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2018 Governor’s Race: Democratic Candidates Face High School Students


To call the last four years in Illinois politics tumultuous might be an understatement.

For more than two years, the state didn’t have a budget. Unpaid bills piled up, social service agencies closed their doors, and state universities made painful cuts. If Gov. Bruce Rauner survives his Republican primary challenge, he’ll face a re-election battle against one of six Democrats.

Related: Democratic Candidates for Governor Want Madigan to Resign

During a special episode of Chicago Tonight, we’re joined by 50 high school students who are part of the Mikva Challenge, a program that helps young people get involved in politics and community leadership. They’ll participate in a forum with all six Democratic candidates for governor, asking questions about combating violence, improving schools and why the candidates each think they should be the next governor of Illinois.

Behind the scenes

Students, teachers and Mikva Challenge coordinators arrived at WTTW Monday afternoon for warm-up activities, lunch and discussion. Below, photos from the day.

  • Mikva Challenge students John Fine (left) and Victor Shi fill out worksheets detailing how they stay informed of the news. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge students John Fine (left) and Victor Shi fill out worksheets detailing how they stay informed of the news. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge students Michael Smith and Ellie Press discuss how they stay informed of the news. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge students Michael Smith and Ellie Press discuss how they stay informed of the news. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge students match the gubernatorial candidates. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge students match the gubernatorial candidates. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Victor Shi identifies values that are important to him in a candidate.  (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Victor Shi identifies values that are important to him in a candidate. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Alejandra Garcia identifies values that are important to her in a candidate.  (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Alejandra Garcia identifies values that are important to her in a candidate. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge students read candidates’ biographies to create public service announcements.  (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge students read candidates’ biographies to create public service announcements. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge students read candidates’ biographies to create public service announcements.  (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge students read candidates’ biographies to create public service announcements. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Sara Hattab talks with her group about key points to include in a campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Sara Hattab talks with her group about key points to include in a campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Michael Smith presents his group’s campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Michael Smith presents his group’s campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Gerald Sullivan presents his group’s campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Gerald Sullivan presents his group’s campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student John Fine presents his group’s campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student John Fine presents his group’s campaign public service announcement. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Carina Collins registers to vote. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Carina Collins registers to vote. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge students James Knotter (left) and Zainie Qureshi role play as a potential voter and campaigner. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge students James Knotter (left) and Zainie Qureshi role play as a potential voter and campaigner. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Mikva Challenge student Zainie Qureshi role play as a campaigner. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Mikva Challenge student Zainie Qureshi role play as a campaigner. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Chicago Tonight correspondent Brandis Friedman talks with Mikva Challenge students before the Monday forum. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Chicago Tonight correspondent Brandis Friedman talks with Mikva Challenge students before the Monday forum. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

  • Democratic candidates for governor (seated in the order they appear on the ballot, from left): J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

    Democratic candidates for governor (seated in the order they appear on the ballot, from left): J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy, Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman and Robert Marshall. (Kristen Thometz / Chicago Tonight)

Below, meet some of the Mikva Challenge students. Find out which issues are most important to them, what they thought of candidates’ responses to their questions and who they’re inclined to support after Monday’s forum.

Zainie Qureshi

Senior at Metea Valley High School

Which issue is most important to you?

I think in light of what happened in Florida and how that affected people like me and could’ve easily affected me, gun control.

How did you feel candidates responded to questions regarding gun control?

I thought it was kind of textbook, which is to be expected but I did appreciate some of the examples and the empathies given, but what I want to see is policy. Hopefully, I’ll see that later.

After this forum, is there any candidate you’re more inclined to support?

I was pretty set on [J.B.] Pritzker but I really appreciated [Daniel] Biss’s passion. I thought it was very evident in the way he spoke.


Kimberly Esquivel
Junior at George Washington High School

Which issue is most important to you?

The environment in schools because I feel like if we have a bad environment in the school building and outside the school building we’re not going to be able to learn efficiently like we’re supposed to. And that would affect our progress to get into colleges and future careers.

What motivated your question about inequities in schools?

It was [the environment] in my classrooms, and how last year we painted over the mold and put art on the walls to make it seem like we didn’t have mold or any pressing issues.

How did you feel candidates responded to your question about inequity in schools?

I felt like they were too vague. I felt like [J.B.] Pritzker gave the textbook answer. I was kind of upset and disappointed.

After this forum, is there any candidate you’re more inclined to support?

[Daniel] Biss.


Cecilia Ruiz
Junior at Benito Juarez High School

Which issue is most important to you?

The issue I was most concerned about was definitely gun violence given the recent event in the Florida shooting – also we’re in Chicago. There’s been so many shootings and police brutality and racial profiling. It’s something we as youth as a city and a state as a whole are very concerned about.

What motivated your question about lowering the voting age to 16?

If we’re allowed to drive around the roads of Chicago, why not be allowed to vote for somebody who we think can help us, especially the youth. Why not? Why can’t we be a voice for our state?

After this forum, is there any candidate you’re more inclined to support?

I’m really in between [Daniel] Biss and [Tio] Hardiman.


Marcus Ward
Senior at Daniel Hale Williams Prep

Which issue is most important to you?

Education because it’s the key to everybody succeeding in life.

What motivated your question about providing on-the-job training for students?

Seeing in my community that many people can’t afford to go to college or they don’t have the education to succeed in college, technical training is a very important investment that we should make.

How did you feel about the Chris Kennedy’s response to your question?

The response was very thorough and made me understand more how the candidate is as a person. I believe he answered the question truthfully as to what he believed in. I don’t think he tried to side step it.


Rhandi Matthews
Senior at Daniel Hale Williams Prep

Which issue is most important to you?

Mental illness and how people with mental illness are going to be able to function in society.

How did you feel about Chris Kennedy’s response to your question about reopening mental health clinics?

I felt like his response was understandable but didn’t give me enough insight for what his actual plan was going to be.

After this forum, is there any candidate you’re more inclined to support?

I find myself more inclined to support [Daniel] Biss with the responses that he gave. He was more direct with his responses and his ideas.


Victor Shi
Sophomore at Stevenson High School

Which issue is most important to you?

Education because the school that I go to is a wealthier school, I feel like other schools should have the equal access opportunity for education and school quality.

Was there anything about the forum that surprised you?

I would definitely say how relaxed it was.

After this forum, is there any candidate you’re more inclined to support?

Daniel Biss.


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