This issue affects a lot of people: tens of thousands of small business owners, and hundreds of thousands of minimum wage workers in Illinois. The Republican candidate for governor says those workers should be paid $7.25 an hour, the same as minimum wage workers in surrounding states.
Demonstrators on both sides of the issue picketed outside Maggiano's restaurant, 111 E. Grand Ave., where The City Club holds its regular luncheons. Tuesday's speaker was Republican candidate for governor Senator Bill Brady, who says that Illinois' higher minimum wage is costing the state jobs as businesses move to other states that observe the lower federal rate.
"It would be better if we were in parity with the federal minimum wage so we could compete with neighboring states. Every surrounding state has a lower minimum wage. And every state, every surrounding state has a lower unemployment rate," said Brady.
Brady's Democratic opponent, Governor Pat Quinn, appeared at Edna's Restaurant on the West Side to applaud the coming pay increase for workers there.
"It'll be extra. I'll have extra money to do other things that I can't do right now," said Jonell Powell, restaurant cook.
The governor criticized Senator Brady's comments opposing Illinois' higher minimum wage.
"I don't know where he's coming from on this, but I think we need to make sure that we need to stop that kind of economic approach dead in its tracks," said Quinn.
At the restaurant downtown, Republican demonstrators flew the Brady flag in the minimum wage fight.
"I used to be a small business owner, and when you raise the minimum wage you hire less people," said Robin Ambrosia.
"It's unbelievable that a candidate for Illinois governor would take something like that given how families are struggling to get by who are living on minimum wage," said Susan Hurley, of the group Jobs for Justice.
Later, Brady said, if elected, he would not seek to rollback the state's higher than federal minimum wage and would prefer to freeze it and let the federal rate catch up. Then he accused the governor of using the issue as a distraction.
"Here goes the Governor with another populist demagogic point trying to distract people from his failures," said Brady.
Governor Quinn said Tuesday he wants the minimum wage tied to cost of living increases. The governor estimated as many 390,000 Illinois workers are paid the minimum wage. That's a lot of people, a lot of potential voters who pay close attention to this debate.