As Rep. Tammy Duckworth kept her eye on defeating Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, former Chicago Urban League head Andrea Zopp painted Duckworth as an all talk, no action politician during a televised debate Friday night.
Zopp, Duckworth and State Rep. Napoleon Harris face each other in the March 15 primary, where they are seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat Kirk now holds. Friday marked the trio’s last debate; it was shown on ABC-7.
The jabs came quickly from Zopp, who came prepared to criticize Duckworth on everything from her record in Congress to the 12 weeks she took for her maternity leave.
“Missing votes is bad, but worse is not doing anything. She’s done very little in her time in Congress,” Zopp said after Duckworth acknowledged she missed votes in 2014 while on maternity leave.
Besides taking questions from journalists, candidates also were allowed to ask a question of each opponent. Harris asked Zopp whether voters can trust her after her stint on the Chicago Public School board; Zopp served on the board when it voted to close 50 schools.
Zopp questioned Duckworth about what Zopp said was the congresswoman’s refusal to respond to requests for debates by African-American radio stations.
“We’re debating now and we have debated at least a couple of times already in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been spending the rest of the time . . . going out and listening to constituents,” Duckworth said.
Zopp shot back that “those editorial board meetings were not debates” — referring to meetings at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune that all three have attended.
“The voters in the African-American community want to hear from you about the issues,” Zopp said. “Why will you not debate?”
Duckworth has largely focused her Senate campaign on her track record in Congress, and her years in the military and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The veteran, who lost both legs while co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, became teary in talking of her fight to reduce the nation’s epidemic of homeless veterans.
“Veterans are my life’s work. I didn’t come home from Iraq, I was carried out,” Duckworth said. “I will spend the rest of my life fighting veterans issues and we are all dishonored when a veteran must lay down his head on the very streets he defended.”
Duckworth has peppered debates with attacks on Kirk and continued that strategy on Friday.
“Mark Kirk has been wrong on every issue of national security,” Duckworth said, adding that Kirk is working to “throw people onto the streets with no health care,” for continuing to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Zopp, a former federal and criminal prosecutor, touts her experience in criminal justice and education. And Harris, a former NFL linebacker who played at Northwestern, has said his tenure in Springfield has taught him how to work across the aisle. Harris has also pushed for education reform to help fix the state’s funding problems that are affecting students across the state.
“Education here in Illinois is deplorable,” Harris said. “We need to invest resources in our education system.”
Panelist Charles Thomas, of ABC, threw a zinger at the challengers: Could each candidate list something Kirk has done right since taking his seat?
Harris paused for a couple of seconds, then said he couldn’t think of “anything that he has done well.”
Duckworth credited Kirk for his support of marriage equality, but attacked his record of voting to cut Pell grants.
Zopp countered Duckworth, saying the congresswoman has changed her mind on supporting gay marriage. Duckworth didn’t support gay marriage when she ran in 2006, but was among those in the Illinois congressional delegation to later write letters urging the state Legislature to call the marriage equality bill for a vote.
“The important thing about leadership is providing consistent leadership,” Zopp said.
The debate was sponsored by ABC, the League of Women Voters of Illinois, Univision Chicago and the Illinois Broadcasters Association.