Democratic candidates face off in first gubernatorial forum

By Lauren Grimaldi

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Photo courtesy of NBC.

With the Democratic primary just months away, the six current candidates took the stage in a forum aired on NBC and live streamed online. The discussion was moderated by political journalist Carol Marin and featured questions on taxes, education and criminal justice reform.

J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall will all be on the ballot in March. The latter three candidates are known as the outsiders in the campaign with each raising under one million dollars so far for their respective campaigns.

Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, has raised over $40 million since he announced his candidacy last year. Most of this money has come from himself, according to reports from Illinois Sunshine, an organization aimed at keeping track of campaign donations and expenditures for political races throughout Illinois. It is said by some that Pritzker is the frontrunner for the nomination. He has been endorsed by many state leaders, unions and organizations in support of his bid to reach the general election in November.

Incumbent governor Bruce Rauner has a similar record of donating millions of dollars to his own campaign. Rauner is currently running advertisements on television tying Pritzker to former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich who is currently serving a 14 year term in prison for attempting to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat.

In the forum, Pritzker was asked about his conversations with Blagojevich. He maintained that he did nothing wrong in these discussions. “I believe that the governor is running these commercials, because truly, he has to distract from his failed record as governor,” said Pritzker.

Throughout the debate, Pritzker and Biss developed a back and forth with one another. The two raised questions about each other’s allegiance to the Democratic Party. Biss cited footage of Pritzker questioning whether or not he would support Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign in 2012. Biss also raised concern over Pritzker’s relationship with Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, a longtime force within the state’s Democratic establishment now seen by some as part of the problem rather than the solution.

“The best thing for (Rauner) in this election is to run against another billionaire who’s Mike Madigan’s candidate,” Biss said. “If we want to be successful, we can’t afford to do that. And so I think it’s important to nominate someone with a record of standing up to Mike Madigan.”

Pritzker responded by saying that he is “an independent leader and an independent thinker,” promising he would not be beholden to the speaker if elected as governor.

He added that Biss, a state senator from Evanston, was the only candidate on the ballot who voted for Madigan to remain Speaker of the House. In response, Biss said he was voting with the party’s best interests in mind.

Businessman and former owner of Merchandise Mart Chris Kennedy recently linked people leaving the City of Chicago specifically to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s policies that he believes seek to push poor people out of their neighborhoods and invest the city’s resources in its wealthier residents. When asked about this in the forum, Kennedy reiterated these claims.

However, he did not say he no longer supports Emanuel when asked about past personal donations to the mayor’s reelection campaign.

“I think the mayor of Chicago needs to address the issues where we have race based outcomes of the policies in our city,” said Kennedy.

All six candidates on stage except for Kennedy said they would support the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, though Kennedy does believe the drug should be decriminalized.

Pritzker, Kennedy, and Biss were unable to state the specific tax rate they would implement for upper class residents if elected as governor. Biss is the only candidate to support the “LaSalle Street tax” that aims at taxing financial transactions made in Chicago’s exchange center.

Near the end of the debate, Marin asked each of the candidates to say something they respected about one another. Each of the candidates complied, except for Kennedy, with comments on their opponents past work in politics or in specific philanthropic endeavors. Kennedy refused to compliment Pritzker when asked instead choosing to call his opponent “a poster child of all that’s wrong with the corrupt system in our state.”

The primary election is on March 20.

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