Rauner, Quinn battle for African-American votes | WBEZ
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Rauner, Quinn battle for African-American votes

As the clock ticks down to election night, Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner continue to battle over what’s best for Illinois’ future. The top candidates have now faced off in two televised debates.

The focus of Tuesday’s debate, three weeks ahead of the election, was mostly African-American voters, and issues they’ll be thinking about in the polling booth. The panel of journalists posing questions to the candidates focused on jobs, the economy, the minimum wage, public safety and the state’s finances.

And it was obvious by their responses that both candidates on stage at the DuSable Museum of African American History realized the importance of getting those votes.

“My investments and my donations to the African-American community have totaled tens of millions of dollars,” Rauner said, when asked about his recent million dollar donation to a South Side credit union.

“We’ve opened up the doors to many more contracts—I think it’s up to a thousand contracts—for African-American owned businesses,” Quinn said, to a question about government hiring.

The two also wasted no time trying to cut their opponent down to size—a recurring theme in both televised debates and on the campaign trail. Quinn accused Rauner of not hiring any African Americans in his company.

“My opponent had 51 executives in his company, no African Americans, not one,” Quinn said.

Rauner shot back that Quinn was “taking the African-American vote for granted. He’s talking but not delivering results.”

Rauner also accused Quinn of kicking Stephanie Neely, Chicago’s city treasurer who is black, off the list of running mates. Neely was rumored to be on the short list of Quinn’s choices for lieutenant governor. Quinn later countered that his choice of Paul Vallas was due to Vallas’ experience with schools and budgeting.

“African-American families are suffering in Illinois: brutally high unemployment, deteriorating schools, lack of proper social services and rampant cronyism and corruption that’s taking away job opportunities from African Americans,” Rauner said.

The candidates spent a lot of time in this debate talking about public safety and gun control. Rauner wouldn’t say if he supported a ban on assault weapons. He said he believed the conversation about gun control should instead be on getting guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and creating jobs. Rauner said it was the lack of opportunity that has lead to the state’s issue with crime.

Quinn came out in support of banning assault weapons and called for a limit on high capacity ammunition magazines.

The ongoing conversation about the minimum wage also surfaced in this debate. Rauner was pressed by the panel to explain his position, as there has been much back and forth about whether he wants to ditch the minimum wage all together, or raise it.

Rauner reiterated he wanted to see a national hike to the minimum wage, so Illinois could remain competitive, but he would support raising Illinois’ minimum wage (currently at $8.25) if it came with “tort reform, tax reduction [and] workers comp reform.”

Quinn said he’d work to raise the minimum wage to $10 by the end of this year, though he faced questions from both Rauner and the debate panel about why he hadn’t boosted it in his six years in office. Quinn responded that “you have to build a majority for anything in life” and brought up President Barack Obama’s tactics with passing the Affordable Care Act as an example.

The end of the debate featured a special opportunity for the candidates: Rauner and Quinn were able to ask one question of their opponent. You can listen to that exchange here:

The candidates are scheduled to face off in at least one more debate before the election on November 4.

Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter @laurenchooljian.

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