By Abdon M. Pallasch
CHICAGO--State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias was ready in his second major debate to answer charges from rival David Hoffman about Giannoulias' management of the state's college-savings program and his family bank's loans to figures linked to organized crime.
"David Hoffman is in third place. He's based his whole campaign on attacking me. I understand that. It's politics," Giannoulias, the front-runner in the Feb. 2 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate said, staring straight ahead and never looking at Hoffman. "He talks about corruption and Blagojevich and Daley, but what he doesn't talk about is jobs."
Giannoulias and Urban League President Cheryle Jackson focused like lasers on promising to create jobs and free up capital for small business.
Hoffman lit into Giannoulias as soon as the debate started, saying, "The insider candidate Alexi Giannoulias has held two jobs for short periods of time, one as a banker for his family's bank where he made high-risk loans to mobsters and (convicted influence peddler) Tony Rezko, and as the state treasurer where he failed to protect the people's money."
Attorney Jacob Meister spent the debate at ABC-7 slamming Hoffman but not saying a word against Giannoulias. He did concede after the debate he thought Giannoulias' ads about the college loan plans "aren't exactly accurate."
Jackson and Dr. Robert Marshall refused to be draw in to the back-and-forth between Giannoulias, Hoffman and Meister.
Jackson said the voters don't want to hear it: "They're focused on the drama in heir lives, not the political drama."
Marshall said: "These politicians up here are using the lowest trick in the book, throwing mud at each other and not telling you what they're going to do for you ... I will vote against all tax increases."
Marshall, who boats of being more conservative than all the other candidates, was the only candidate who answered a question about their weaknesses.
"I shoot from the hip too much," Marshall confessed.
The other four Democrats refused to answer the question.
Hoffman pointed in the audience to a parent who lost money in the state's Bright Start College Savings plan that lost $150 million and said Giannoulias owed her an explanation. Giannoulias answered back that he left Bright Start a better-run program than he found it.
The candidates agreed on many issues. On Afghanistan, Giannoulias and Meister support President Obama's plan. Hoffman said he opposed sending more troops. Jackson said she would bring the troops home.
Meister, the only openly gay candidate in the race, said he and his staff have been attacked during the campaign because of Meister's sexual orientation.
Hoffman laughed off a question of whether a scathing report he issued just weeks before he left his Inspector General post blasting Mayor Daley's controversial deal to sell off the city's parking meters was designed to launch his political career.
Issuing a report blasting a powerful elected official is not a conventional way to launch a political campaign, Hoffman said.
But Meister used the question to tee off on Meister again, saying, "I don't understand where he says he blew the whistle on anything. It was the Sun-Times that blew the whistle three months before his report ever came out. He didn't stop it. He didn't do anything."