents of the legislation say the reforms were meant to create a more equitable criminal justice system while opponents think the reforms will weaken law enforcement and embolden criminals. One provision of the SAFE-T Act that’s highlighted in the ad is a measure that puts an end to cash bail in January.
According to the ad, criminal suspects will be “set free” if they’re charged with myriad violent offenses, including kidnapping and robbery. But proponents of that provision say the ad’s claim is “patently not true.”
“The ad claims that the law will ‘set free’ people charged with offenses like kidnapping and robbery — but in fact, the law allows courts to hold people accused of those offenses in custody if they pose a flight risk,” the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts said in a statement last week.
Like other major U.S. cities, Chicago’s gun violence has increased dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 but has seen reductions over the last year.
Through Sunday, Chicago’s 425 homicides were a 33% jump from the same period in 2019 when 319 people were slain, but the killings have dropped by 18% over the same time compared with last year, according to official Chicago police statistics. Shooting incidents with at least one victim shot fatally or nonfatally were down by 18% over last year, but up by 34% since 2019, the statistics show.
Gorner reported from Springfield.
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