The two leading candidates in the 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary race are both planning to skip the Feb. 20 candidate forum and debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area that will be held at 7 p.m. at the Lyons Township High School South Campus, 4900 S. Willow Springs Road in Western Springs.

Neither incumbent Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs) nor Marie Newman are planning to attend the forum, although Newman’s campaign manager says that she will be there if Lipinski decides to show up.

A Lipinski campaign spokeswoman says the congressman won’t be there because of a scheduling conflict.

“He will be meeting that evening with a group of first responders from the district,” said Lipinski campaign spokeswoman Sally Daly. “Congressman Lipinski has already participated in two debates with Ms. Newman with the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times editorial boards. He has also committed to a third televised candidate forum in March. An additional debate on WJOL radio is also being planned.” 

After it became clear that Lipinski would not attend the forum, Newman instead challenged Lipinski to a public debate, anywhere and at any time.

“What is most important to us is creating an opportunity to debate the issues with Congressman Lipinski,” said Newman campaign manager Ben Hardin. “If he is unwilling to take part with us on the 20th in that debate, then we hope to schedule something else that is convenient with his schedule.”

In 2018, Lipinski edged Newman by a little more than 2,000 votes in the closest race, by far, of Lipinski’s career. During that campaign the League of Women Voters hosted a raucous and very well-attended debate that drew a crowd of more than 500 people.

Melissa Lieb, the head of Voter Services for the League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area, criticized Newman’s decision to pull out of the forum after learning that Lipinski would not be there. Unlike Newman, the Lipinski campaign never said the congressman would attend.

“The LWV candidate forum is viewed by thousands of District 3 voters as a means of obtaining non-partisan unbiased candidate information, because it is videotaped and made public following FCC regulations,” Lieb stated. “Her decision to cancel is a disservice to constituents of the 3rd Congressional District.”

The two candidates who will attend the forum are longshots Rush Darwish and Charles Hughes.

Darwish, in a statement issued by his campaign, criticized both Lipinski and Newman for skipping the League of Women Voters forum.

“I share Ms. Newman’s frustration with the fact that Representative Lipinski feels he does not have to show up and be held accountable by his constituents in the La Grange and Brookfield areas,” Darwish said in a statement. “However, as the League of Women Voters is hosting a non-partisan candidate forum in order to better educate area members and other residents about all of the candidates, I will absolutely be participating in this forum.” 

Newman wants to pressure Lipinski into a two-way debate possibly because she wants to avoid giving publicity to Darwish and Hughes, who could draw anti-Lipinski votes away from her.

“We consider Dan Lipinski to be our opponent,” Hardin said. “We think ultimately what is most important is our opportunity to debate the issues with Congressman Lipinski.”

On the evening of Feb. 21, the League of Women Voters will host the three Republican candidates in the 3rd Congressional District: Will County Board member Mike Fricilone, Oak Lawn realtor Catherine O’Shea and perennial candidate Art Jones, at a forum at the LTHS South Campus at 7 p.m.

The 3rd Congressional District includes the south half of Brookfield and the very southern tip of Riverside’s First Division.