After the debate, Senate candidates spar some more | Bleader

After the debate, Senate candidates spar some more

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State treasurer Alexi Giannoulias called former Chicago inspector general David Hoffman a hypocrite and compared him to Rush Limbaugh during this morning’s forum for Democratic Senate candidates at the Union League Club.

Hoffman shot back that Giannoulias and the bank his family owns engaged in the kind of risky lending that brought down the economy. He also insinuated that Giannoulias is a liar.

Yet the most interesting part of the morning actually came after the debate itself was over.

The four contenders—Giannoulias, Hoffman, Chicago Urban League president Cheryle Robinson Jackson, and attorney Jacob Meister—had agreed to participate in a Q&A with reporters in a side room at the club once the forum had ended.

They stepped to the podium one at a time, and Jackson was up first. During the debate she and Meister had avoided attacks on the others, instead sticking to a discussion of how to get banks lending and businesses creating more jobs. The press corps, though, wanted her take on losses incurred by the Bright Start college savings program, which the treasurer’s office oversees. Jackson couldn’t resist getting in a dig. “It’s troubling,” she said. “It does speak to the people, the families, that need protection the most, that are the most vulnerable, working families, that their money wasn’t better protected. That’s why I’m running—there’s a disconnect between government, the private sector, and what people are going through.”

But what about your stint in the corrupt administration of Rod Blagojevich, she was asked—isn’t that troubling? “I worked for the governor in his first term,” she said, “and left before the end of the first term.”

Meister was next. As in the debate, he touted his experience as a business lawyer and said the fact that he’s openly gay shouldn’t be an issue in the campaign. Then he accused Hoffman of making “subtle” and “insidious” references to his homosexuality by repeatedly talking about how much he enjoyed being a married father. “I think it is highly inappropriate,” Meister said. “I can’t get married.”

Hoffman stepped forward and said that he wasn't taking any swipes at Meister—he actually does enjoy being a married father. “And I support gay marriage,” he said. “Being a parent has nothing to do with being straight or gay.”

Hoffman also tried to lay to rest another nasty insinuation—that he’s a Republican. He said he’s always been a Democrat even though he once clerked for conservative Supreme Court justice William Rehnquist; he even served as president of the student Democrats when he was attending law school at the University of Chicago.

The real issue in the campaign, Hoffman insisted, is that Giannoulias plays fast and loose with the facts. Despite what Giannoulias may claim, Bright Start is not one of the best college savings programs in the country. “That’s false,” he said. “It goes to the issue of trust.”

It was time for Giannoulias. Instead, one of the forum organizers appeared at the front of the room to make an announcement.

“We have been informed that Alexi Giannoulias has left the building.”

This, at least, turned out to be true. But the gathering quickly discovered that Giannoulias’s campaign manager, Tom Bowen, had not left the building—he was standing near the back of the room looking sheepish. "You can come here and yell at me," he said.

We did. Bowen was surrounded and bombarded with questions and complaints, which all boiled down to: WTF? Why did your guy duck out?

“We have a schedule to keep,” Bowen said. “He has to be somewhere else.”

“Where?” shouted one of the reporters.

“I’ll have to find out and get back to you,” Bowen said. He promised that Giannoulias would answer all of our questions: “We’ll make him available later.”

Such is the luxury of being the leader in polling, name recognition, fundraising, and endorsements.

Meanwhile, Giannoulias's communications team was hard at work. It sent out e-mail blasts ripping Hoffman at 9:50, 10:26, 10:28, and 12:24.

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