Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is ducking questions about his campaign’s promotion of a controversial article comparing black Republican voters to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.
Quinn found himself engulfed in controversy on Wednesday after the Washington Free Beacon revealed that his campaign had urged backers several times via Twitter to read the article. The tweets were later deleted after some in the Jewish community expressed outrage.
Now Jewish leaders are calling on Quinn to publicly distance himself from the controversy and apologize to both the Jewish and black communities.
The controversy hinges on the Quinn campaign’s promotion of a Chicago Sun Times article by writer Neil Steinberg that compared black supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis against their brethren.
"As a general rule, individuals will sell out the interests of their groups in return for personal benefit," Steinberg wrote in his column, which claimed that Rauner is buying off the black community and its leaders. "It isn’t just a black thing. Jews collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, helping them to round up their own people in the hopes they’d be the last to go."
The Quinn campaign then tweeted—and later deleted—several messages praising the piece and urging backers to read it.
Quinn is scheduled Thursday night to be the "guest of honor" at an even honoring the victims of the Holocaust, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by the Free Beacon.
The event, which is being organized by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, will feature Quinn as well as a discussion about Polish efforts to save Jews from the Nazis.
One Chicago-based Jewish community leader who learned of the event expressed outrage when approached by the Free Beacon.
"I find it absolutely outrageous that Pat Quinn thinks he can diminish Holocaust victims for political gain one day and then honor their memory the next," said the source, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. "Governor Quinn needs to clearly state an apology for these tweets during tonight's event."
Jewish leaders, black community members, and Illinois political insiders all expressed outrage at what they described as the Quinn campaign’s callous behavior.
Calls to the Quinn campaign on Wednesday and Thursday were not returned.
On Wednesday afternoon, following publication of the initial report, a staffer in Quinn’s office told the Free Beacon that its questions about the tweets could not be answered because every member of the communications team was "in a meeting."
When phoned again on Wednesday, a Quinn staffer told the Free Beacon that the entire communications team was "in a meeting currently." He could not provide further information because "I just answer the phones."
Jewish leaders say that Quinn must publicly apologize for the incident.
"We’re coming up on Holocaust memorial day" this weekend, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which works to combat anti-Semitism. "What a desecration of their [Holocaust victims’] memory."
"The governor needs to come out with a formal statement," Cooper said. "It’s just an outrage."
"What an incredible insult to the black community," Cooper said, adding that "everyone in this food chain" must be held accountable.
Chicago Sun Times writer Steinberg denied that he compared Rauner supporters to Jewish Nazi collaborators when approached by the Free Beacon.
"I said that there are always individuals willing to sell out their own people for personal benefit," Steinberg said via e-email. "I wasn't speaking of black Republicans, such as there might be, but black Chicago leaders who endorse Rauner. I mentioned Jews in World War II who collaborated with the Nazis, not to equate the two, but because I'm Jewish, and I didn't want African American readers to think I was criticizing them without also being willing to point out something unsavory about my own people."
"The fact that a few of the lesser rings of the right wing echo chamber hell chose to vibrate about this at the moment is of no concern to me," Steinberg added. "They'll find something else to distort by lunch. Thanks for asking."
Republican National Committee spokesman Raffi Williams said that the Quinn campaign is promoting such material in order to avoid a real debate with Rauner and other Republicans.
"Quinn, like all 2014 Democrats, has nothing but failed policies to run on. Knowing he cannot possibly win an election by debating his record he is resorting to same tactics my four-year-old nephew does when he is losing an argument—he kicks, screams and calls people names," Williams said. "It is beyond time for Democrats to stop behaving like children and start working with Republicans on job creation, school choice, and energy independence."