On Sunday, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) hosted the Our Revolution Illinois gubernatorial candidate forum at CTU Union Center on the near Westside. Our Revolution is an advocacy group based on the mission of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in building a new generation of progressive leaders.

Gubernatorial Candidates forum at Chicago Teachers Union Training Center on October 8. PHOTO: Mary L. Datcher

Attended by CTU union members and several community organizations—the room was packed and the event was free to the public. Knowing the importance of presenting their platform to one of the biggest unions in the state, all eight Democratic candidates were present, which included Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, Alex Paterakis, Ameya Pawar and J.B. Pritzker.

Moderated by NBC-5 political reporter and veteran journalist Mary Ann Ahern, there were several topics of discussion which allowed each candidate 1-minute to present their platform.

On free college, “We need to put ourselves on a path to free college for every child in Illinois who cannot afford to go to college. I do not think free college should be offered to my children—let’s be clear,” said JB Pritzker. “It is important, that we get the funding for it because it will be a part of the progressive income tax.”

“Making sure you’re not strapped with debt for the rest of your life—that’s what we should be looking for and making sure there is vocational training for those kids who choose to not go to college.”

Daniel Biss added, “When you create programs that only apply to some, eventually those programs get eroded. Eventually the ‘powers’ that don’t want to pay their share will chip away and away and therefore we need to have universal college. We have an economy that requires that access to create equal opportunity to greater economy. The question is how do you create that?”

Ameya Pawar explains his platform at CTU/Our Revolution Gubernatorial forum. PHOTO: Mary L. Datcher

Ameya Pawar: 

“I don’t think there should be any cut off. I’m the son of immigrants and for me the American dream didn’t mean my parents were able to pay for my college or graduate school. My wife always jokes, marrying me was marrying my student loans. I brought $250,000 worth of student loans to the marriage and I make $108,000 a year which is a damn good salary. Just know half of my take home right now goes to my student loans and we are solidly middle-class and no one should feel sorry for us.”

There were a couple of elephants in the room addressed by Ahern, one of which was the property tax redemption Pritzker received in renovating a home.

He answered in part. “We began a renovation project and at some point we stopped it. Like 50,000 other people in the county every year—like Chris Kennedy and Gov. Rauner–we asked for a reassessment for the property value. As you know, we have a very unfair assessment process. I discovered how flawed it really it is and that’s why we need to get rid of that system.” 

On Cook County Assessor, Joseph Berrios stepping down:

Pritzker replied, “That’s going to be up to the voters.”

Ahern asked Kennedy where he stood regarding the tax break on his commercial property, Wolf Point, and the family?

Kennedy says, “What Mr. Pritzker did and everyone else who has reassessed their taxes did are two radically different things. We appealed our taxes, we had our house reclassified. That’s a different thing. I’ve been in real estate for 30 years and I never knew you could do that,” said Kennedy.

Second-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tio Hardiman speaks at forum. PHOTO: Mary L. Datcher

When it came Madigan’s control as Cook County Democratic Party Chair, will candidates work with the Speaker of the House in their bid for the governor’s seat? Ahern states, “some people say he has more power than the governor.” She asked about the candidates’ relationships with him.

Tio Hardiman rebukes Madigan:

“We need a governor who will stand up to Mike Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. We don’t get a governor to stand up to politics as usual in Illinois, it’s the same powers over and over,” he continues. “Once I become Governor, I believe Mike Madigan will retire because I don’t believe he wants to deal with me.”

Biss adds, “Mike Madigan has been the Speaker for way too long and it’s held us back. It’s held the Democratic party back.”

As one of the hundreds in attendance, community activist Wallace ‘Gator’ Bradley was miffed at the ant-Madigan comments. “I don’t think anyone should be afraid to stand with anyone who stands with them and what they feel is better for Illinois. That was a question in the debate. In the end, whoever becomes the nominee, they’re not going to turn away Madigan or Berrios’ support,” says Bradley, who is a supporter of Pritzker.

As the campaign for the gubernatorial race heats up, the grassroots efforts by each campaign team will ultimately result in who resonates better with Illinois residents. CTU will no doubt hold the mantle as the leader in progressives as they decide on which candidate will hold their best interest in Springfield.   

Retraction: The original quote to Ameya Pawar’s answer to free college tuition was corrected. 

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