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

“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.