Feb. 18, 2009 – Solutions for the U.S. economy were at the forefront of the debate Monday at a Northside church, where candidates vying for Illinois' 5th Congressional District seat sounded off before a packed room of voters.
Early voting for the seat vacated by Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, began on Monday as candidates continued to seek support.
The 5th Congressional District covers the north part of Chicago extending into the western suburbs.
Over the course of a two-hour debate hosted by AARP, 15 of the 23 candidates in attendance attempted to invoke Obama's campaign strategy of promising to create "change" in Washington.
The merits of the Obama Administration's stimulus plan were discussed, but several said the plan would not meet the long-term needs of the district's residents.
John Steward, a businessman and former professional wrestler, is one of six Republicans running for the seat. He called Obama's plan a "spending bill" because it lacked sustainability.
"Its not creating long lasting jobs," said Steward. "If we give a construction firm, here in Illinois, $250 million to improve a bridge… when that job is done, what are they going to do with those employees? They're going to lay them off and we're going to have the cycle all over again."
The employment rate in Illinois is at 7.6 percent, the highest in a decade. It is projected 150,000 Illinoisans could lose employment in 2009.
Steward said investing in alternative energies would result in long-term employment.
Several of the Democratic candidates had clear goals for the current unemployment crisis while a few took an opportunity to tap into public anger with government bailouts for banks.
State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-12th) added that Congress needed to look at job creation through a "green lens."
Feigenholtz, who is known for her health care stance in Illinois, stressed the need for reduction in oil dependency and reduction in carbon emission by 2050.
Candidate Charles Wheelan, an economist and lecture at University of Chicago, supports the stimulus bill but calls it "the first step." Wheelan said heavy investment in the nation's transportation sector would result in an "increase [in] productivity and put people back to work."
Dr. Victor A. Forys, meanwhile, took the opportunity to make a jab at Wheelen, saying Washington already had enough economists and "we don't need another economist in Washington."
Forys compared the current economic crisis in the U.S. to another juggernaut-Japan. He said the U.S. could learn from their mistakes in dealing with a housing crisis and recession.
The stimulus plan, signed by President Obama on Tuesday in Denver, includes a provision, which would allow federal government to purchase bank's equities and assets in attempt to recover from losses due to the sub-prime lending crisis. Alderman Patrick O'Connor (40th) attacked the Trouble Assets Relief Program, TARP, saying it would have little impact on community banks.
"Frankly, the bailout went to the big banks," said O'Connor. "It did not go to community banks that lend to communities, lend to small business."
He said TARP provision needed to have been restructured for small banks to access the funds at lower interest rates.
In their closing arguments, candidates sought to emphasize their Congressional goals while a few used their 60-second opportunity as a chance to attack career politicians.
Steward called Illinois "the most corrupt state" and promised to end corruption in Washington. Frank Annuzio, a CHA construction manager, called for campaign reform and a moratorium on foreclosures.
The special election for the 5th district will conclude on April 7.
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Isn't is Jon Stewart, not John Steward?