Democratic Senate contenders vie for voter confidence at Tech

Seth Freedland

The fight to fill Illinois’ soon-to-be vacated U.S. Senate seatarrived on campus Wednesday, as five of the seven Democraticcandidates debated in front a packed Ryan Family Auditorium.

A decidedly partisan crowd cheered for the wide field ofcandidates, including: state Comptroller Dan Hynes; state Sen.Barack Obama; talk show personality Nancy Skinner; health careexecutive Joyce Washington; and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’sformer chief of staff, Gery Chico. Candidates Blair Hull and MariaPappas declined the invitation to the event at the TechnologicalInstitute.

The evening began with a question asking the candidates which ofthe others they would most like “take a drink with.”

“We’re all friends up here,” said Chico, reflecting theevening’s congenial tone.

Skinner agreed, to laughter: “I like all these people. I hate tobeat them.”

The next question reminded the candidates they were on a collegecampus, asking their opinions on lowering the drinking age andlegalizing marijuana. All five quickly responded negatively toboth, the first of many issues on which they all agreed.

Sandwiched between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshireprimary, as well as following President Bush’s State of the Unionaddress, the debate focused on the candidates’ mutual dislike forthe sitting president.

“It’s important as U.S. senators that we exercise our voice inchoosing these federal judges,” said Washington, in reference toBush’s rececent appointment of Thomas Pickering to U.S. Court ofAppeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans. The decisionsaw strong objections from Democrats.

Hynes also attacked what he viewed as Bush’s conservativepolitics.

“Make no mistake about it,” he said. “Roe v. Wade is on theballot in 2004.”

Skinner took the most sharp jabs at Washington’s Republicans,calling conservative justices “wack jobs” and “insane.” Also,Democrats have to work on getting their progressive message out, asRepublicans “have dominated the media,” she said.

The evening’s moderators — Director of Undergraduate Studiesand economics Lecturer Mark Witte, College Democrats ExternalRelations Chair Ilya Lipkind and Democratic Party of EvanstonCommitteeman Steve Bernstein decided to alter the debate formatsightly.

The two allowed each candidate the opportunity to answer twoquestions presented to another, breaking with the originalquestion-only format of the debate.

This rule allowed for the only contentious moment of the90-minute debate, when Chico took strong opposition with Obana’scall to eliminate the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Chico, whoserved as president of the Chicago School Board, said the programwas “entirely flawed” but could be fixed by fully funding it.

Washington borrowed a theme from former Illinois Sen. CarolMoseley Braun by asking the crowd to remove the “Men Only” signfrom the Senate door, adding that there were no blacks and only onehealth professional in the Senate.

Sitting in the audience, state Sen. Carol Ronen, 7th District,said despite her endorsement for Obama, she was excited about everyDemocratic candidate.

“I think it’s the best crop we’ve had in a long time,” Ronensaid. “Who ever wins will be the strongest advocate to take on theRepublican Senate and a Republican president who is taking us in awrong direction.”

Leo Fontana, campaign manager for coordinating campaign for theDemocratic Party of Evanston said he was especially pleased withusing the Evanston Campus as the debate’s venue.

“This is a hotbed of youthful political energy,” he said. “It’sgreat that these candidates can bring their case to Northshore andNorthwestern voters. There are a lot of undecided voters. This raceis wide open.”

Communication freshman Lauren Andersen, a member of NorthwesternCollege Democrats, said this close interaction with Senatecandidates is a far cry from her high school experiences.

“It’s overwhelming to have such a resource to meet candidates,to hear about issues affecting this community,” she said.

Evanston resident Shannon Seiberling enjoyed the “take a drink”question because “it unifies the Democratic Party” and forced thecandidates to say something positive about each other.

The Democratic Party of Evanston will hold an endorsementmeeting at 3 p.m., on Sunday, Jan. 25, at Beth Emet Synagogue, 1224Dempster St. Any paid member of the organization can participate,but the public is invited.

An article in Thursday?s Daily incorrectly stated the statusof the U.S. Senate seat held by Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill. He willstep down this year, at the end of his term. The Daily regrets theerror.