CHICAGO — Debate over the Illinois attorney general's role in fighting corruption took center stage Wednesday at a livestreamed Democratic candidate forum ahead of the March primary.
Eight Democrats seek the chance to replace Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who isn't seeking a fifth term. They appeared before the Chicago Tribune editorial board for an, at times, fiery discussion that also covered police reform and pledges to fight President Donald Trump's policies.
The role of Illinois' chief legal officer — an adviser and representative of the state — has often come under scrutiny. Madigan's tenure largely focused on consumer advocacy, like suing big banks over mortgage practices. The daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has been criticized for not doing more to probe corruption.
The candidates pledged to make that part of their agendas.
Attorney Aaron Goldstein, who defended now-imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich at trial, said fighting corruption is top priority as did Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and state Rep. Scott Drury. Rotering, former police reform chief Sharon Fairley and Chicago Park District leader Jesse Ruiz said they'd seek ways to grant the office more resources, like expanding grand jury power.
"The tone is set from the top," said Rotering, who made an unsuccessful congressional primary bid in 2016.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, former Gov. Pat Quinn and Drury noted previous successes and attempts to increase transparency.
Several candidates took jabs at Raoul, who leads in fundraising and high-profile endorsements.
They questioned his campaign contributions from big tobacco and the gaming industry, focusing on possible conflicts of interest. Ruiz, a former Chicago education official, said he's abstained from votes to avoid complications and questioned Raoul's impartiality. At one point, Raoul shot back, calling Ruiz "a serial liar."
"It hasn't compromised me in the past," Raoul said. "I'm not for sale."
Others zeroed in on Quinn, who has statewide name recognition. The former lieutenant governor became governor in 2009 after Blagojevich was impeached. He won the governorship in 2010 but lost re-election in 2014 to Republican Bruce Rauner.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said he's previously supported Quinn, who was also state treasurer, but couldn't do so again.
"How can people expect that things are going to be different if we keep electing the same people?" he asked Quinn. "If you can't defeat Bruce Rauner, why we would trust you take on Donald Trump?"
Quinn responded that democracy isn't a spectator sport and he'd be the "people's lawyer."
The primary is March 20. Republican candidates include attorney Erika Harold, a former Miss America.