It was billed as a major debate for Illinois' gubernatorial
candidates—vying in one of the tightest and most closely watched
races in the country—to hash out their plans for education.
But last week only half of the competitors showed up at the event, a prelude to the March 19 primaries.
The attendees included, not surprisingly, Paul Vallas, the former Chicago schools chief who last week was running third in polls for the Democratic nod.
Mr. Vallas was joined by Republican candidates Patrick O'Malley, a state senator, and Lt. Gov. Corrine Wood. GOP frontrunner Jim Ryan, the state's attorney general, was a no-show, as were Democratic candidates Roland Burris, a former state attorney general and state comptroller, and U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich.
Mr. Ryan and Mr. Blagojevich had bowed out because of previous commitments, according to the event's sponsor, National-Louis University.
However, Mr. Burris had been expected to attend. His office did not return calls for comment late last week.
During the 90-minute exchange, the three candidates pledged to revamp the state board of education and give more control to districts and local school boards.
Mr. Vallas wasn't surprised at the no-shows.
"The candidate with the most money is always the one who is the least likely to show up," he said, taking a swipe at Mr. Blagojevich in an interview last week.
The Democratic lead has changed hands several times. Last week, using some of a hefty war chest for television ads, Mr. Blagojevich leapfrogged ahead of his competitors.
Mr. Vallas has struggled to gain name recognition outside of Chicago. According to a Feb. 17 poll by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago television station WGN, 31 percent of Democratic voters support Mr. Blagojevich, 27 percent back Mr. Burris, and 20 percent support Mr. Vallas. Mr. Vallas began a series of television spots in southern Illinois last week, and he believes those will help him close the gap.
—Joetta L. Sack
Vol. 21, Issue 24, Page 13