JOLIET – Five of the Democratic candidates running for governor participated in a candidate forum at the IBEW Local 176 on Sunday.
The candidates present were Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker, State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, Regional Superintendent of Schools in downstate Madison County Bob Daiber, and Tio Hardiman, the former Executive Director of CeaseFire Illinois. Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy was unable to attend. The Illinois Democratic Women of Will County hosted the event and WJOL’s Kevin Kollins was the moderator.
The candidates were asked eight questions and each had two minutes to respond. The topics covered included paying the state’s bills, term limits, property taxes, education spending, health care, a potential state-wide soda tax, the opioid epidemic and immigration.
All the candidates took turns endorsing ideas like a progressive state income tax, putting more funding toward public schools, keeping Illinois from becoming a right-to-work state and protecting DACA recipients. They also all took shots at Gov. Bruce Rauner, who the winner of the primary will face in the November 2018 general election.
There was one notable point of disagreement right at the end of the forum during the candidates’ closing remarks. Biss repeated a line he’s used to distinguish himself from Pritzker, who’s thought to be the front runner due, at least in part, to his ability to self-finance his campaign.
“We now in 2017 get to decide who we’re going to be as a Democratic party,” Biss said. “Are we going to be a billionaire party, or are we going to be a middle class party? Are we going to be a corporate party or are we going to be a people’s party? And on March 20, 2018, are we going to hold a primary election, or are going to hold an auction?”
Pritzker was the next in line to give his closing remarks and chose to respond directly to Biss.
“I know he must be referring to me,” Pritzker said. “Daniel, when you’ve accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in this election, from insiders in Springfield … I do not believe that you are running an auction. I believe that those people really believe in you and they believe in what you stand for.”
Pritzker added he thought the candidates should “stop playing games” by talking about elections and auctions and start focusing on judging the candidates not just by what they say, but by what they’ve accomplished. He highlighted examples of when he helped kids get an early education and a trip to the Holocaust Museum. which he helped to found, to learn about bigotry and intolerance. He also pointed to his record of creating 7,000 jobs through his non-profit small business incubator called 1871.
The crowd of well over 50 spectators responded positively to the exchange, but overall they showed enthusiasm about having what they see as a strong group of candidates. Local activist Clarice Hearn, who’s been a vocal advocate of single-payer health care, which nearly all the Democratic candidates have endorsed, said she’s excited for whomever is the winner. Despite still being undecided, she thinks the party’s nominee will have a good shot at defeating Rauner in 2018.
“They’re all so great,” Hearn said. “I don’t know who to vote for.”