It was an hour of policy battles and ugly attacks on WTTW, as Governor Pat Quinn and challenger Dan Hynes met for a "candidate forum" on Chicago Tonight at 7pm on Monday.
Burr Oak, prisoner release, pensions, race and video gambling were only a few of the flashpoints in the contentious and often uncomfortably personal debate, in which each candidate challenged the other's competence at his job.
Moderator Carol Marin went straight at these touchy subjects. Her first question was for Gov. Quinn, asking for his response to Dan Hynes's recent ad showing ex-Mayor Harold Washington calling Quinn his "greatest mistake in government." Quinn stuck to his line on the ad, saying Hynes was playing on divisive racial politics. He also added the intimation that he left his job as revenue director because members of the Washington administration had asked him to break the law.
Up next was Hynes on Burr Oak, the cemetery where thousands of bodies were disturbed in a grotesque money-making scheme. The comptroller said that handling cemetery complaints is only a small part of his office's job. The governor responded by waving handfuls of documents issued by Hynes's office pertaining to cemeteries, and saying that Hynes "completely dropped the ball" on Burr Oak. While dismissing Quinn's allegations as a "gimmick," Hynes dodged responsibility for the scandal, saying that a complex web of agencies governs the issue, and that changes needed to be made.
Throughout the night, it was the sitting governor Quinn who appeared to be on the defensive, finding every opportunity to take shots at his opponent. He repeatedly invoked Hynes's father, Tom, accusing the senior Hynes of being a pension double-dipper and of trying to bring down former Mayor Washington. He also frequently cut Hynes off with denials, objections, and caustic rhetorical questions.
A characteristic exchange took place on the issue of the budget. Watch it in the video below.
Hynes: "Now remember one thing. The governor wanted to raise taxes on the middle class. That was his plan. When it failed--"
Quinn: "You keep saying that over and over."
Hynes: "When it failed, he had no plan B. He basically signed a budget that was wildly out of balance, and that's why our deficit has grown from 9 billion dollars to 13 billion--"
Quinn: "It's not out of balance. No it isn't."
Hynes: "Is it balanced?"
Quinn: "No it isn't. No it isn't."
Hynes: "How come we have four billion dollars in bills we can't pay?"
Quinn: "You know what we have to do? We have to get the revenue to pay those bills. And we borrowed the money in order to do so--"
Hynes: "Borrowing doesn't balance a budget."
Quinn: "But you know what, you approved a lot of borrowings, 11 borrowings as comptroller. This December, when we needed to borrow money to help human beings through the holiday months, you stopped that borrowing. Just out of the--just out of politics."
Hynes, on the other hand, went out of his way to appear to take the high road. Nowhere was this more evident than at the end of the debate. Marin asked the candidates if they'd support the other were he to win. Quinn refused a direct answer, instead responding with, "I'm a Democrat, I expect to win the primary, and I hope the people of Illinois will support me in the fall." Hynes replied, "That's like the second or third time he's refused to support me, which is really too bad. I will support Pat if he wins."
Again, when Marin asked the candidates, "Is there something that each of you admires in the other?" Quinn answered, "I think anybody who gets in the arena deserves credit. I think it's regrettable that in this tough year, I didn't have the full support of Dan Hynes from day one." He wrapped up his answer by saying, in a tone rich with condescension, "I'm disappointed in Comptroller Hynes. I thought better of him." Hynes answered, "It's interesting, I think the question was to give me a compliment," before praising the governor for his handling of veterans' affairs.
In short, the governor didn't exactly look like the unruffled incumbent, nor the comptroller the unlikely upstart. If anything, Monday's performance shows just how much the tone of this race has changed, from the 2-to-1 dominance by Quinn in early December to the neck-and-neck dead heat it promises to be between now and February 2.
Watch the debate. The Washington ad is discussed starting at 1:00, the Burr Oak ad at 5:40, the budget exchange at 15:30, Quinn hedges on supporting Hynes at 48:40, and refuses to compliment him at 49:35.