Darren Bailey’s Chicago ‘hellhole’ comment and the issue of crime become focus in debate among GOP candidates for governor

Darren Bailey’s Chicago ‘hellhole’ comment and the issue of crime become focus in debate among GOP candidates for governor
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State Sen. Darren Bailey doubled down on his comments he considered Chicago a crime-ridden “hellhole” during a debate Thursday night of the Republican candidates for governor as he also sought to aggressively label rival Richard Irvin a “corrupt Democrat.”

But Irvin, mayor of suburban Aurora, sought to shut down criticism from Bailey as well as his other GOP rivals, saying they were upset because he was “hurting their political aspirations.”

Overall, though, it was the issue of crime that dominated the hourlong debate hosted by ABC-7 Chicago, Univision and the League of Women Voters of Illinois. It was the first, and likely last, televised broadcast forum featuring all six GOP candidates prior to the June 28 primary — though contender Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg took part remotely after testing positive for COVID-19.

The debate came against the backdrop of two mass shootings across the country in a little more than a week. On Wednesday, a gunman killed four people and then himself at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, medical clinic. The previous week, 19 children and two adults were killed at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school before that gunman was killed by a law enforcement officer. In both instances, the gunmen used high-powered, high-capacity assault weapons.

Only minutes before the debate, President Joe Biden addressed the public in a prime-time televised address, rhetorically asking, “For God’s sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden proposed raising to 21 from 18 the age to purchase an assault weapon in lieu of banning the weapons, which is more a difficult politically to accomplish.

But when Bailey was asked about what steps could be taken to make schools and the nation safer, he said that since Illinois already had “some of the most strictest gun laws in the nation,” the answer was “obvious.”

“I see young people crying out for help. And sometimes they go ignored by family or by our education system, by our civic groups,” Bailey said. “We must offer the mental health solutions and help these people to be able to get help and to be able to function in life. And I think that’s the only solution we have.”

Irvin said the state needs to look at “common sense” solutions.

“We’ve got to focus on safety, and we’ve got to focus on responsibility, making sure that we keep these guns … out of the hands of criminals and keep these guns out of the hands of people with mental illnesses.” As for specifics, Irvin said, “We’ve got to look at this holistically — how do we stop crime generally in the state of Illinois? And we’ve got to make sure we support our men and women” in law enforcement.

Sullivan, a cryptocurrency venture capitalist who portrays himself as a conservative political outsider as he makes his first bid for elective office, blamed Democrats for politicizing the tragedies.

”You know the Democrats use every excuse, every crisis to step in and try to say gun control is the answer,” he said. “Well the real problem is the liberal agenda, a liberal agenda that has been taking God and faith out of our society.”

Sullivan also called for voters to recall Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, even though there is no provision in Illinois law to recall county prosecutors from office and Foxx’s current term runs through 2024.

Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine said children at schools should be treated “like the gold at Fort Knox” and proposed armed officers, metal detectors, secured doors and advanced concealed gun carry training for teachers. Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, a military veteran, proposed that retired military veterans be used as part of enhanced safety personnel in schools, while Max Solomon, a Hazel Crest attorney, called for a relaxation of all gun laws.

Last week, during dueling debates that split the field up into separate broadcasts, Bailey used his appearance on WGN-TV to label Chicago “a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole.” On Thursday, he doubled down on the claim.

“You probably heard me refer to it as a hellhole. And you want to know what happened within hours after I made that statement? A homeless man was burned alive. He’s fighting for his life today,” Bailey said in reference to an attack on 75-year-old Joseph Kromelis, known as “The Walking Man.” “Mayor Lightfoot, Gov. (J.B.) Pritzker, Kim Foxx and their woke, anti-police policies are responsible for this. And if we are going to restore Chicago, somebody’s got to tell the truth. I said it, and when I’m elected as governor I’ll fix the problem and we will restore the greatness to Chicago.”

The debate did provide an opportunity for rivals of Irvin, the best-funded candidate who has been running a candidacy largely through TV ads and mailers, to go on the attack.

Noting reports of Irvin receiving campaign contributions for his mayoral campaigns from firms that won Aurora city contracts, Bailey has repeatedly questioned Irvin’s Republican loyalties. The Aurora mayor has voted in Democratic primaries in 2014, 2016 and 2020.

”I’m not interested in defeating you just because you’re a Democrat,” Bailey said. “I’m interested in defeating you because you are a corrupt Democrat and your pay-to-play politics in the city of Aurora.”

Bailey cast a Democratic primary ballot in the 2008 presidential election and Irvin has used that to attack the state senator’s GOP bona fides. Sullivan questioned how Irvin is using his multi-million dollar campaign resources.

”Richard said his greatest and his only strength — he has a whole lot of money that he’s willing to throw around. Well, money cannot buy you character. Money cannot buy you a conservative record,” Sullivan said.

Rabine also attacked Irvin’s background of 15 years as a defense attorney, which Irvin typically ignores in favor of the five years he spent as a local prosecutor.

“There’s nobody else running up here that’s freed up rapists as well as wife beaters,” Rabine said of Irvin’s tough-on-crime imagery. “I can’t see how you’re going to govern the state that way.”

But Irvin largely refused to engage his rival’s attacks.

“My opponents here on the stage are attacking me and I understand and I get it,” he said. “They’re threatened by the fact that I’m violating their political aspirations and I’m hurting their political aspirations.”

The debate occurred as Illinois’ repeal of its parental notification of abortion act becomes law. The 1995 law required abortion providers to notify a parent if a minor daughter was seeking an abortion. All of the GOP contenders have, at the very least, vowed to push to reinstate the notification law as part of their efforts to curb abortion rights in Illinois.

But Sullivan criticized Irvin for once again refusing to go further and say if he thought the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permitted abortion without extensive government regulation should be overturned.

“I think conservatives around the state need to take this opportunity to hear from Richard Irvin. Do you support the overturning of Roe vs. Wade? Do you support taxpayer funded abortions? This is a clear conservative value that people deserve to hear from you on.”

With a little more than three weeks before the primary Election Day, the race has already seen a heated TV ad war. A spate of recent commercials from Irvin have promoted his backing of law enforcement. Other ads attack Bailey, a nod the race may be moving into a two-man contest.

The attack ads on Bailey are critical of the senator’s record of voting for property tax increases while he served on a local school board and also contend Bailey is receiving Democratic support in attacking Irvin because Democrats think Pritzker could more easily defeat Bailey in the November general election.

Funding Irvin’s ad campaign is his largest campaign contributor, hedge-fund CEO Ken Griffin, who has now put $50 million behind the Aurora mayor. The effort is part of billionaire Griffin’s political feud with Pritzker, an entrepreneur and a billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune.

Bailey, who shied away from expensive Chicago advertising until last month, has benefitted from the funding of another billionaire, conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest, who owns the Uline business product and office supply business. Uihlein gave Bailey $3 million earlier this week, bringing his total contributions to the downstate senator to more than $9 million. Additionally, Uihlen has given an independent expenditure group backing Bailey and running Irvin attack ads nearly $8.1 million.