Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s surprise announcement in the late months of 2017 that she would not seek re-election opened the floodgates for an interesting field of candidates who have their eyes on the high-profile office.
Some early frontrunners for the nomination, like former Governor Pat Quinn, have taken advantage of their name recognition, while others, like Hyde Park Senator Kwame Raoul or Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, have benefitted from deep campaign coffers. Still others, like former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, are making their first bid for public office.
As the March 20 primary date rolls closer, all eight candidates are working hard to distinguish themselves from each other. Seven of the eight candidates participated in a live forum on January 8 hosted by University of Chicago Democrats and College Democrats of Illinois. Rotering was unable to attend due to a city council meeting.
Throughout the forum, all candidates proposed to fight corruption and take a stronger stance against the Trump administration. “The heart of the office of the Attorney General is about standing up for people who don’t have the power to stand up for themselves,” said Sharon Fairley, chief administrator of a police oversight agency and Rahm Emanuel appointee.
The candidates held similar views on most issues, each emphasizing the need for criminal justice reform, legalizing marijuana, and better police accountability tactics.
When moderator Mary Ann Ahern (NBC 5 News) asked a question about the Department of Veterans Affairs handling of the Legionnaires’ outbreak at Quincy Veterans home that took the lives of thirteen veterans, most candidates described the incidents as a “travesty.” But the debate over Quincy echoed another controversy over the failed La Salle veterans home that Quinn had promised to build over eight years ago. Ahern asked Quinn if he was to blame for “pulling the plug on funding for the home, even before Rauner pulled the plug,” and was met with vehement denial from Quinn. Not long after, Mariotti retorted that “politicians are always there for the groundbreaking [or] when there's something to celebrate, but not when there’s a tragedy.”
Aside from jabs, candidates reminded the audience of their own backgrounds to stand out in a crowded candidate pool. Both Jesse Ruiz and Raoul highlighted their experiences growing up as children of immigrants when asked about President Donald Trump’s threat to revoke funding from Illinois as a sanctuary state. Representative Scott Drury came back to his “track record standing up against very powerful interests” several times, citing that he was the only state legislator to vote against Mike Madigan for another term as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Mariotti’s apparent plan was to position himself as outside the Democratic establishment as the left-field candidate. “I am not a Rahm appointee,” he remarked, a veiled criticism to candidates Ruiz and Fairley, both appointees of the mixed-reviewed Emmanuel.
The forum ended with a timely question from Ahern about the toxic “frat house” culture in Springfield, amid recent allegations of sexual harassment by Illinois lawmakers. Fairley responded first with stories about her own experiences as a woman in politics, saying that “we have to stand up for women and we have to make sure it’s clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.”
Photograph from Jack McNeil.