News Local/State

Democratic Candidates For Governor Gang Up On Rauner At NIU Forum

Democratic gubernatorial forum at Northern Illinois University. Left to right: WNIJ's Susan Stephens as moderator. Candidates Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, and Alex Paterakis

Democratic gubernatorial forum at Northern Illinois University. Left to right: WNIJ's Susan Stephens as moderator. Candidates Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Chris Kennedy, and Alex Paterakis Jessie Schlacks/WNIJ

A majority of the Democratic candidates running for Illinois governor took the stage during a forum Tuesday at Northern Illinois University. The five Democrats had a common target for much of the evening: Incumbent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.

Let’s start at the end of the night. Community organizer Tio Hardiman certainly got the crowd’s attention with his closing statement with cameos by challengers State Senator Daniel Biss and businessman Chris Kennedy.

“There was an airplane that was about to crash. You have four passengers on that airplane. This has a good ending. Kennedy was on the plane with a young Tio Hardiman who was a Boy Scout. Biss was the pilot. Governor Bruce Rauner was on the plane as well, but you only had three parachutes, okay? Biss took the first parachute and he jumped to safety, leaving two parachutes and three passengers. Bruce Rauner ‘gangstered’ the other parachute and jumped, leaving a young Tio Hardiman, the Boy Scout, and Chris Kennedy. Chris Kennedy said ‘I am going to ask God to help me in this situation.’ I told him, ‘You know, Bruce Rauner didn’t take the parachute, he took my backpack.’ The moral of the story is that Bruce Rauner is going down, people, and we are going to take care of business.”

Outside of that story, the candidates slung most of their mud at Rauner.

Five of the eight Democratic candidates for governor took part in Tuesday's forum.

Photo Credit: Susan Stephens/WNIJ

Naturally, since the forum happened on a college campus, they fielded questions about the number of college students leaving the state.

Biss took aim at Rauner, saying, “Most of us think that Bruce Rauner has been a terrible governor. But he has actually been the best governor the University of Wisconsin has ever had. He’s been a great governor for the University of Iowa. It’s unconscionable. This vicious attack on our universities has to be reversed. Let’s not pretend that’s good enough. Tuition was too high in 2014 too. We need to move to a system of free tuition at public universities and community colleges.”

Regional superintendent Bob Daiber said if elected governor, he would prioritize education funding.

“I went to Illinois schools because of their quality,” he said. “Why would anyone send their kids somewhere where they wonder if they’re going to close the next semester? We have to recreate the trust in Illinois residents that our schools are going to be sound. We have to guarantee that for our faculty that they are going to have a job-- that they are not fleeing our universities systems to go somewhere else to get a job. We are going to have quality faculty on those campuses.”

One of the issues where the candidates differed the most was on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana.

Engineer Alex Paterakis showed strong support for legalization, saying, “Let’s be honest. It is going to happen at a national level. It brings jobs. It brings opportunity. It brings tax revenue. I want to lead in something, not debt, not jailed governors. I want to lead in something and that is through the legalization of cannabis and also using hemp production to replace plastics and different things.”

Chris Kennedy was more hesitant with offering his stance after hearing some of the crowd’s support for legalization.

Kennedy said, “I think it is really dangerous to embrace a public health hazard simply because you want revenue. That’s what I think. I am not aiming that at anybody. I am cautious.”

NIU Forensics and DeKalb Stands organized the forum. Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar and venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker did not attend the event, but sent along the following campaign statements. Perennial candidate Robert Marshall also did not attend.

J.B. Pritzker

Hello everyone. Thank you to DeKalb Stands and Northern Illinois University for hosting this great event. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be with you tonight. My running mate Juliana Stratton was looking forward to joining, but unfortunately my opponents didn’t want to share a stage with her. I can’t say I blame them. Juliana is an incredible woman and a powerful fighter for Illinois and together we’re going to put Springfield back on the side of working families. That’s why our campaign has released detailed plans to create jobs, expand healthcare, and invest in quality education for every Illinois child. We’re building a statewide, grassroots campaign to fight for our progressive values. We’re so proud to have 23 individual unions, the Illinois AFL-CIO, statewide officials like Susana Mendoza and Jesse White, and progressive leaders like Congressman Luis Gutiérrez standing with us. Together, we’re going to defeat Bruce Rauner and chart a better path forward for Illinois. We hope to have you with us. Learn more at Thank you. 

Ameya Pawar

Hello. First of all, thank you for inviting me to participate in this forum. I wish I could have made it and I apologize for not being here to talk with you all about my campaign for governor. Running a statewide campaign as a full-time Chicago   alderman with an 18 month old daughter, sometimes - despite the best intentions - I am unable to participate in every event.

While my family and I are privileged to be able to balance all our responsibilities with work and our families, many people are not. That's why I'm running: to make it easier for working families to get   ahead. For too long, millionaires and   billionaires and big corporations have had a stronghold on wealth, power and influence. My platform, a New Deal for Illinois, aims to increase education funding and make it more equitable, provide universal access to child care, put people back to work with good-paying jobs through a multi-billion dollar capital program, and reform our criminal justice system to undo the injustices of a system that unfairly targets people of color, the poor and the mentally ill.

If you want to learn more about me and the issues I care about, please go to And if you have any questions or want to get involved with my campaign, just send a message on Facebook and we’ll get back to you. Thank you.

The Forum, unedited

Candidates at the Democratic Gubernatorial Forum in DeKalb were given one minute to introduce themselves to the voters, then one minute to answer each question in a series of themed issues, gathered by written card from the audience. They were allowed ninety seconds for closing statements. 


State Finances

Jobs & the Economy


Public Health and Safety

What Else?

Closing Statements

Susan Stephens contributed to this report.