Alexi Giannoulias


My column from last week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered:

Since U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk decided to stump in Ottawa on the anniversary of the local Lincoln-Douglas debate – and in the same location, no less – I must admit to a bit of disappointment that the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate didn’t try harder to channel the Great Emancipator.

I know some people will think I’m picking on Kirk unfairly – he did, after all, actually come to Ottawa, despite knowing his opponent, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, wouldn’t be here – but his choice of date and venue is clearly designed to make a connection between Kirk and Lincoln, the first and greatest Republican president. I’m certainly not going to let the opportunity pass.

First, let’s address Kirk’s appearance. He should’ve donned a top hat and wore platform shoes to make himself appear more Lincoln-esque. Even though Lincoln didn’t sport a beard when he debated Stephen Douglas, Kirk also could’ve grown out his facial hair to add to the Lincoln look.

The seven Lincoln-Douglas debates were held 152 years ago, and topics of concern to citizens and politicians have changed in the past century and a half. Kirk addressed this matter, noting that slavery was the topic of the day for Lincoln and Douglas. Rather than talk about repression of people based on creed or color – a great opportunity to address the Ground Zero mosque and Arizona immigration law controversies – Kirk instead talked about government spending, a hot topic for those seeking elected office nowadays.

Although he knew Giannoulias had agreed to only two debates, both in October, Kirk still came to Ottawa looking like he was expecting a debate. He held a list of talking points in his hand, occasionally looking down at them to make sure he told the small gathering about everything he wanted to talk about in a debate with Giannoulias. And, of course, he noted his opponent’s absence three times.

The fact that Kirk spoke for only eight minutes also is of concern. Each Lincoln-Douglas debate lasted three hours – imagine sitting through that on a hot August day in a park packed with people – but since Kirk didn’t have a sparring partner to debate, I’ll cut him some slack and reduce his expected politicking time to only 90 minutes.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine sitting through that on a hot August day, either. But for the sake of comparing Kirk’s Ottawa visit to the Lincoln-Douglas debate, here’s one more topic I wish the Republican candidate would’ve addressed:

Early in his debate, Lincoln talked about accusations of him selling out the old Whig Party in order to advance the fledgling Republican Party. Kirk could have talked about the tea party movement and whether he thinks it is helping or hindering Republicans. Unlike some other GOP candidates in other races, Kirk is not a tea party darling, so it’s worth hearing what he thinks about the movement.

I guess I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed that he talks about it during one of his October debates with Giannoulias.

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When I was a teenager, one of my favorite comic books was the “What if …?” series. Each issue posed a different question, such as “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?” These were important, alternate-reality comic-book questions for which every teenage boy wanted to know the answers.

I remembered this last Sunday while reading Peter Gammons’ baseball column on MLB.com. Gammons wrote an entire column playing the “What if …?” game with baseball, theorizing what might have transpired had, for instance, the Boston Red Sox traded for Alex Rodriguez or signed Mark Teixeira.

Gammons’ column got me thinking about playing the “What if …?” game with politics. There are so many different directions to take that game, but the one that popped into my head first was this: What if Broadway Bank had failed before the Feb. 2 primary election?

Broadway Bank, of course, was the financial institution owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate in Illinois’ U.S. Senate race. It is my opinion that unless his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, makes a major mistake, the failure of Broadway Bank has sunk Giannoulias’ campaign. That may not be fair, but I figure the bank’s failure is one of those campaign points Kirk will make last effectively until the Nov. 2 general election.

The Democrats could have put up a tougher fight for the president’s former Senate seat than this. Had the primary election been held a month later – in March as had been the case before 2008 – former Chicago Inspector David Hoffman probably would have won the Democratic primary. Giannoulias was losing serious ground to Hoffman in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 2 primary election, and barring a major misstep by Hoffman, there was a good chance Giannoulias wouldn’t have won had the vote taken place a few weeks later.

That doesn’t mean Hoffman would necessarily beat Kirk in the November election – especially when voting against incumbent politicians/parties seems to be in vogue – but at least the Democrats wouldn’t be saddled with the Giannoulias problem.

But because of Giannoulias’ troubles, Kirk can now afford to ignore Sarah Palin, too. According to published reports, Kirk reached out to the former Republican vice-presidential candidate for support before the primary election, but Palin snubbed him. Now, as Palin prepares to return to Illinois next month for a GOP fundraiser, Kirk says he won’t attend the event. Kirk says he isn’t going because he needs to be in Washington, D.C., for scheduled House votes, but in reality, he probably would’ve skipped those votes if he believed he really needed to be at that fundraiser to get Palin’s support. He wouldn’t be the first – or the last – politician to do such a thing during election season.

And you don’t need to play the “What if …?” game to know that.

