Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hard to feel sorry for Alexi or Bill

Political observers watching Illinois are getting all worked up over the fact that Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias’ family business officially went under on Friday. Yet a part of me is more offended at the way in which Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady is trying to make it appear that he’s being open about his own finances.

Friday was the day that the FDIC officially shut down the Edgewater neighborhood’s Broadway Bank, which was unable to come up with $85 million to cover its financial obligations. The bank, when it opens Saturday, will be a branch of M.B. Financial Bank.

PEOPLE WITH ACCOUNTS and deposits there will not lose their money, on account of the guarantees the federal government provides in such situations involving failing banks.

But it adds to the image of Giannoulias, whose father founded the bank that is currently run by his older brother, Demitris, as just another greedy business type whose failings wind up getting bailed out by the taxpayer. In short, the political partisans will say, we wind up paying in order to ensure that the Giannoulias family isn’t bankrupted personally by this situation.

Now I’m not about to go on the defense for Giannoulias. He’s a big boy, and he and his campaign staff had better be capable of getting themselves through this situation. After all, being a United States senator would place him in equally pressured situations.

If anything, his handling of this “crisis” may very well show us once and for all whether he has what it takes to be in such a prominent political position.

BUT THERE IS a part of me that can’t help but think that much of the “outrage” expressed about Giannoulias whenever the subject of the family “bank” comes up is so phony. People whose partisan beliefs are such that they were going to express outrage about Alexi no matter what he had done or what the circumstances are.

Even if his bank were doing well financially, they’d likely be equally outraged and claim that somehow being a “banker” made him incapable of identifying with the public. Of course, many of these same people didn’t have any qualms about voting for a “banker” for the U.S. Senate in 1998 when Peter Fitzgerald was the Republican nominee for that post.

But Fitzgerald was willing to give them the partisan rhetoric they wanted to hear on social issues (abortion, gay rights,etc.), while Giannoulias is not.

I can think of one positive from this. Insofar as the campaign is concerned, I hope Giannoulias realizes he has to quit talking about his family bank as though it were just a tiny business.

TO LISTEN TO Giannoulias during this campaign, you’d think Broadway Bank was a family-run Greek restaurant – almost as though we could walk in, see a mural on the wall incorporating the Parthenon and order the “Greek chicken” while watching Alexi himself work the cash register.

Perhaps now we can get a more honest accounting of what occurred at Broadway Bank, rather than the constant string of “organized crime” tales that the Republican partisans are eager to spread.

What is really going on here is a bad economy that is hurting many business interests, including the Giannoulias “family business.” Broadway Bank was not the only Chicago-area bank to be closed on Friday, nor was it the biggest. I’m not saying I feel sorry for bankers or for Giannoulias. But I do realize it is ridiculous to demonize them.

I also wonder if Fitzgerald himself feels fortunate that his family sold their suburban Chicago chain of banks way back in 1994 – providing the family with its wealth and putting Peter in a position where he doesn’t have to worry if something will go wrong and his “bank” will be the next to fail.

BUT LIKE I wrote earlier, I am more offended at the way in which Bill Brady conducted himself on Friday. For after realizing that his refusal to provide the basic financial information about himself by releasing his income tax returns (a standard act for aspiring political types) was making him look like a fool, he decided to act in ways meant to create the illusion that he was being open.

If it seems to you like I’m implying we know where Giannoulias stands while we don’t have a full picture of Brady, you’d be correct.

I think that because of the conditions that got placed on Brady’s announcement. It was by one of those telephone conference calls, and restrictions were placed on the number of people who could call in. That is a condition I have never heard applied before.

In all fairness, the Illinois Republican Party sent an e-mail informing me of the telephone number to call if I wanted to have a chance at being one of the “few” to be able to talk with Brady’s attorney (not Brady himself). Of course, I didn’t get it until after the event began. So it was a moot point.

SO I HAVE to settle for the written summary put together by the Republican partisans, where we learn that Brady paid no taxes to the federal or state governments in 2008, and only paid taxes to the state in 2009.

We also learn his adjusted gross income was only one-quarter of the level it was at in 2004 and 2005, which Brady says is because his own business interests have faced economic troubles. Of course, Brady tries to spin this by saying he had to put employees out of work as his business interests shrank.

Excuse me for not being swayed. That line of “spin” strikes me as being the equivalent of Alexi portraying the bank as being yet another family business going broke. There is something about this handling that strikes me as being too secretive. Most political people write up the press release and include a copy of the return, and leave it at that. Nice and simple.

By going to such extremes to control the release of this information, Brady has made such a bigger deal out of this than it ever should have become. That really does bother me as much as, if not more than, anything that happened on Friday on North Broadway.


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