January 12, 2010

Burris replacement: Alexi ain’t it

David Hoffman is a better choice than frontrunner to fill Obama’s old seat

As 2008 drew to an end, we had reason to be hopeful about government. The leader of the free world was to be none other than Barack Obama, an Illinoisan who would usher in a new political world order, one devoid of lobbyist influence, campaign kickbacks, and “politics as usual.”

Just as things were looking bright for the Land of Lincoln, our Governor reminded us what was wrong with government in the first place. Facing impeachment and felony indictment, “Golden” Rod Blagojevich made his last major move in office, appointing former comptroller Roland Burris to the senate seat Obama would vacate when he ascended to the presidency. This “valuable” seat, of course, was the very seat Blagojevich was charged with attempting to sell. It was the same seat Burris subtly bargained for on wiretapped phone calls, alluding, “I know I could give him a check…myself.” After initial resistance from Senate leadership collapsed, Burris was seated as the next senator of Illinois. So much for “change we can believe in.”

Then, a funny thing happened. The Washington establishment shunned their shady new colleague. Legislators blacklisted Burris, his state-wide approval ratings dipped below 20 percent, and, perhaps most importantly, he was unable to raise money. Despite his incumbent status, Burris announced he would not file for the February 2010 Democratic primary, a political reality that occurs when you only have $845 in your war chest just months before an election.

It appeared as though the world had righted itself: Barack was the president, Burris’ reign would be short-lived, and the man Obama once called “one of the most outstanding young men that [he] could ever hope to meet,” state treasurer and former U of C student Alexi Giannoulias, was lined up first to vie for the seat of his former mentor.

It seemed too good to be true, and it was. As the only veteran in a field of political newcomers, Giannoulias has thus far capitalized on higher name recognition, allowing him to sneak through the lead-up stages of the primary largely untested. As the frontrunner, he has adopted a “no news is good news” mentality, dropping out of Democratic debates and skirting media availability. What’s more, his Obama-like vow to deny “contributions from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists” has turned out to mean little more than accepting donations from only state-registered lobbyists and some PACs. Most troublingly, Giannoulias is uniquely vulnerable to the attacks of Congressman and presumptive Republican nominee Mark Kirk, who will tout the treasurer’s ties to Tony Rezko and look to expose questionable loans Alexi made while working at Broadway Bank, the Giannoulias family business.

With the February 2 primary quickly approaching, it was becoming clearer to the political elite that if the Democrats wished to retain Obama’s former seat, Alexi wasn’t their man. This is the reason why the White House urged Attorney General Lisa Madigan to enter the race this summer, and the reason why Chicago political guru Paul Green currently rates Kirk’s chances as “excellent” in the general election. For Illinois Democrats, the immediate future looked dark.

Then, at December’s Chicago Tribune editorial board debate, the skies offered a glimmer of light. Former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman introduced himself as a legitimate force, shredding Giannoulias point by point, and solidifying himself as the thinking man’s candidate. The performance (which can be found on the Tribune’s web site) made me look deeper into the paths of each candidate, and their U of C roots.

Giannoulias’ stay at the University was, suffice it to say, brief. After graduating from Chicago’s Latin School, he enrolled in the College, but lasted only one quarter before transferring to Boston University to fulfill his dream of playing Division-I basketball. Hoffman also “hit the court” after leaving Hyde Park, although under very different circumstances. After graduating from U of C Law (where he was President of the Law School Democrats), David accepted a clerkship with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist. After serving as a federal prosecutor for seven years, Hoffman was appointed Chicago’s inspector general, a post designed as a taxpayer watchdog, and one all too often filled with the political lapdogs of Mayor Daley. Instead of rolling over, however, Hoffman dogged the long-time Chicago mayor, outing shady hiring practices and criticizing the deal that privatized the city’s parking meters as a massive rip-off.

I was beginning to realize that despite Giannoulias’ repeated attempts to ally himself with the President in policy, ideology, and even cadence, their relationship stood for everything that Obama decried: It was political favor, “politics as usual.” You see, in 2004, Giannoulias had allowed Obama to tap into the Greek community, helping raise over $100,000 for Obama’s senate campaign. In return, Giannoulias’ 2006 campaign for treasurer was endorsed by the then-senator.

A clearer line, at least ideologically and symbolically, can be drawn between Obama and Hoffman. He is everything embodied by the rise of Obama. He is a politician unbeholden to the ways of old, passionate, and, above all, intelligent. People’s admiration of Barack Obama is bigger than the public option, “Cap and Trade,” or any singular policy decision. Ultimately, elections should be about selecting the person most likely to make sound, informed, and unbiased decisions. That’s why I wanted Barack Obama to be president, that’s why I want David Hoffman to be our next senator, and that’s why I’ve chosen to volunteer for Hoffman’s campaign. The first televised debate airs tonight at 7p.m. on ABC7: tune in to remember what “hope” was all about.

— Steve Saltarelli is a fourth-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society.