The major party candidates for Illinois governor held their final debate of the campaign Thursday night. And it quickly turned nasty.
NBC Chicago political editor Carol Marin moderated the debate on WTTW, and struggled at times to get incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Sen. Bill Brady to stop arguing and answer her questions. She asked the candidates if it was possible for them to run campaigns that focus on the issues and avoid personal attacks. They immediately began bickering and trading insults.
"I'm taking this as, no, it's impossible not to go negative," Marin said.
Topics ranged from money to social issues to corruption, with repeated sparring about governors past and about who was friendly with who.
"We had one governor in jail, [George] Ryan, the other one going to jail, [Rod] Blagojevich, and I have to straighten things out," said Quinn.
Brady reminded viewers that Quinn was Blagojevich's partner for eight years.
"You can't blame it all on him," he said.
"He didn't talk to me," Quinn interjected. "Everybody knows this, I mean, as a matter of fact, he announced to the whole world that I was not part of his administration. I led the effort to recall [him]."
But Brady also pointed out that four years ago Quinn called Blagojevich a "decent, honest and honorable man."
Blagojevich, of course, is the latest of a string of convicted public servants, having been found guilty two months ago of lying to the FBI.
Another topic of Thursday's debate was the revelation earlier in the day that several television stations around the state, including NBCChicago and ABC 7, pulled Brady's campaign ads off the air due to non-payment. Brady deemed it a non-issue.
"We've paid every bill we owed," said Brady. "It was a glitch. It's been taken care of and everything's back in place."
But Quinn pounced.
"I don't know about that. It sounds like you didn't pay your bills," he said.
Quinn and Brady differed sharply on the state budget crisis. Illinois faces a deficit that could reach $15 billion next year, leaving it unable to pay bills on time.
Neither candidate has presented a complete plan for resolving the deficit. Quinn proposes doing it partly by increasing income taxes, and Brady says he can balance the budget through spending cuts.
"I've proposed it, I'll admit," said Quinn, who wants lawmakers to raise the income tax 1 percentage point for education.
Quinn said he supports borrowing about $4 billion so the state can contribute its share to government pension systems. Not doing so would be irresponsible, he said.
Brady disagreed, arguing the state should make the payment without borrowing. He did not explain how the state could come up with that kind of money.
As it did the night prior during a debate between U.S. Senate candidates Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias, the issue of same-sex marriage was discussed.
Quinn tried to paint Brady as extreme on social issues. Brady defended himself, insisting he doesn't promote a hostile environment for gay people.
"The initial legislation recognized that religious institutions are different. The law of Illinois is that marriage would be a protected institution between a man and a woman, and I support that law.
"The governor should be tolerant, and I think you should be tolerant. And you haven't been tolerant," he said.
Pressed on his opposition to abortion, Brady said he does not believe women should face criminal penalties for getting an abortion. He argued that it is largely a federal issue and he isn't interested in using it to divide Illinois.
Green Party candidate Rich Whitney, independent Scott Lee Cohen and Libertarian Lex Green were not invited to take part.