Dem candidates for governor focus on women’s issues at UIC forum

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Daniel Biss (left), Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker at a forum on women's issues Thursday night at UIC. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

The top five Democratic candidates for governor — all men — squared off in a forum focused on women’s issues Thursday night at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Campaign financing and House Speaker Michael Madigan proved to be divisive points for the Democratic hopefuls in a debate last week.

But at the forum hosted by a new political action committee called She Votes Illinois, the candidates largely shared common ground on topics of domestic violence, pay equity and sexual harassment — a problem highlighted in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and one that has spurred calls for action in the State Capitol.

“I’ve been in the Legislature since 2011, and I have not believed what I have seen in that building,” said state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston. “I couldn’t believe the conduct. I’ve done my best to support women who are marginalized, but I know I have not done enough. We all need to ask ourselves how we can do more to prevent it.”

Billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker, viewed as the frontrunner, called it a “no-brainer” to institute training courses for Capitol workers and better mechanisms for reporting harassment in Springfield.

“We need to say, ‘I believe you’ when victims of assault come forward,” he said.

Business leader Chris Kennedy touched on the Weinstein controversy.

“You have a leader of Hollywood, a movie business that in some ways forms our views of who we are as Americans, who is a serial rapist,” Kennedy said. “Some state’s got to be first, to rise to the occasion to end a culture of violence. This isn’t going to be me. It’s going to be the powerful women I surround myself with.”

Anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman — the only minority candidate — faced the most pointed question of the night when the moderator asked him to address his 1999 domestic violence arrest involving his wife, for which charges later were dropped.

“I was expecting that to come up and I didn’t want to duck the issue. … I had one stumble in my life and I picked myself up,” Hardiman said. “I have been a protector all my life and I plan to make sure we raise the bar for women here.”

Biss touted his work helping to pass the controversial House Bill 40, which ensures Illinois will allow abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“I was fighting tooth and nail to make sure we got those votes,” Biss said.

Downstate schools superintendent Bob Daiber was the only candidate to describe himself as pro-life, but he said he supports HB40. He also emphasized the need to make transgender students feel safe.

“Every person should feel comfortable wherever they are. I work with students and their families in my district to ensure that.”

Pritzker mentioned his cousin Jennifer Pritzker, a retired U.S. Army officer and transgender person. “I have a transgender family member who I’m so proud of, that she has become who she is, and has done so much for the transgender community. You want a governor who has a history of standing up for those rights, and I have.”

At a forum hosted by a new political action committee called She Votes Illinois, the candidates largely shared common ground on topics of domestic violence, pay equity and sexual harassment — a problem highlighted in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and one that has spurred calls for action in the State Capitol.

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