The five democratic candidates vying to represent the 18th District in the Illinois General Assembly encouraged Northwestern students to become engaged in local politics during a forum Monday evening held at Norris University Center.
Candidates Patrick Keenan-Devlin, Robyn Gabel, Jeff Smith, Eamon Kelly and Ed Moran spoke to about 15 NU students at the political forum, which was organized by the Associated Student Government’s external relations committee.
The event was intended to help students learn more about the candidates’ platforms and improve NU-Evanston relations, said event organizers Shainee Shah, a Weinberg sophomore, and Lauren Cantacessi, a Weinberg freshman.
“A lot of candidates’ offices are right here in town,” Cantacessi said. “They told stories of how they got politically involved in college, and they set a great example for students who might have an idea in the back of their mind, but now will actually go ahead and join a campaign.”
Though the five candidates all named eliminating corruption from Springfield as a top priority, the candidates also discussed their respective platforms during five-minute speeches.
Former ASG president Keenan-Devlin (Weinberg and Bienen ’06) said he was “truly appalled” at the state’s discussions about cutting Monetary Awards Program grants for low-income students.
“If we’re not investing in education I don’t know what else we should be doing,” he said. “That should absolutely be a top priority for any legislator who’s interested in preserving the state and making the state better for the future.”
Gabel, who works as the executive director for the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, said she is “excited” to help implement national health care reforms on a state level.
“Legislators can not only get bills passed, but they can influence the administrative arm,” she said. “There’s lot of things you can do as a legislator to help the community and to really move things forward.”
Smith, an Evanston attorney and Weinberg ’77 alumnus, pointed to the state’s “fiscal disaster” and importance of environmental issues.
“There’s this murky stuff called state and county government that does boring stuff like jails, hospitals and highways,” he said. “A lot of people don’t pay that much attention to it, which is part of the reason why in Chicago and Illinois they’re able to get away with what they do, because no one’s watching the cookie jar.”
Similarly, Kelly, an attorney, said the “failure of leadership” in Springfield resulted in the “annual train wreck budgeting process” and the discussion of cutbacks on educational programs like pre-school enrollment.
Moran, who served 18 years in the Evanston City Council and retired from the position in May, said town-gown relations between NU and the city have often been the “piñata” of city politicians.
But on a statewide level, Moran said he would like to focus on the state’s “train wreck” budget, which is $80 billion in debt.
Though only 15 students attended the forum, Weinberg sophomore Matt Bellassai said he hopes more students would turn out to vote in the democratic primary, which will be held Feb. 2, 2010.
“Students can make a pretty big difference in local politics,” the ASG student life director said. “It can really come down to one vote and I would love if that one vote was a student’s vote.”