Democrat Quinn Courts Elderly Voters

by Jeff Fleischer

(Medill News Service, October 17, 2002)


Democratic candidate Pat Quinn took the positive approach Thursday, promoting his gubernatorial ticket’s programs for lower drug prices and utility bills, while increasing health benefits for seniors.

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor was the only candidate to appear before Metro Seniors in Action, a group of Chicago senior citizens. He used the forum to emphasize issues most important to his audience, avoiding most of the political wrangling that has been part of this year’s campaign.

“We want to make sure all our seniors have access to all the necessary prescription drugs at an affordable price,” said Quinn, the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Rod Blagojevich . “That is a mission that we’re on, to make sure in Illinois we have decent health care for everybody.”

Syd Bild, chairman of the Metro Seniors in Action health committee, said the organization does not make political endorsements, but that Quinn was the only candidate of several invited who responded to its invitation.

“We wanted to find out where these candidates are, where they stand on the issues of the day,” Bild said.

Quinn focused primarily on the issues of prescription drug and utility costs, which he said hit senior citizens particularly hard.

“They give you a prescription for just about everything, but the cost of those medicines oftentimes is very, very high,” Quinn said. “Many people have to make choices that are very difficult between food and medicine, between paying rent and the utility bill.”

He also said utility prices often become a public health issue, citing the 1999 heat wave that killed more than 100 people.

“There were so many people who did not have the money for air conditioning, couldn’t pay the electric bill,” Quinn said. “They were isolated, and many of them just literally died because of that terrible, suffocating heat. We never, ever can let that happen again.”

Quinn touted the achievements of the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocacy organization he helped create in 1983, as a check against “the big utility companies” — including Commonwealth Edison and People’s Gas — which he criticized for passing their costs onto consumers.

He also said Blagojevich would fight for the Bernadin Amendment to the Illinois constitution. Named after the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, the amendment would designate health care as a constitutional right. It has been passed in the Illinois House, but has not been called up for a vote in the Senate.

“[Senate President James] ‘Pate’ Philip thinks he’s so smart, he won’t let anybody vote on it,” Quinn said. “Well, this is wrong. We’re going to win … and we’re going to get a vote.”

Quinn also said he and Blagojevich support raising the state minimum wage from its current, federal level of $5.15 per hour to a level “indexed to the cost of living.”

Jim Ryan, Blagojevich’s Republican opponent, has rejected the idea of a minimum wage increase. He has said it would hurt the state’s ability to attract businesses relative to its neighbors unless the increase was made at the federal level.

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