Treasurer candidates trade charges in bitter race

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Democrat Mike Frerichs defends his record at the Illinois state treasurer debate Wednesday hosted by the City Club of Chicago.
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Republican treasurer candidate Tim Cross dismisses his opponent’s fiscal judgment at a debate Wednesday at Maggiano’s in River North.

By Eric Cortellessa

With a contentious gubernatorial election underway and negative television ads dominating the airwaves, little attention has been paid to the race for who will be the next person to safeguard and invest the public funds of Illinois.

But that down-ballot race to choose a successor to Treasurer Dan Rutherford is just as nasty as the one everybody is talking about.

At a debate Wednesday, both candidates came out in attack mode.

“You have been very vocal about your experience and your background, but your experience is a disaster,” said state Rep. Tom Cross (R-Oswego) to his challenger state Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign). “We even found out that you didn’t pay your real estate taxes on your campaign office.”

Frerichs denied the allegation, but admitted to paying his taxes late. That wasn’t the end of it, however. “You were late on paying your personal property taxes, as well,” Frerichs retorted to Cross.

Initially, each candidate was supposed to have 90-second answers and 60-second rebuttals at the event hosted by the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s in River North. But moderator Paul Green, director of the Institute for Policy Studies at Roosevelt University, quickly abandoned the format.

“When one of you talks to a local newspaper, you better hope the other guy’s not going to read it,” Green said to laughs from an audience of more than 100 people.

Those in attendance were aware of the irony in having candidates running to be the state’s chief financial officer accuse each other of fiscal mismanagement.

Brandon Williams, a senior at Roosevelt University, said the candidates lacked focus on serious issues. “After listening to them for an hour, I still don’t feel like I know enough about what they will do for the lower- and middle-classes,” he said.

Nevertheless, he found Cross’s attacks on Frerichs’ performance as Champaign County auditor to be effective. During the debate, Cross said Frerichs’ helped establish an early retirement program that cost the county substantially more than anticipated. Frerichs denied initiating the program.

“I would rather have a candidate with no experience, who has to work his way through it, than someone with experience, who has worked his way through it and failed,” Williams said.

On other issues, the candidates took shots every chance they got.

Cross criticized Frerichs for not doing enough to improve the state’s business climate in the legislature; Frerichs tried to attach Cross to the scandal-plagued tenure of Rutherford, his fellow Republican who was facing a sexual harassment lawsuit until the case was dismissed by a federal judge in June.

“My opponent has been complimentary of the job of Dan Rutherford,” Frerichs said. “He supported Dan’s investing Illinois taxpayer money into Oppenheimer Funds, which is currently under SEC investigation. That’s the height of irresponsibility.”

Among other issues disputed was the Illinois treasurer’s role in enforcing the state’s constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Cross insisted he would sue the General Assembly and the governor if they failed to live up to that obligation—a promise Frerichs declared impossible.

“I’ve talked to multiple lawyers and none of them have said the treasurer has the authority to do that,” Frerichs said. He then pressed Cross if he would sue Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor, if he were elected.

“I would absolutely sue Bruce Rauner if he doesn’t balance the budget,” Cross said.

The latest poll, conducted Oct. 7 by We Ask America, a conservative-leaning polling organization, found a virtual tie with Cross leading Frerichs 40 percent to 39 percent. The margin of error was 2.98 percent and the sample size was 1,083 likely voters. The poll also found Libertarian candidate Matthew Skopek with 6 percent and undecided voters at 15 percent.

The same poll had Cross leading by 6 percentage points in June.