Democratic gubernatorial candidates participated in a forum Monday afternoon where Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss tried to distinguish themselves as the best choice for progressive voters who don’t want to support front-runner J.B. Pritzker.

Chicago-area students asked the questions, which helped keep the WTTW-moderated forum civil, but the discussion heated up on the last question, when candidates were asked to say what makes them different.

Biss answered that he’s the only contender who’s not from the upper class. Kennedy said he’s the only candidate who’s not cozy with the Democratic establishment.

“This election … is a question of whether in this era of Trump and Rauner, we should as Democrats go for our own inexperienced billionaire, or go with a middle-class progressive,” Biss said.

He made that attack more direct in a press conference after the forum, calling out Kennedy and Pritzker by name as inexperienced candidates trying to do buy their way into office.

Kennedy criticized Biss as a “career politician” after the forum, attacking him for taking donations from Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who recently fired a top aide for making “unwanted advances” with a political consultant.


Kennedy’s comments came minutes after the Biss campaign released a statement that called for Madigan to step down as chair of the Democratic party in Illinois.

Asked what else he wanted Biss to do, Kennedy said he should have been calling for Madigan to resign from the position last week. “To be part of the Springfield elite, to be a part of that system, and to promise change, I don’t think that’s possible,” he said.

Both candidates clarified that they are not necessarily calling for Madigan to step down as speaker.

“We’ve seen now days of evidence of evasion, dodging the question, trying to hide the problem instead of solve the problem. It’s time for him to step down,” Biss said.

During the televised part of the forum, students asked questions about education, marijuana policy, gun control and budgeting. Candidates Robert Marshall, Tio Hardiman, and Bob Daiber, who are all polling well below 5 percent, were given roughly equal time by moderators, for which they were thankful.

Pritzker thanked the students, who were affiliated with the Mikva Challenge, for their serious questions. On the Madigan controversy, Pritzker said there’s more that needs to be done, repeating that it took too long for Madigan to act.

Hardiman, asked by a student what he would do to balance the state budget, joked that if all else failed he’d ask Pritzker to lend the state some money.

Kennedy and Biss attacked Pritzker for not participating in a now-canceled downstate debate that would have been hosted by WCIA 3. They both said it’s unfortunate that Pritzker can directly reach voters with his well-funded campaign to get his message out while avoiding public forums.