Democratic governor candidate Pritzker wins major teacher union endorsement

J.B. Pritzker on Saturday won the backing of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the largest public employees union to issue an endorsement so far in the Democratic governor primary.

The endorsement by the executive board of the 100,000-member union represented a further coalescing of core elements of the Democratic Party behind the candidacy of Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and an investor and entrepreneur.

ITF President Dan Montgomery said Pritzker’s historical support for education and vow to back organized labor and a graduated income tax were important factors in the endorsement, which he said came after months of candidate interviews and questionnaire reviews.

Montgomery said that unlike Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has a history of opposing organized labor, particularly teachers unions, “J.B. respects workers and wants to work together to find solutions to our state’s problems.”

“While Rauner made deep cuts and caused a crisis, J.B. believes that to increase funding for our schools and services fairly, Illinois needs a progressive income tax where the wealthy pay at a higher rate than those who can least afford it,” Montgomery said in a statement.

The IFT endorsement came a day after Pritzker announced the support of Democratic U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. Pritzker previously received the backing of the statewide Democratic candidates who are seeking re-election next year, as well as the state AFL-CIO, organized labor’s umbrella organization, along with 30 individual unions.

Pritzker also has the backing of the Cook County Democratic organization and the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association.

Those endorsements give Pritzker a substantial advantage in political momentum and organizing over his rivals for the Democratic nomination, including state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, businessman Chris Kennedy of the iconic Massachusetts political family, Downstate regional school superintendent Bob Daiber and Chicago activist Tio Hardiman.

In addition, Pritzker is self-funding his candidacy and has pumped $35.2 million of his own money in his campaign — a move that allows organized labor to focus on spending money to retain a Democratic-controlled legislature.

The Saturday endorsement came as Pritzker, Kennedy, Biss and Hardiman appeared at a downtown forum held by the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance, representing more than 40 groups. The candidates fielded a variety of questions, including addressing the issue of sexual harassment involving politicians throughout the country and women’s empowerment.

“This is a moment of a rising women’s movement,” said Biss, who also noted that during the forum, “you’ve got four guys wearing suits and ties on this stage.”

“I’m not proud of that, but it’s a sign of a system of oppression embedded in our government, our society. It’s a sign of a patriarchy that is powerful and strong and it’s time for a new politics to upend that power balance,” said Biss, who vowed to name women to a majority of positions on his cabinet if elected.

Kennedy said he was “very proud of my track record” of promoting women during his various tenures as heading the Merchandise Mart and while chairing the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

“When you have a leadership team that looks like that, you remove sexual harassment because it’s a clear indication of the tone of the top,” Kennedy said.

Pritzker said the issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence are only now receiving significant attention because “we don’t have enough leadership from women, who are, in fact, importantly going to change the face of this nation. It has started, but it is long from over that women should take power.”

All of the candidates said they had never signed non-disclosure agreements regarding legal settlements of sexual harassment issues in the workplace.

The winner of the March 20 Democratic primary will take on the winner of the Republican primary, which pits Rauner and state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton.

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