Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Giannoulias needs to come up with better campaign answers on bank questions

I’m trying to figure out if Alexi Giannoulias is truly as naïve as he appears to be with the way he has been responding to questions about the financial dealings involving the bank his family controls. Because if he’s truly this gullible, then we have to wonder what ever made him think he was worthy of being a public official.

By the tone of my prose, it ought to be apparent that I don’t believe he’s all that naïve. But exactly how conniving all of this can appear to be is questionable. I’m going to be spending much time trying to figure out what to make of the man who, although he is now at the top of the Democratic ticket for the Nov. 2 general election, is behaving as though he still belongs at the bottom.

AT ISSUE IS the business dealings of Broadway Bank in Chicago, which is the source of the Giannoulias family’s wealth (what can I say, Scott Lee Cohen’s family owns a pawn shop, Jason Plummer’s family owns a lumberyard, and the Giannouliases own a bank – just like former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill.).

Like many other financial institutions these days, there are fiscal uncertainties. Just before last week’s primary election, the FDIC entered into a consent decree that requires the bank to raise more than $50 million to try to straighten out its particular situation.

Republicans usually are the political party of choice for bankers who have to be bailed out because of financial errors or other problems. But now the Illinois GOP can single out a Democrat, painting the image for him that many campaign professionals have tagged Republican candidates with.

He’s an inept banker (unless they feel like being outright rude, then they’ll say he’s a corrupt banker). Do we really want to reward one of these bankers with a seat in the United States Senate?

THIS KIND OF rhetoric can be expected all throughout the campaign Giannoulias is going to hear so many charges made against his family “business” that he had better develop a thick skin. Because right now, he seems to be thinking he can just wish the issue away.

Just before the primary, Giannoulias said he’d be willing to answer questions about the bank’s financial dealings once the primary election was over. After all, who’d care much if he lost?

But now, Giannoulias is dismissing questions by claiming he’s already answered them. After all, the dealings of the Broadway Bank came up during Giannoulias’ 2006 campaign for Illinois treasurer. He managed to get himself elected to a statewide government post despite the matter.

He seems to think he can now ignore the matter. Which, of course, is what provoked the Illinois Republican Party to issue a statement trashing Alexi for what I would call electoral arrogance, but which GOP officials choose to label as a, “blatant attempt to cover up his role” at Broadway Bank.

NOW I CAN dismiss the vigor of the charges made against Giannoulias in this particular statement as electoral rhetoric – which always is grossly overstated, only narrowly connected to the “truth” and should never be taken literally by anyone.

By that same token, I wouldn’t take anything the Giannoulias campaign says literally either. It all needs to be studied closely.

But I have to give the Republicans a bit of credit on this particular issue. This is the point that Giannoulias is going to have to crush early on (preferably now) so that when GOP operatives continue to say the same old things over and over, sensible people can dismiss it as partisan trash talk.

Giannoulias could put this issue to bed right now, and have it long forgotten by real people come November (the advantage to a candidate of an extra-long general election season).

INSTEAD, GIANNOULIAS IS taking that attitude that he shouldn’t be expected to say any more than he said back in 2006 – as though the typical prospective voter has kept detailed files of every utterrance emanting from Alexi’s mouth and can quickly access what exactly he said back durign the ’06 general election campaign.

Besides, the big difference is that Giannoulias in 2006 was running for Illinois treasurer, which is the lowest-ranking of the six state constitutional officers who are elected across Illinois. Back then, he was the guy whose campaign was able to latch on to the tail of a movement that saw Illinois voters pick Democrats for every single office.

Giannoulias got elected because he didn’t offend people enough that they made him the only Democrat they didn’t vote for.

Now, Giannoulias is the top of the ticket. U.S. Senate. Strictly speaking, he has Gov. Pat Quinn looking up to him, counting on the Giannoulias campaign to lead the way and give other Democratic candidates a boost. Which means he has to take the lead on addressing this issue, rather than thinking he can count on someone else to give him a boost.

I’M REALISTIC ENOUGH to know that for real voters in Illinois, the governor’s race is probably most important because it will serve as the “referendum,” so to speak, on the Blagojevich years. Every other candidate will fall into place. It’s only those out-of-staters who from what I have read of their analysis don’t seem to have much of a clue who are putting the symbolic value on the Senate race.

They want to see a victory by Republican nominee Mark Kirk as evidence that Illinois is rejecting the ideals of Barack Obama (even though a Gallup Organization poll released last week found that 65.2 percent of Illinoisans surveyed approve of Obama’s performance as president, compared to 51 percent approval rating nationwide as of Monday). That just isn’t the case.

If anything, it would be a rejection of Blagojevich, even though Milorod’s rhetoric contends that he’s the clean politico who plans to use his summer-months trial to “take down” his one-time Democratic colleagues in local politics.

Which might be the most ridiculous bit of political rhetoric we’re going to hear this year.


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