Democratic candidates for governor face off in progressive forum
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All seven support single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage and strong gun control measures.
But they part company on efforts to lure Amazon to Illinois and the future of the leader of the state Democratic Party.
The Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls disagreed widely on House Speaker Mike Madigan — with some saying he needs to go, and others saying he’s just a Republican “talking point.”
All seven candidates for governor faced off in a forum on Sunday, sharing their thoughts on everything from police brutality to wooing Amazon to Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
The hopefuls in the race — state Sen. Daniel Biss (9th District); Bob Daiber, regional superintendent of schools in downstate Madison County; anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman; Chris Kennedy; small-business owner Alex Paterakis; Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), and J.B. Pritzker — pitched their political platforms in a 2-hour debate moderated by Mary Ann Ahern, of NBC5 News. More than 1,500 spectators attended, filling overflow rooms and hallways at the Chicago Teacher’s Union headquarters.
During the debate each candidate got a chance to tackle questions on health care, education and raising the minimum wage.
More than 50 progressive organizations sponsored the first progressive gubernatorial forum in Illinois, including Our Revolution Illinois, a 6-month-old chapter of the nationwide movement inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign.
All seven candidates voiced their support for single-payer health care and for a $15 minimum wage. Daiber was reluctant to promise either immediately. Biss emphasized that single payer health care should begin at the state level, and Paterakis drew applause when he said mental health services and addiction treatment should be available to everyone, “not just the rich and select few.”
With a full show of hands, the candidates also agreed to support gun control efforts and vowed to back whichever Democratic candidate ends up running against Gov. Bruce Rauner.
On other topics, opinions differed.
When asked about Amazon headquarters coming to Illinois, Daiber said the state should invest in the company, while Hardiman said no infrastructure should be provided.
Biss said “not much” should be given to Amazon, and he agreed with Pritzker that there needs to be real benefits to the residents of Illinois. Pawar said no money should be given to Amazon unless it can be matched dollar for dollar for education or infrastructure.
Paterakis said it will bring more jobs and encourage college students to stay in Illinois. Kennedy said bringing the headquarters would be “destroying our economy to accommodate a single company.”
The question that seemed to draw the most heated response launched a back and forth between Biss and Pritzker. Ahern asked about candidates’ relationships with Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.
Hardiman said Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel “need to go.”
Kennedy said the speaker needs to choose one role, “Either he wants to be a property tax lawyer or a state representative.”
Biss said Madigan is too powerful.
Pritzker said Madigan has just become a GOP “talking point.”
When asked if Madigan supports him, Pritzker added that he is an independent who won’t be influenced, and called Biss out for voting for the speaker. Biss then responded that Pritzker should be more honest about the speaker’s support.
Pawar pleased several supporters when he responded that he didn’t want his race to be about individual relationships with politicians. “I have no interest in making this about personalities or one boogie man,” he said.
Bridget Doherty Trebing, an art teacher at Taft High School, attended the debate with her 5-year-old daughter and her mother. For the three generations, this was a chance to see what all the candidates had to say, and to expose the youngest, dressed in a sparkling skirt and cheetah ears, to a gubernatorial race.
“I think it’s important for my daughter to see what it means to be involved in the political process,” Doherty Trebing said. “We came to hear what they all had to say, and I think I got enough information.
Her mother, Kathy Doherty, is still deciding who she will support, but said Sunday’s forum helped her narrow it down to three candidates.
“This was a good opportunity to gauge who you want to follow,” Doherty said. “I came in not knowing who some of the candidates were and for people like me who are up in the air this is an excellent thing.”
As a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, Doherty Trebing said, “I care deeply about what they have to say about public education, and what their relationships are with other officials.” She said she was glad Ahern asked each candidate about their relationship with the mayor and Madigan.
John Nasko, of Pilsen, said he was glad the question about Madigan came up.
“As a party we [Democrats] want to know how they’ll deal with each other,” he said. “I like to know more about the candidates, see how they act, and who they are as people.
Nasko said the forum was a good way to observe the mannerisms and personalities of each candidate, and he is interested in following all the candidates as the race moves forward.
The gubernatorial election will take place on Nov. 6, 2018. Gov. Rauner confirmed last summer that he will run for a second term.