CHICAGO - Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday accused a political action committee of darkening her skin in an anti-Gov. J.B. Pritzker TV ad, a claim the PAC — led by conservative radio host Dan Proft and fueled by GOP mega donor Dick Uihlein’s millions — is denying.
The latest 30-second ad paid for by the People Who Play By the Rules begins with a video of an April City Club of Chicago speech in which the Chicago mayor says, "It will be the summer of joy in Chicago."
It then pans to videos of violence, including shootings and carjackings — and the warning: "Thanks to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the lawlessness of Chicago will soon be the law statewide."
Lightfoot spotted the ad in Politico’s Illinois Playbook last week and believed her skin was darkened, according to a Lightfoot campaign spokeswoman.
"News flash. I’m Black and I’m proud. Everyone knows it. No need to use cheap tricks to darken my skin and try to scare voters with false narratives about Chicago," Lightfoot said in a statement on Tuesday.
Proft told the Sun-Times in a text statement that Lightfoot’s accusation was "an insane assertion — and par for the course from inveterate race hustlers like Lightfoot and Pritzker who are trying to misdirect attention away from the fact that she has turned the city over to repeat, violent predators and he aims to do the same statewide with his elimination of cash bail."
In a more pointed element of a lengthy statement, Proft said, "We did nothing to her pigmentation just as we did nothing to [the] pigmentation of our pasty blowhard of a governor."
Proft said the video was pulled from her City Club of Chicago speech, although side by side comparisons with videos of the speech on YouTube appear to show the mayor’s skin darker in the brief snippet used in the TV ad.
Pritzker’s campaign said GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey should demand that "his allies" take the ad off the air.
"It is disappointing but unsurprising to see Republicans relying on dangerous dog whistles to deflect from their own miserable records," Pritzker spokeswoman Natalie Edelstein said. "Instead of insulting elected officials and Illinois’ economic engine, members of the GOP ought to figure out why they have to keep apologizing for everything that comes out of their mouths."
The PAC has spent $400,000 on the Chicago TV ad buy, with another $100,000 for a statewide radio ad with the same talking points.
The ad is intended to criticize the SAFE-T Act, a criminal justice package that Pritzker signed into law in an attempt to address longstanding public safety issues and police distrust. Panned by Republicans for its provision to end cash bail, it goes into effect next year.
Lightfoot accused "Bailey and his ilk" of using "dog-whistle tactics."
"Darren Bailey says he wants to represent the whole state? Well then, enough of these dog-whistle tactics," Lightfoot said in a statement. "He cannot be the governor of this great state by using racist tropes against Black Chicago. Real leadership addresses the root causes of violence and proposes solutions that bring people together. Darren Bailey and his ilk have proven once again he’s not the man for the job."
The ad notably does not mention Bailey by name, despite Uihlein being one of Bailey’s top supporters in the primary, having contributed $9 million directly to his campaign between February and March.
But the funding strategy changed in July, when Uihlein instead gave money in two contributions of a combined $20 million to the PAC. It means that the cash strapped Bailey campaign is relying on messaging from the PAC, even if it’s in ads the Republican nominee has no legal control over and don’t even mention his name.
Bailey’s campaign had just $363,918.42 cash on hand at the end of a required filing period on June 30, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. But Bailey has received thousands in contributions since, including a $50,000 contribution from businessman and former GOP congressional candidate Vincent Kolber. Still, it’s nowhere near the millions he received during the primary, directly from Uihlein.
Bailey’s campaign, which has not yet begun airing TV ads with just 77 days until the general election, said they have had no communication with Proft’s political action committee, as required by federal law.
"We have no communication with or control over this PAC, but Pritzker and Lightfoot have control over the skyrocketing crime in Chicago, and they should be more concerned with the people being killed and set on fire in the city," Bailey spokesman Joe DeBose said in a statement. "Darren Bailey’s focus is making Illinois safe and affordable for everyone."