Packed house gets to know Democratic 16th Congressional District primary candidates

DeKALB – Voters from DeKalb County packed the Yusunas Room on Feb. 18 at the DeKalb Public Library to learn about the Democrats hoping to earn a chance to unseat U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, in November.

An open forum, sponsored and moderated by the Democratic grass-roots organization DeKalb Stands, featured the four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in Illinois’ 16th Congressional District. The district covers all of Lee, Ogle, Bureau, Boone, Grundy, Iroquois, LaSalle, Livingston and Putnam counties, and parts of DeKalb, Ford, Stark, Will and Winnebago counties.

The standing room-only crowd submitted questions about gun control, the economy, military spending, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the North American Free Trade Agreement, climate change, the district’s infrastructure needs and more.

Each candidate had one minute to respond to the questions and tell voters why they will be the best candidate to defeat Kinzinger at the polls.

DeKalb native and resident Neill Mohammad trumpets Medicare for all and stricter financial protection to avoid another economic collapse. He said he also is running on a foreign policy agenda that keeps resources in the U.S.

“Voters want authenticity and expertise, and candidates who aren’t afraid to talk about the issues and why they support them,” he said. “I’ll be a leader in Congress for Medicare for all, and will be a leader in Washington. I’m optimistic about flipping this district, and I think the Democratic candidate can unseat Kinzinger.”

Sara Dady, an immigration attorney from Rockford, said the 16th District needs “accessible, active and accountable” representation in Congress, and if elected, she will concentrate on bringing good-paying jobs to the district and making sure constituents have secure retirements.

“I’m from this district. I grew up here, I have a business here, and my kids go to public schools here,” she said. “I’m fully invested in the past, present and future of this district. I know we need a representative who will look out for everyone’s best interest. Kinzinger does not represent me or my children.”

Amy Murri Briel, an Ottawa native and Joliet resident, said her experience working in the nonprofit sector and building coalitions between people with different interests makes her the best candidate. She said she works with groups to make sure they see each other’s sides.

“I listen to the people in the district,” she said. “I spend my days talking to voters and finding out what people need and want, and Kinzinger does not do that. It’s important to give all of our voices an opportunity to be heard, and we all have to make informed decisions. Elections have consequences.”

Beth Vercolio-Osmund, a farmer and small-business owner from Ottawa, said her experience in business, education, farming and the corporate world make her the best choice for local voters. She said she’s most concerned with the district’s infrastructure needs.

“I’m from the heart of the district, and I have the broadest experience and connection with the voters in the district,” she said. “I can get the swing voters that the Democrats need to unseat Kinzinger. We need to make sure everyone in the district has access to high-speed internet, and we need a social safety net. We need to take care of each other and take care of our environment.”

Deb Booth, event organizer and member of DeKalb Stands, said the forum was necessary for voters to learn about the candidates leading up to the March 20 primary – especially since early voting already has begun: “This is a very important election, and it’s critical for us to see Democrats take over the House and Senate.”

Steve Berk of DeKalb said he attended the forum because, as an independent voter, his mind still is not made up about whom he’ll vote for.

“I’m disgusted by what’s going on in government today, and we need people who will change the status quo,” he said. “I want to hear what all the candidates stand for.”

Susan Lovell of DeKalb said she still is deciding on which candidate she’ll vote for, but said she will vote for the one she thinks can beat Kinzinger.

“I want to hear what they all have to say because I will be voting for one of them,” she said. “I think one of these people will beat Kinzinger. People are angry. We’re done listening to the same old talking points.”

DeKalb resident Greg Romanek said he’s heard the platforms of three out of the four candidates, and although he is leaning toward one candidate, his decision isn’t made just yet.

“I can be influenced,” he said. “It’s important to be an informed voter, and seeing the candidates speak off the cuff is an important way in getting to know them. It’s also important to support the electoral process at events like this.”

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