WILMETTE – Students from the Wilmette Junior High School had the unique opportunity to ask questions of 9th District congressional candidates Joan McCarthy Lasonde (R) and Jan Schakowsky (D) at a forum on October 4. The event was held at the school auditorium and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Wilmette.
While the event provided students with a glimpse of real-world politics, the forum was non-partisan and no campaigning was permitted. Each candidate was provided two minutes to give an opening and closing statement, as well as 90 seconds to respond to each question posed by 9 different seventh grade students.
The students asked questions that were prepared by their classmates throughout the school. Abbey Konosky, a seventh grader at the junior high, was excited she was selected to ask two questions. “I think the questions are really interesting,” she said. “I like to know what is happening. It is really cool that I get to be here,” she added.
Schakowsky also expressed her excitement about the event during her opening remarks, noting it was the first time in the 18 years she served in Congress that she had been invited to this type of student event. Schakowsky emphasized the diversity of the 9th District, where 35% of residents speak a language other than English at home. “We are proud of our diversity,” she said. Schakowsky highlighted two issues that she believes are important: children who live in poverty and are food insecure and the need for sensible gun safety legislation.
Likewise, McCarthy Lasonde, who is a Wilmette resident, expressed enthusiasm to be at an event in her own community. She emphasized her involvement in various volunteer organizations, her connection to the community and her commitment to the most vulnerable. “Our government has failed the people who need us the most,” she said. She believes the government is on the wrong track and that it’s time for a change.
The questions posed by the students addressed a broad range of topics, from domestic issues such as the economy, education policy and gun violence, to international issues such as the candidate’s positions on the Syrian refugee crisis and terrorism.
Shannon Burgert asked the candidates whether the United States should accept more Syrian refugees and if so, should there be a limit. McCarthy Lasonde said she believes charity begins at home and that there are many problems in the 9th District that should be addressed before admitting Syrian refugees. While she believes in helping others, McCarthy Lasonde said she believed “you should get your own house in order first.”
Schakowsky recalled that on Thanksgiving in 2015, she had dinner with Syrian refugee families at a friend’s house, who were so happy and grateful to be in this country. “The United States has an obligation to open its doors to these families,” she said. She emphasized that the refugees are victims in the Syrian war, and while the U.S. has taken in 10,000 refugees, it could take in many more.
Some of the questions hit closer to home. Joey Kearney asked the candidates what they can do about violence in Chicago. Schakowsky maintained that legislation controlling guns needed to be passed and universal background checks should be conducted on all people seeking to buy a gun. She also said more opportunities needed to be created in neighborhoods plagued by violence to prevent a school to prison pipeline.
McCarthy Lasonde said her brother is a Chicago police sergeant serving the west side. She agreed that gun violence is a huge problem and that stricter gun legislation should be passed to address this issue. But McCarthy Lasonde also maintained that existing laws on the books should be enforced. She said she was a “mom first” and was horrified by the number of children shot from gun violence in Chicago.
The event wrapped up with each candidate sharing how they viewed themselves as leaders. McCarthy Lasonde attempted to distinguish herself as not a career politician, but a concerned citizen, foster parent and working mother. She urged for term limits and returning the U.S. to an economic powerhouse. Schakowsky said she doesn’t view herself as a career politician, but as an organizer who works with the community to make decisions together.