Final countdown for U.S. Senate hopefuls

By Darryl Holliday

Senatorial candidates U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk(R) and Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias(D) continued their battle on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” on Oct. 27 in the final stretch to fill President Barack Obama former Senate seat. Accusations from both sides came before and after a pledge to go positive in the final debate.

LeAlan Jones, of the Green Party, and Mike Labno, of the Libertarian Party, were not invited to participate in the debate.

Questions about same-sex marriage, Obama’s stimulus package and political “loonies” were some of the topics discussed during the debate, though the focus remained largely on each candidate’s history and personal mistakes. For Giannoulias, it was the handling of his failed family bank. For Kirk, it was his embellished military record.

“The bigger picture is, I have my list, he has his list,” Giannoulias said in response to Kirk’s accusation that Broadway Bank had a relationship with “mobsters and felons” while under Giannoulias’ control, as well as Giannoulias’s presiding over “a steady collapse” during his stint as state treasurer.

Kirk literally displayed a printed list of alleged criminals Giannoulias loaned money to while at Broadway Bank. Giannoulias countered with a list of his own, detailing criminals who had donated to Kirk’s campaign.

“I can go on and on,” Giannoulias said, later noting Kirk has “an indefensible record in Congress.”

Kirk, while conceding that scrutiny of his military record is appropriate, later turned the tables on his own embellishments, in which he falsely claimed, among other things, to have taken gunfire while in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“I have a military record,” Kirk said. “I’ve served in the United States Navy Reserve for 21 years. My opponent has based nearly all of his campaign on a military record—my military record. He hasn’t served a day in uniform in his life.”

During a disagreement regarding President Obama’s stimulus package, Kirk pegged Giannoulias as both immature and indecisive, a statement that Giannoulias called “the most remarkable irony in the history of Illinois politics.”

Though Giannoulias had promised during the debate to go positive with his political advertisements until the election on Nov. 2, the event remained combative as the two candidates squared off on various issues, especially regarding the lead-up to the war in Afghanistan and current social issues affecting the country.

Giannoulias accused Kirk of misleading members of Congress through his claim in the U.S. House of Representatives that he had “moral certitude” regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, though Kirk countered he was lied to by the Bush administration regarding the invasion.

When asked about same-sex marriage, Kirk, unlike Giannoulias, said he does not support it.

While both candidates support civil unions, Kirk, though admitting he doesn’t know any LGBTQ people in the military, voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He cited the need for a new policy to be in place as the policy banning gay service members from serving openly is removed.

“I’m for the formal repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Giannoulias said. “I think it’s offensive and egregious that we’ve kicked 14,000 Americans out of the military. These are men and women who are willing to die for this country and we say they’re not good enough … I think it’s a

wrong-headed policy.”

The candidates differed on questions of foreign relations. However, they agreed on certain aspects of U.S. involvement with Iran.

“A nuclear-armed Iran is completely unacceptable,” Giannoulias said, later noting “all options are on the table” regarding U.S. dealings with the country. Kirk, agreed in part, adding that gas supplies to Iran should be cut off.

When asked about their personal accomplishments, Kirk noted his part in saving the North Chicago Veterans hospital and his bipartisan, centrist perspective. Giannoulias likewise noted he saved 600 jobs at the Des Plaines-based Hartmax factory in 2009.

Despite harsh attacks the candidates also had some kinder words for each other. When asked at the beginning of the debate what each admired about the other, Giannoulias said he believes Kirk is “someone who cares and is a very hard worker.” Kirk said he appreciated Giannoulias’s offer of condolences when Kirk lost his stepfather earlier in the campaign.

“I took that very much to heart,” Kirk said.

According to Colleen O’Neill, a senior at Columbia who was in attendance at the event, the candidate’s insistence on bashing each other in the media is a major darkmark of the Senate race.

“There were some good points, but overall it was kind of like watching those TV commercials,” O’Neill said.

She remains an independent despite the hour-long debate to sway undecided voters.