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The Battle for America 2010: Chicago Dems Just Not ‘Feeling’ Giannoulias

Things are complicated for Illinois Democrats in the race for the U.S. Senate seat to fill the unexpired term of Barack Obama.

by
Bill Baar

Bio

August 29, 2010 - 12:00 am

“I personally am not feeling Giannoulias,” wrote a community activist from Chicago’s West Side a few days ago in response to my question on the Illinois Senate race. “I think the Green Party candidates LeAlan Jones will generate a lot of support,” she continued.

I’m guessing many Illinoisans share my friend’s lack of feeling for Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in his race for the U.S. Senate seat to fill the unexpired term of Barack Obama.

Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush said something similar during President Obama’s recent visit to Chicago for a Giannoulias fundraiser. Rush told Chicago Public Radio’s WBEZ that on the “gut level issues” of jobs, crime, food deserts, business opportunities, entrepreneurship, and home foreclosure, Obama’s basketball buddy Alexi is thin.

“What are his positions?” Rush asked in an exasperated tone. The congressman said he doesn’t think Senator Dick Durbin, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, or President Obama have quizzed Giannoulias on those issues. “These are not Bobby Rush questions. These are black community questions.”

Exasperation on top of apathy in a key Democratic constituency, without whom there’s not much to the Illinois Democratic Party, is bad news. But then add to the horror the Chicago Sun Times’ Laura Washington column on the Democrats’ nightmare.  It’s not banks, mobsters, or loans to the shady Iraqi businessman Nadhmi Auchi. No, it’s worse; a dream looking to become reality. It’s blacks going Green in a tight race between Giannoulias and Kirk. Enough of them going Green could throw the race to the Republican.

Then along comes the youthful and energetic LeAlan Jones, a 31-year-old journalist, high school coach, and youth mentor. Jones is running on the insurgent Green Party ticket, which is trying to make inroads in the November 2 election.

Jones has no political or governmental record, paltry cash, and scarce name recognition. But he has a monstrous helping of chutzpah. He owns one unmistakable asset — he is African American. Jones may be a Green, but the color of the moment is black.

Jones, an African American raised in the shadow of Chicago’s Ida B. Wells housing project, is without insecurities about his street cred. As a writer and producer of radio documentaries on life in Chicago’s ghetto for the BBC, he is sure to pick up some progressive votes.

Jones gave up a career in banking to be single father to two nephews and he coaches the linebackers at Chicago’s football powerhouse Simeon High School. No need for fake dialects or street talk. Jones is pure Chicago and a nightmare for Democrats because his appeal could easily reach beyond African Americans.

A passionate Obama supporter and activist in the gubernatorial campaign of independent Scott Lee Cohen wrote me of Giannoulias:

I really do not think it looks all that good, with the monies from his bank, and the people look at that, even though Obama did a fundraiser for him.

And another suburban Cohen supporter wrote:

I like him [Giannoulias] personally, but not sure I would vote for him. That is the one race that I can’t really decide. I don’t like the other choice either. I normally vote for Democrats. I am sure more dirt will come up on him and Kirk before Election Day. I will make my choice then.

Chicago political columnist Tom Roeser once wrote of the “great American public’s Sleepy Eye” on elections. It’s the voter’s habit to stay a bit glazed and unfocused until great light slices through and he decides.

Today the eyes laze about while pundits and bloggers go negative on mob banks, and embellished resumes. The eyes are unfocused, or maybe more apt, the eyes are focused on mortgages underwater and lost jobs. Sunk in murky waters, our eyes need goggles to focus in Illinois today. Voters haven’t found them yet in the Senate race.

My two activist friends found Scott Lee Cohen in the race for governor. Cohen’s campaign of job fairs in the primaries caught their eyes, but they’re still waiting when it comes to the Senate race. I suspect they’re not alone.

Democrats are counting this year on a big vote from Chicago to offset Schumer’s “sour” voters elsewhere in Illinois, but if Chicagoans aren’t tea-party-sour, they’re sure not feeling any love from Giannoulias.

On the gut issues, they’re not feeling him. White and black alike, and much of the rest of the rainbow, might go Green in the city because Rep. Rush’s issues aren’t unique to African Americans. They’re crushing everyone in this state.

Rush told WBEZ he’s waiting for Durbin, Daley, and Obama to quiz Giannoulias. Oddly, Rush omitted Illinois House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Mike Madigan on this approaching quiz moment with Alexi. Illinoisans know how those quizzes go when something golden is to be had among Democrats with those Blagojevich tapes fresh on our minds.

Maybe it will convince Rep. Rush and he’ll finally come out for Giannoulias, but otherwise this focus session among the party bigwigs might just be fodder for the Greens, who can leverage the situation with some social networking to get Jones’ name and story out there. Jones is sure to hammer away within the black community, asking why the Durbin, Daley, and Obama trinity are so special that they can decide for all Illinois voters. Didn’t Illinois just go through that mess of a quiz with Burris’ selection as senator? How’d that work out?

A buddy of mine in suburban Bellwood, sitting on a house he can’t sell, told me to expect a split election when it comes to the races for governor and Senate. Republicans are going to win the governorship, and Obama will bring the big money, big names, and big influence to push Giannoulias into the Senate. It is too high-profile a race for Obama to see a loss to a Republican.

Go join Scott Lee Cohen’s Facebook page though and look at some of the pictures from his recent job fair at Jefferson and Lake Street last week. There are gut-wrenching images of long lines of Chicagoans dressed in their best for interviews in the worst times they’ve known.

Democrats seem to have lost the core message of work and jobs. They’ve ceded it in favor of talk about mosques and Kirk puffing up his resume. Those turning out for Cohen’s job fair have bigger issues on their minds. They’re not feeling Giannoulias on Jefferson and Lake, or on the West Side, or in Albany Park or Bellwood. They’re not going to wait for Durbin, Daley, and Obama to quiz the candidates. They’ll focus soon and it’s likely a big chunk of city voters aren’t going to focus their eyes on Democrats.

Even President Obama isn’t going to be able to bring the money, big names, and big influence to make them feel Giannoulias.

Bill Baar's a practicing Unitarian Universalist with a politically conservative mind. He blogs at Bill Baar's West Side.
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