16th District Democratic Candidates Present Positions In Primary Race
Four northern Illinois Democrats are vying for the chance to take GOP U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger’s 16th District seat.
The candidates paid a visit to DeKalb County’s Democratic Party headquarters last week, outlining their priorities before local party activists. All of them took potshots at the increasing lack of bipartisanship in national government and blamed Kinzinger for not adequately representing his district. However, each of them had distinct priorities when it came to the campaign.
Beth Vercolio-Osmund is a farmer from Ottawa. She is highly critical of what she considers the “pillaging” of government resources by the GOP.
“Looters take advantage of natural disasters and tragedies to enrich themselves," she said, "and the Republicans in Congress have been taking advantage of the unnatural disaster that is the Trump White House to take and take and enrich themselves and their supporters, and that’s not what government should be about.”
Neill Mohammad is a health-care management consultant and former professor at the University of Michigan. He agreed with Vercolio-Osmund, but said he was particularly concerned about the GOP cutting public services.
“That is what Republicans are trying to take away: education, health care, affordable housing, the right to unionize," he said. "If Democrats built a ladder into the middle class, Republicans have been tearing it down.”
Mohammad said this was particularly personal for him, as his father is a Pakistani immigrant who was dependent upon that same social infrastructure for the family to succeed. He also said that, while policy is a big part of national debate, he says those policies should be taken in the context of what it means for the country as a whole.
"This isn’t a question of whether we tax people at 20-25-30%," he said. "These are questions that are fundamentally about what is the kind of country we want to live in. What is the kind of society we want to belong to?”
Rockford native Sara Dady says her role as an immigration attorney gives her particular sensitivity to the political maneuvers related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Dady strongly criticized the Trump administration for its approach to immigration while recounting a story of how she had to advise a DACA recipient not to attend a woman’s march.
“The ICE administration is specifically targeting activists," she said, "so I called up this young woman and had to advise her not to exercise her right to free speech in this country at a rally full of at least 2,000 women to talk about empowerment of our communities of color and our immigrant community and our women.”
Although highly critical of the more caustic attitude toward immigrants, Dady said she understands the economic frustration that many Trump voters face.
“They see their wages going down, they can’t get ahead, and then -- all of a sudden -- we spend a lot of time talking about immigrants and giving people all this other stuff," she explained, "and they get upset. ‘What about me?’ That’s a natural human reaction: What about me? It’s our job as Democrats to say it’s not an either/or. It’s about us.”
Amy “Murri” Briel is an Ottawa native with experience in stocks, staffing, and case management at a domestic-violence nonprofit. Though agreeing with the stances of Mohammad and Vercolio-Osmund on public services, Briel said the focus should be on building them up further.
“We need to take votes to put money back into the public education system, and that includes before- and after-school care," she said. "That includes early elementary. That includes building our vocational programs up."
She was particularly enamored with Ottawa’s past vocational programs, which she says helped many young workers find jobs in the area.
“So what I propose is a public-works program like a Teach for America," she said. "If you want to go into service and that fits into a career path, you should be able to work and have your tuition taken care of.”
All candidates agree that the lack of civility in politics is bringing down national discourse and the need for a Democratic majority in the U.S. House. But they are competing fiercely for the Democratic nomination for the 16th District race. That will be decided in the March 20 statewide primary.