For the second time this week, the three Democratic candidates running in the new 11th Congressional District shared a stage Thursday night, this time in Aurora. And this time, some sparks flew.
The forum was sponsored by the Aurora Township Democrats, and held at the headquarters of Painters District Council #30 on the northwest side of Aurora. The candidates answered questions from the audience, and spent much of their time outlining the differences between them.
Bill Foster, the Naperville scientist who represented the 14th Congressional District from 2008 to 2010, described himself as a “thoughtful moderate” with an eye on “the long-term best interests of the country.” Jim Hickey, the president of the Orland Fire District (the largest district in the state), called himself the only working-class candidate, and said he would be the best choice to stand up for the middle class.
And Juan Thomas, attorney and former Aurora Township clerk, painted himself as the candidate least likely to compromise with the Republicans. He blasted Foster’s centrist record, and said Democrats are “in a fight for the future and values of this country.”
“When I find a reasonable Republican, I’ll work with them,” he said. “Right now, I don’t know any.”
The three Democrats differed on several issues raised Thursday night. Answering a question about the role of the United States in keeping peace around the world, Thomas adamantly stated that all U.S. troops should be brought home. Hickey said he would not be in favor of that, since it might leave a breeding ground for terrorists.
And Foster said the role of the United States should be “providing leadership and security in an increasingly multi-lateral world.” He contrasted the campaign against Libya with the invasion of Iraq, calling the former “competent and thoughtful leadership” and the latter “misguided self-importance.”
In response to a question about lowering the number of people in prisons, Foster touted a new experimental drug that he said could reverse the effects of drug and alcohol addiction. Hickey suggested giving every immigrant full citizenship, and concentrating on education.
Thomas took the opportunity to address a 2006 incident that saw his license to practice law suspended for 90 days. Since then, he said, he has had difficulty “getting people to give me another chance.” He said his election to Congress could be an inspiration to released felons working to resume their lives.
Thomas said he supports 9th District Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, which she says would create 2.2 million jobs, paid for by higher taxes on the rich and eliminating subsidies for oil companies. Hickey said that if elected, he would tackle the still-struggling housing market first, while Foster said he would protect the Wall Street reform law he worked on while in Congress, “so the lobbyists don’t get their claws into it and water it down.”
One audience member asked Foster if the workers in his lighting company, Electronic Theatre Controls, are union, and he said they are not. Foster explained that while the workers have considered organizing before, the benefits ETC provides are “equal to or exceeding” those provided by other, similar shops, and employees haven't moved forward with a union.
But Thomas took the opportunity to blast Foster for this admission, saying he is “appalled” that ETC’s workers are not union. Thomas and Hickey both adamantly pledged their support to unions, and Foster said he supports free choice, and that at some companies, a union is “the only way to get justice in this country.”
The candidates will meet twice more before early voting starts on Monday. North Central College in Naperville will play host to a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Naperville tonight at 7 p.m., and a 1 p.m. Sunday forum at AmericInn in Oswego is also scheduled. The primary election is March 20.
The winner of this three-way primary will go on to face the winner of the Republican contest between Rep. Judy Biggert and Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham. The State Board of Elections had initially removed Cunningham from the ballot for a clerical error on his petitions, but a Kane County judge reinstated him earlier this week.
There is no incumbent in the newly-drawn 11th District—Biggert currently represents the 13th. The new district includes portions of Aurora and Montgomery to the west, goes as far east as Woodridge and Bolingbrook, and extends south of Joliet.