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Democrats debate at SIU: 6 candidates for governor appear

  • The Democratic candidates for Illinois governor are (from left to right) Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, Robert Marshall and J.B. Pritzker. The six met Tuesday for a forum at the SIU Student Center.

    The Democratic candidates for Illinois governor are (from left to right) Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, Robert Marshall and J.B. Pritzker. The six met Tuesday for a forum at the SIU Student Center.
    Geoff Ritter/Carbondale Times

 
 
updated: 1/31/2018 2:50 PM

President Trump may be a racist and a bigot, the six Democratic candidates for Illinois governor said Tuesday night. but the people who voted for him did so in spite of those characteristics, not because of them.

All six remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination appeared before a packed house Tuesday night at Southern Illinois University Carbondale at a forum sponsored by the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group and the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce.

It wasn't lost on any of the candidates that southern Illinois countries voted 70 percent to 80 percent for Trump in 2016.

"I don't care where I am, Donald Trump is still a misogynist, a racist and a xenophobe," said J.B. Pritzker, the venture capitalist from Chicago. "But I do not believe most people who voted for him share his characteristics."

Instead, he said, the Democratic Party did not come through for them. "We are the party that stands up for the middle class," Pritzker said.

Topics at the 90-minute forum ranged from the progressive income tax and how to make Illinois of greater interest to business, to the candidates' leadership styles and whether it was appropriate for all candidates to release tax returns.

But the conversation always came back to the economy and opportunities for lower- and middle-class families.

Christopher Kennedy, the eighth son of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and the former longtime manager of the mammoth Merchandise Mart in Chicago, warned that if upward mobility is not restored for the American poor and middle class, "we'll get someone worse than Trump."

"It's a mistake not to listen to those voices," Kennedy said. "They are angry, they are raging, they are ticked off that the promise of this country hasn't been met. Today in America if you are born poor you will probably remain poor, the wealthy will stay wealthy and if your are born in between you will have a life of constant threat and hazard ... and Trump tapped into that anger."

Daniel Biss, the state senator from the northern Chicago suburbs, agreed that although Trump is a "racist and a bigot, it doesn't mean his supporters are."

He said the Democratic strategy in the last election was a failure -- the party wrote off areas that traditionally were strong Republican or reliably Democratic, leaving them

vulnerable to the GOP.

"We need a party that will be everywhere in Illinois, every corner," he argued. "Stop taking people for granted, and bring people together with an agenda that lifts everybody up."

Bob Daiber, the regional superintendent of schools from Madison County, said Trump's promises to southern Illinois have been broken -- coal jobs are not back, and there's been no investment in the region.

Daiber, who is the only

candidate running for

Illinois governor -- Democrat or Republican -- not from the Chicago area, turned that back on the race at hand, pointing out that 3 years ago pay Quinn failed to carry one southern Illinois county.

"You have to pick a candidate who can beat Bruce Rauner," he said.

Tio Hardiman, an anti-violence activist in Chicago, said Democratic leaders have been unsuccessful in bridging the gap between the Chicago area and the rest of Illinois. "I believe in running this state from the bottom up, and hear the voices," he said.

Bob Marshall, a doctor from suburban Burr Ridge, has built his campaign around the idea that Illinois cannot reconcile Chicago and Downstate interests, and therefore the state should split into three.

"You've been ignored down here," Marshall told the more than 300 in the audience, who reacted with amusement to his plan to break up the state. "We've got 20 percent of the state bossing around the other 80 percent.

The gubernatorial primaries will be held March 20.