Comptroller candidates claim independence from party leaders

Everyone is calling the comptroller's race a referendum on statewide party leadership.

Well, everyone except Republican incumbent Leslie Munger and Democratic challenger Susana Mendoza. Both contend they are not a proxy of warring party leaders like Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan while accusing their opponent of being a puppet of party bosses.

The pair took their increasingly bitter battle for the only statewide office on the ballot this cycle to WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" Tuesday.

Most of the forum focused on how entrenched each candidate believed their rival to be with party leaders.

Mendoza, a former state legislator and current Chicago city clerk, blasted Munger for accepting millions of campaign contributions from Rauner and business owners with close ties to the governor. The money was used largely to fund television ads that depict Mendoza as a Madigan protégé who will only do the bidding of the powerful Democratic leader if she's elected. A large chunk of it was also distributed back to the state GOP, which is using it to help fund other campaigns. Mendoza called Munger the state's "chief fiscal launderer."

Munger responded by noting that she's simply following the campaign laws that Mendoza passed when she was a legislator, and adding that she "didn't need this job" and was doing it as a service to the state.

"The governor has not bought me," Munger said. "Everything I have done is completely legal and transparent. It's not illegal because Susana Mendoza voted for the law."

Mendoza kept up the attack on Munger's campaign finances for most of the debate and deflected Munger's complaints that she has accepted campaign funds from Madigan through the state Democratic Party's $150,000 contribution.

"Speaker Madigan's campaign funds have not contributed to me, nor have I asked," Mendoza said. "It's not the same because the Democratic Party is not the personal piggy bank of Speaker Madigan."

Munger was appointed by Rauner nearly two years ago to replace Judy Baar Topinka, a longtime Republican stalwart who died suddenly after being re-elected. Whoever wins this election will serve the remaining two years of Topinka's term.

In one of the more fiery moments of the debate, Mendoza tried to goad Munger into rebuking Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. Munger refused to say if she was going to vote for Trump.

"I'm really working very hard to stay out of the issues at the top of the ticket," Munger said. "I certainly can't support some of the things he's said. There's a lot of craziness at the top of the ticket on both sides."

Also running are Libertarian Claire Ball and Green Party candidate Tim Curtin. Both complained that they weren't invited to the forum, but were given an opportunity to speak later in the program.

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