Zopp focuses on Duckworth in U.S. Senate race

SHARE Zopp focuses on Duckworth in U.S. Senate race
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U.S. Senate Democratic primary candidates, from left, Andrea Zopp, Tammy Duckworth and Napoleon Harris met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday afternoon. Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Former Chicago Urban League head Andrea Zopp went after primary rival U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth on Tuesday at a Sun-Times Editorial Board meeting, as Duckworth tried to keep her focus on Republican Senator Mark Kirk.

The Democratic primary race’s third candidate state Sen. Napoleon Harris — the former NFL linebacker turned pizza franchise owner – had little to say about his opponents or Kirk during the 72-minute three-way conversation in Chicago.

Duckworth and Zopp relied heavily on their biographies — Duckworth as a wounded veteran turned congresswoman and Zopp as a “child of opportunity” who rose up to become a successful lawyer and leader – to explain why they would be a better senator.

Zopp — who has largely focused her campaign in northern Illinois — credited her 13 years as a prosecutor for the Cook County State’s Attorney in working to get guns off the streets.

She attacked Duckworth’s record on gun control in Congress.

Congress hasn’t moved on any major gun legislation. President Barack Obama in January sought to fill the void by announcing his own executive actions on guns.

Duckworth shot back at Zopp’s claims that she hasn’t put her name on enough gun bills: “I would have to say that she is misrepresenting the situation. The bottom line is there are a lot of bills in Congress and many of them have no chance because they’re completely partisan,” Duckworth said. “I have to really focus my work on bipartisan legislation that has a chance of passing.”

Zopp once again defended her action as a Chicago Public Schools board member under indicted CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, saying the decision to close schools has led to better performing schools.

“CPS was not delivering the education that every student deserved,” Zopp said.

On the no-bid contract that led to an investigation into Byrd-Bennett, Zopp said board members relied on Byrd-Bennett’s judgment, and were wrong.

“It so happened that she was a criminal and engaging in criminal conduct from the day she walked in the door,” Zopp said. “…I relied on her judgment and what I thought was her expertise and what I thought was her disinterested position, and I was wrong. As were all of us who relied on her.”

In the past, Duckworth’s campaign has criticized Zopp for her time as general counsel and corporate secretary at Sears for a bit more than two years, ending in 2005, where Zopp cashed out on stock options awarded by the company as the company struggled.


Share Events on The CubeOn Tuesday, Zopp defended her role at Sears, saying she pushed for increased opportunities to increase diversity at the corporate level. She denied reports that “thousands” were laid off, although it’s been reported that about 28,000 people were laid off.

“As part of that merger [with K-Mart], as in many others, we had to lay off some individuals. What I did as the general counsel was work to make sure that those individuals got the benefits that they were entitled to, got the support that they were entitled to, and that we minimized the impact of that merger,” Zopp said. “And it wasn’t thousands — and I don’t remember the exact number but it doesn’t matter. Everyone was hard and difficult.”

On Tuesday, Duckworth was more focused on Kirk, criticizing the GOP incumbent for everything from “remaining silent” on the U.S. Supreme Court nomination, voting against allowing Illinois students to refinance student loans and voting “to support large corporations.”

A week after Obama told Illinois lawmakers of the need for civility and compromise, the concept of bipartisanship was on the minds of the candidates.

“If I can work in a bipartisan way with Peter Roskam to go after waste in Social Security, if I can work with Republicans in a Republican-controlled House to pass a spending reform in the Department of Defense, that’s how we’re going to get the funds to pay for things that I feel so passionately about, like education and saving Medicare and Social Security,” Duckworth said.

Harris talked of his pride in passing “Rocky’s Law,” which requires all high school districts in the state to pay catastrophic injury insurance for collegiate athletes after a football player — Robbins native Rocky Clark — became paralyzed.

“I worked across the aisle with state Sen. [Dave] Syverson, a Republican senator from Rockford, who really let me know, I was just trying to do it, and he let me know and said ‘You can’t do it like that. These are some concerns that we have on the other side of the aisle.’ And he brought it to my attention. We worked on it in a bipartisan fashion and got the bill passed,” Harris said.

Harris stuck to his message, citing his record in advocating for jobs and procurement opportunities for minorities, women and veteran-owned businesses.

Harris — who only reported $100 in campaign contributions last year — hasn’t held any major campaign events outside of Chicago and the suburbs but said he’s been traveling statewide “listening to the views, listening to the issues.”

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