A forum discussion between attorney general candidates and the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune turned heated Wednesday afternoon, with contenders doggedly trying to distinguish themselves in the middle of a crowded field.
Two of the Democratic candidates — state Sen. Kwame Raoul and former Chicago Board of Education head Jesse Ruiz — clashed loudly over political contributions.
When asked if Raoul’s campaign funds from tobacco companies would compromise his ability to litigate against them as Illinois’s attorney general, Ruiz upped the ante by insisting Raoul was contradicting his comments to the Chicago Sun-Times from another forum earlier this month.
“Jesse, you cannot tell me what I said,” Raoul yelled across the table. “You are a serial liar.” The exchange was broken up by tabletop bell wielded by the Tribune.
Once calm returned, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti criticized the forum’s “general circus atmosphere.”
“I think people need to expect more,” Mariotti said. “We shouldn’t be barking over each other.”
In the wake of current Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s surprise decision to not run for re-election this year, the eight Democratic candidates chasing her job have been characterized by their “broad agreement” across political issues such as cannabis legalization, police accountability, gun safety, and general opposition to the Trump administration.
So with an endorsement from the Chicago Tribune on the table, candidates instead focused on their opponents’ levels of experience, sources of campaign contributions and history in public office.
In a wood paneled conference room inside Tribune Tower, Raoul took the brunt of the attacks from his opponents over the course of the forum.
Although he leads the field in endorsements and campaign funds, the state senator has been under fire in recent weeks for receiving political contributions from tobacco companies, including one involved in a national tobacco settlement currently under negotiation in Illinois by the attorney general’s office.
“I’m simply not for sale,” Raoul responded when confronted by the Tribune’s editorial board.