Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk says he won’t talk about race anymore after his comments last week that “we drive faster” through black communities sparked criticism from Democrats.
Kirk made the comments in an interview with the Peoria Journal-Star, when asked his thoughts on encouraging innovation in Illinois. Kirk touted his efforts to foster an “African-American entrepreneurial class,” and suggested Illinois could someday be home to a “class of African-American billionaires.”
“That would really adjust income differentials and make the diversity and outcome of the state much better so that the black community is not the one we drive faster through,” he added.
In a statement issued after Kirk’s comments were published, the senator’s spokeswoman underscored his work for the African American community.
“Anyone watching network news in Chicago is aware of the frequent killings and violence that affects various communities in the state,” said spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.
“Senator Kirk is active in fighting gang violence, keeping assault weapons of the streets, and works within the African American community to find aspiring entrepreneurs. No one can question Senator Kirk’s commitment to the African-American community.”
Kirk is seen as Republicans’ most vulnerable incumbent this cycle, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wasted little time in pouncing on the comments, calling them “offensive.”
“Panicked over his dismal reelection prospects, it appears that no bloc of Illinois voters is safe from the over-the-top and offensive rhetoric that seems to spew weekly from Mark Kirk’s mouth,” said Sadie Weiner, DSCC national press secretary.
Weiner added that Kirk owes the state a “barrel of apologies.”
On Wednesday, the senator told the Chicago Sun-Times that he’d avoid future controversy by avoiding discussions of race altogether.
“I would say that whenever a targeted member talks about race or ethnicity, it is impossible for him to get it right. So I’ll leave it at that,” Kirk said.
It wasn’t the first racially-charged comment that’s drawn Kirk criticism, however. Last month, he compared Democrats who were opposing the Senate anti-human trafficking bill to defenders of slavery in the 1850s.
And in 2013 Kirk sparked backlash with a proposal to arrest as many as 18,000 of Chicago’s Gangster Disciples to deal with the city’s crime. Chicago-area Rep. Bobby Rush called it an “upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about” and invited Kirk to tour one of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods to see the problem for himself, an invite the senator accepted.