GOP gubernatorial debate: Bailey, Sullivan, Rabine rip Chicago in WGN debate

GOP gubernatorial debate: Bailey, Sullivan, Rabine rip Chicago in WGN debate

Republicans Jesse Sullivan, Darren Bailey, and Gary Rabine prepare for a debate at WGN’s studios on Tuesday.

Republican candidates for governor, from left, Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, state Sen. Darren Bailey, and Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine prepare for a debate at WGN’s studios on Tuesday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

One suburban and two downstate Republicans on Tuesday brought their campaigns for governor to live TV in Chicago, a city they generally agreed was a community in “crisis,” with “shooting in the streets” and rampant corruption.

It was a bleak picture painted by the half of the GOP primary field — Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine and Xenia state Sen. Darren Bailey — who squared off during a televised debate hosted by WGN-TV Tuesday evening. 

But it was Bailey, a state senator from southern Illinois, who took the biggest shot of all at the city he once suggested should secede from the rest of the state.

“Let’s just call it like it is. Let’s think about Chicago: a crime-ridden, corrupt, dysfunctional hellhole, and no one knows that better than the friends and the people that live in Chicago,” Bailey said. “Something’s wrong. City leaders, they hate the police. At least they act like they do.”

The downstate senator pointed to 2020 riots in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, saying Chicagoans would “appreciate” his comments “because everyone that I’ve talked to in the city of Chicago is scared to death. There is no sense in this.”

State Sen. Darren Bailey, introduces himself during a GOP gubernatorial primary debate at WGN’s studios on Tuesday.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, introduces himself during a GOP gubernatorial primary debate at WGN’s studios on Tuesday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Bailey said if he were governor, “I would have been there in person and then the Illinois National Guard and the state police would have been with me. … We must restore confidence.”

Sullivan and Rabine also suggested they’d get a tighter handle on rising crime in the city and beyond, as all three candidates tried to showcase their conservative credentials during a forum in which they leveled most of their criticism at Chicago, rather than one another.

“We need to surge the National Guard and treat this like the crisis that it is to help our brothers and sisters and their families that are in need,” Sullivan said. 

He also claimed he’d “lead the recall efforts for [Cook County State’s Attorney] Kim Foxx and any other state’s attorney who fails to prosecute criminals in the state of Illinois,” though WGN moderator Tahman Bradley noted there’s no such process in Illinois for removing local prosecutors. 

But Rabine piled on Foxx, too, saying “when people can steal up to $1,000, and they take a little risk, when there’s shooting in the streets and people get shot and it’s called mutual combatants — that’s wrong.” 

A WGN studio staff members adjusts Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine’s mic before a GOP gubernatorial primary debate at WGN’s studios, Tuesday.

A WGN studio staff members adjusts Bull Valley businessman Gary Rabine’s mic before a GOP gubernatorial primary debate at WGN’s studios, Tuesday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Rabine, from McHenry County, said he’d have a better shot at taking on Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, “unlike a couple guys here that are four or five hours away, don’t understand the city of Chicago and the suburbs of Chicago as well as I do. 

“I build my businesses here in the densest communities of Illinois,” Rabine said. 

It was among the few shots the men took at each other at the North Side TV studio. Sullivan called Bailey “a good conservative” before criticizing the senator over a resolution he supported in the General Assembly calling on lawmakers to explore separating Chicago from the rest of the state. 

Bailey compared the resolution to a “marriage going bad, and someone’s raising their hand saying, ‘Hey, we’re concerned, and we’re frustrated.’ That’s what that was.”

The candidates saved their collective intra-party vitriol for Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, the establishment pick for the GOP nomination who declined to participate in WGN’s debate, opting for an earlier one on NBC 5 with two other GOP rivals. 

“Electing Richard Irvin into this seat would be no different than allowing Mike Madigan to serve as governor,” Bailey said. “Richard Irvin is a mini Mike Madigan.”

Rabine said he wasn’t surprised Irvin declined. “I think this is tough, for a person that’s a Democrat, to actually be debating in a Republican atmosphere,” Rabine said, referring to questions over Irvin’s past voting record. 

Sullivan hammered Irvin for past statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“He was someone who stood proudly and strongly for Black Lives Matter. That’s trying to disintegrate the family unit in our state. I hold the exact opposite views,” Sullivan said, quickly following up by saying he supports “the principle of Black Lives Matter, of course,” but not the political organization.

Regarding abortion, all three candidates said they’d applaud the overturning of Roe v. Wade, though they differed on instances in which they believe a pregnancy should be terminated. Sullivan said he still supports allowing abortion in the cases of rape or incest, or when a mother’s life is threatened. 

Bailey and Rabine both said the only exception allowing for abortion would be for the life of the mother. 

ABC-7 is scheduling a debate next week. It’s not yet clear how many candidates will participate. 

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