U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, spoke Monday in East St. Louis at the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House Family Development Center about the need for jobs and minority hiring, as she continued to campaign downstate in her bid unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.
She discussed her plans to encourage economic development in the area.
“The reality is we know we’re not doing enough so that all of our children are getting an equal opportunity to get a good education, build a lifelong career and support a family,” Duckworth said. “Too many young people, particularly young people of color, have their dreams and ambitions stifled by lack of hope and opportunities in their communities.”
Her meeting included community leaders as well as other elected officials including East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, State Sen. James Clayborne Jr., D-Belleville, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, and East St. Louis City Councilwoman LaToya Greenwood, who is running for the General Assembly in the 114th District.
Duckworth said there is a need for economic justice and said she would push policies that support minority-owned businesses, especially encouraging that smaller business have an opportunity to bid on federal contracts.
“We must hire local contractors who will hire people from our communities to work on those infrastructure projects, they just can’t be awarded to national contractors who come in, do the work, and never hire local a person,” Duckworth said. “We need those jobs right here.”
Duckworth made a few stops in the metro-east on Sunday, including at Seafood by Crushed Velvet and the Democratic Party field office in downtown Belleville. She also appeared with C.J. Baricevic, who is running for 12th Congressional District, which is currently held by Republican Mike Bost. Also at the appearances was St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay, who is running for re-election.
“One, I want to work on infrastructure investment, (and) bringing jobs to the local areas,” Duckworth said on Sunday. “We could do that by fixing the roads, and train lines, and makings sure we get rid of all the pipes that have lead in them. ... That’s the kind of investment that will help the economy grow all over the country.”
During her visits, Duckworth criticized Kirk for not voting to allow people to refinance student loan debt and for votes in support of trade deals. She added she would like to see more funding for Pell grants.
Duckworth on Monday also spoke briefly on Kirk’s health and disagreed that Kirk wasn’t healthy enough to do the job, as was alluded to in a recent Chicago Tribune endorsement of Duckworth.
“I think he has fully recovered from his stroke, which I think makes us wonder why he hasn’t done his job as senator,” Duckworth said. “He’s not traveled down here. He’s not pushing for these issues. I’ve been traveling the state for the last two years talking to folks.”
Kirk campaign spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said the senator’s re-election campaign “just finished our second statewide bus tour last week so her statements that we aren’t campaigning downstate are untrue.”
Kirk Campaign Manager Kevin Artl said both trips covered more than 1,700 miles in three weeks.
“In addition to the campaign, Sen. Kirk has visited the metro-east on multiple occasions to advocate on behalf of Scott Air Force Base,” Artl said.
Artl added the senator has repeatedly voted to increase funds for federal Pell Grants, and “his voting record proves he supports minimizing student loan debt and making college more affordable. In contrast, Rep. Duckworth supports a new and reckless $60 billion spending program that would have the federal government take over community colleges.”
The Kirk campaign added trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership helps protect more than 500,000 jobs in the state.
“Sen. Kirk joins with Illinois farmers and manufacturers in supporting bi-partisan, common sense trade deals that allow them to sell their goods all over the world,” Artl said.
Those in attendance at the Duckworth event spoke about the need for job training and apprenticeship programs in the area.
“What we’ve been seeing is all the young folks is the main thing is jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Harold Lawary, the executive director of Writers, Planters, Trainers Inc. “I believe that if we could get our youth employed it will help to reduce the crime in our community.”
Christopher Coleman, the president and CEO of Lessie Bates Neighborhood House, echoed the message.
“Everyone down here, regardless of the perception that’s out there, is not looking for a handout, it’s time to give them a hand up,” Coleman said.
Duckworth also heard from Sister Julia Huiskamp about the need for gun control.
“I agree economic justice has a lot to do with violence in the city,” Huiskamp said. “We have 15 year olds in projects who shoot constantly at each other, killing each other, shooting up homes.”
Duckworth said she has been supporting gun control measures including universal background checks, which she said would pass if leadership in the House and Senate would allow a vote.
“I’m all for banning assault weapons, I’m all for getting rid of high-capacity magazines,” Duckworth said.