It will be interesting – and probably disappointing – to see the turnout numbers for tomorrow’s primary election.

Locally, La Salle County Clerk Jo Ann Carretto is hoping for countywide turnout in the low to middle 20 percentile. Compared to four years ago, though, registration is down about 800 voters and there was an 18.5-percent turnout that year, she said.

The 2006 primary election is an appropriate comparison because that was the last time there was both a gubernatorial and U.S. Senate race in Illinois; there were contested La Salle County races, too. There aren’t any contested county races this time, though, except for the Republican primary for La Salle County Board member Stephen Carlson’s District 2 (Mendota) seat.

Statewide, the only real contests seem to be between the gubernatorial candidates for both the Democrats and the Republicans. The U.S. Senate primary races appear to be sewn up by Alexi Giannoulias on the Democratic side and Mark Kirk on the Republican side. Yes, there is the lieutenant governor’s race, but frankly, I doubt that contest gets anyone excited to head to the polls.

The saving grace for voter turnout in La Salle County will be the Ottawa referendums. The Central School bond issue should draw many residents of Ottawa Elementary School District to the polls. It will be interesting to see if the La Salle County Forest Preserve District referendums (for disconnection in 11 townships and reconnection in two townships) draw a lot of voters to the polls, too. I’m guessing they won’t, but I hope to be proven wrong so the outcome of those referendums send a clear message about the forest preserve, for or against it.

Frankly, I hope Carretto is wrong, too – I always hope for a large turnout, especially in the current political climate in which so many people feel free to complain about government but don’t do anything about it.

And the county clerk hopes her prediction for voter turnout falls short, too.

“I would love to be wrong,” Carretto told me. “I would love to see 40 percent of the county come out and vote.”

So go out and vote on Tuesday, Feb. 2 – you know you want to prove us wrong. That’s just human nature.

This column originally appeared in the Jan. 28 edition of Ottawa Delivered.

The Obama administration went 1-for-2 in decisions concerning terrorist suspects recently as it announced Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried in a civilian court just blocks from Ground Zero in New York and Guantanamo Bay detainees may be moved to Thomson Correctional Center north of the Quad Cities.

I understand the symbolism of Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 masterminds being tried near the biggest reminder of al-Qaida’s hatred of America. But I strongly disagree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to treat terrorist suspects like common criminals when they clearly should face wartime justice in a military tribunal.

That point aside, the trial will become such a huge spectacle it will make the O.J. Simpson trial look like it was ignored by the media. Perhaps this is what Holder hopes to achieve – loudly announce to the world that America is putting the terrorist suspects on trial to face justice rather than just let them rot in a holding cell somewhere or just execute them without finding them guilty first.

Again, I understand the sentiment, but I disagree with the decision. Putting Mohammed and his co-conspirators on trial in a criminal court sets a bad precedent for future terrorism-related cases, and the location puts the Ground Zero area at an unnecessary risk for another attack. (Though my gut tells me the terrorists won’t want to silence Mohammed during the trial because he can spew his anti-American propaganda publicly throughout what will be a heavily covered event – perhaps even televised.)

On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with Guantanamo Bay detainees being transferred to a maximum-security prison in northwestern Illinois. Unfortunately, this subject has become a partisan political issue clearly divided along Democrat and Republican lines.

If you’re a Democratic politician in Illinois, you support the idea because you support Obama. (Unless you are state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is running for President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat and still hasn’t announced a position regarding the Thomson issue.)

If you’re a Republican politician in Illinois, you are against the idea of bringing terrorist suspects to Thomson, because you are against anything the Obama administration proposes. (Which is ironic since the whole reason the mostly vacant Thomson Correctional Center is available for consideration is because state Sen. Dan Rutherford (R-Pontiac) helped lead a successful campaign to keep Pontiac Correctional Center open by convincing the governor to stop transfer of prisoners from Pontiac to Thomson.)

Will the transfer of terrorist suspects from Guantanamo Bay to Illinois put our state at an increased risk for a terrorist attack? I’m not convinced it does. Frankly, if terrorists are going to attack Illinois, it’s probably going to happen somewhere in Chicago where they can make a bigger impact than a simple prison break.

As for any terrorist suspects escaping into the neighborhoods of northern Illinois, I find that an unlikely premise, too. No one has ever escaped from a maximum-security prison, and methinks a holding cell for suspected terrorists would have even more security than your run-of-the-mill, maximum-security prison.

Perhaps most importantly during this recession, the transfer of prisoners to Thomson will finally bring jobs there that were promised years ago. Remember, it is the loss of jobs that Pontiac feared when its correctional center was slated for closure. Shouldn’t we want the opposite for Thomson, especially if it doesn’t involve a slew of job losses elsewhere?

A version of this column was published in the Nov. 19 edition of Ottawa Delivered.