Republican incumbents in two hotly contested Northwest suburban state House races are decrying Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent ban on indoor dining, while their Democratic opponents largely defend the effort as a way to control a surge in COVID-19 cases.
During a virtual news conference Wednesday, state Rep. Brad Stephens and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin called on the governor to revisit the latest restrictions, which includes a temporary ban on indoor dining in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
In an interview afterward, Stephens — who doubles as Rosemont’s mayor — said the village’s health and public safety departments won’t compel local restaurants to close their dining rooms, saying it’s a decision for each restaurant owner to make.
“I’m not gonna be the COVID police,” Stephens said. “This is an order that’s by the governor that he hasn’t provided us, what I feel, is sufficient data to prove that the restaurants are the superspreaders out there. We’re not gonna shut anybody down.”
But, he added, “If the governor or state police or whoever shuts them down, if we need to assist, we’ll do that.”
Stephens’ 20th District includes not only Rosemont and its expansive dining scene but also Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood, which is home to a number of restaurants. Stephens and Durkin, joined by Edison Park Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melissa McIntyre, said if allowed to remain open, restaurants would continue to abide by regulations such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand-washing.
But they aren’t convinced restaurants are the source of recent outbreaks. Durkin pointed to a DuPage County Health Department report for this month that showed long-term care and assisted living facilities were the largest centers for COVID-19.
Pritzker has maintained that restaurants and bars are ripe locations for spreading the virus.
“It seems like we’re targeting one industry, and it’s the one industry that’s been hit hardest by this pandemic,” Stephens said. “I think we need to revisit that. Let them follow the guidelines and let these businesses operate.”
His Democratic opponent, Chicago firefighter-paramedic Michelle Darbro, issued a statement after the news conference calling the recent decisions to close “difficult.” She called upon federal lawmakers to provide relief to local businesses.
“I have been on the front lines of this pandemic with thousands of other first responders, fighting for the most vulnerable who still are at great risk if they contract COVID-19,” Darbro wrote. “Public health officials are making difficult decisions to try to contain the pandemic that will unfortunately cause significant pain for small businesses in our community. I encourage everyone to join me in supporting them in whatever ways they can.”
On Tuesday, candidates in another closely watched state House race issued dueling statements on the governor’s latest order that were perhaps more stark.
State Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine, like his GOP colleagues Stephens and Durkin, said the legislature should be brought into the decision-making process and vet Pritzker’s actions.
“We can and must get a handle on this without instituting draconian measures that will result in second order effects that cause more harm to Illinois than the virus itself,” wrote Morrison, who is running to hold on to the 54th District seat he’s occupied since 2011. “Our billionaire governor is insulated from the full consequences of his decisions as they overall negatively impact Illinois residents and businesses. He must reverse course now.”
His Democratic opponent, Maggie Trevor of Rolling Meadows, called Morrison’s statement a “cynical attack on anti-contagion efforts.” And amid the increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trevor said it’s “literally a matter of life and death to trust the guidance of our medical experts.”
“I am profoundly aware of the real hardships these measures impose on us,” Trevor wrote. “We need to find a way to support our local businesses during this time. But their long-term viability depends on getting the virus under control as quickly as possible. Following the science will get us there.”