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Democratic Gubernatorial candidates J.B. Pritzker (right) and Ameya Pawar at the Whitney Young High School debate Wednesday. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Dem candidates for governor on best behavior at Whitney Young debate

SHARE Dem candidates for governor on best behavior at Whitney Young debate
SHARE Dem candidates for governor on best behavior at Whitney Young debate

A day after the two Democratic primary frontrunners bickered over attendance at a forum, all seven candidates for governor kept things civil at a debate hosted by Whitney Young Magnet High School on Wednesday evening on the city’s Near West Side.

When billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker couldn’t attend a Tuesday forum held at Northern Illinois University, his campaign put out a statement saying his opponents had nixed Pritzker’s running mate Julianna Stratton from debating in his place.

NIU organizers had actually made the decision, leading members of business and nonprofit leader Chris Kennedy’s camp to decry Pritzker’s claim as “petty and insulting.”

The hatchet had apparently been buried by Wednesday evening at Whitney Young, where the candidates agreed on a wide swath of issues while tackling questions from students. School officials touted it as the first student-run gubernatorial debate in the country.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (9th) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) were in lock-step with Pritzker and Kennedy in calling for a progressive income tax, changing the funding formula for Chicago Public Schools, raising the minimum wage, reinstating funding for mental health facilities, protecting DACA recipients and banning assault weapons.

Bob Daiber, regional superintendent of schools in downstate Madison County; anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman; and small-business owner Alex Paterakis joined the other candidates in hammering Gov. Bruce Rauner as a crony of President Donald Trump pandering to corporate interests.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy waves to an audience member as Tio Hardiman and Alex Paterakis look on during the debate at Whitney Young High School on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy waves to an audience member as Tio Hardiman and Alex Paterakis look on during the debate at Whitney Young High School on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

“People like our current governor and president go to rural parts of the state and say that people in Chicago are getting more than their fair share. They want to divide us that way,” Pawar said.

The only time Pritzker called out Kennedy by name was to agree with him that the state should increase investment in Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab to improve the state’s renewable energy prospects.

Pritzker claimed to stand out from the field due to his “leadership and vision,” touting his time at the helm of tech incubator 1871 and his championing of early childhood education and school lunch programs.

Biss extolled his experience in building coalitions in the state Senate to help pass 80 bills he sponsored since being elected.

Kennedy got the biggest laugh of the night after a pint-sized eighth-grader named Tova Love Kaplan asked a long-winded, complex question about how candidates would “alleviate the burden” of skyrocketing college tuition costs facing prospective students.

“Who raised that kid? What did you eat?” he asked the forward-thinking 13-year-old. For his part, Kennedy said he would support fully funding state universities.

Kennedy kept the comedy going in his closing statement, citing a statistic that the only state seeing a greater exodus of millennial residents than Illinois is New Jersey.

“And who the hell wants to live in New Jersey?” he quipped.

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