Policy council endorses Obama
Citizen Action/Illinois chooses to support Chicagoan for U.S. Senate

State Sen. Barack Obama received the endorsement of Citizen Action/Illinois after he and five other candidates for the Democratic Party's U.S. Senate nomination spoke to the group Saturday.

About 200 people attended the group's annual conference at the Renaissance Springfield Hotel. The 89-member policy council, representing affiliates of labor, church, senior citizen, consumer and environmental groups, put its support behind the Chicago Democrat.

Almost all the candidates used the forum to express opposition to President Bush's tax cuts and the handling of the war in Iraq and its cost.

Obama said he wants universal health-care coverage and cheaper prescription drugs. Obama also said he was one of the few candidates in the Democratic primary to stand up against American involvement in Iraq when it first was discussed. He called the war "dumb (and) political-driven."

"You need a U.S. senator who's not going to be thinking, 'How's this going to play?' but one who leads," Obama said.

Gery Chico, former president of the Chicago Board of Education, said the federal government should show people it is trying to fix schools by building new ones and fixing existing ones.

"One of the first things you can do is show them a new building or a rehab building and show them the public puts its money where its mouth is," Chico said.

Chico also outlined a proposal that would give teachers tax credits and pay tuition for students who agree to teach for at least five years.

Joyce Washington, health-care consultant and unsuccessful 2002 lieutenant governor candidate, took shots at three of her opponents - Chico, Blair Hull and state Comptroller Dan Hynes, referring to Chico's and Blair's wealth and Hynes' name recognition. Hynes has won two elections for state comptroller, and his father was the Cook County assessor and a state senator.

"I need all of you to help me tear down the 'for sale' sign that's hanging over the U.S. Senate. You shouldn't be able to buy it. You shouldn't be able to inherit it," Washington said. Hynes criticized Bush's handling of the economy and said laws such as the USA Patriot Act are hurting Americans' civil liberties.

"They are under attack by an overzealous attorney general who was given carte blanche, and it is anything but patriotic," Hynes said.

Hull, who made millions in his financial trading company, pledged not to run for a second term if he is elected and does not pass legislation that gives affordable health care to everyone in the country. His own health-care plan calls for getting children in a health-care plan at birth.

"Health care is neither affordable nor accessible," Hull said. "I believe health care ought to be a fundamental right."

Nancy Skinner, a Chicago radio personality, said Democrats have allowed politics to be dominated by conservatives such as "Rush the doper and Arnold the groper," references to Rush Limbaugh and California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I don't know about you, but I'm tired of losing," she said.

Democratic candidates for the Senate nomination who did not attend the Citizen Action/Illinois convention are Metamora Mayor Matt O'Shea and educator, writer and publisher Estella Johnson-Hunt.

None of the seven Republican candidates seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who is not running for re-election, appeared before Citizen Action.

Brian Wallheimer can be reached through the metro desk at 788-1519.

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