Houlihan on Giannoulias vs. Kirk: Alexi’s In to Win
Early Monday morning, I spoke on the phone with Jim Houlihan, whom I interviewed in person last Wednesday. I wanted an update on the Senate race in light of the closing of the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank on Friday.
Houlihan was in Washington for the wedding of a friend, but he got a chance to see his pals, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel.
In Part I of this Q & A, the Cook County assessor said he would like to run for mayor. His Washington visit didn’t change his mind. Houlihan said the consensus among Obama’s “politicos” is that Daley will run again. (He added that he did not discuss the race with Emanuel, who last week also expressed interest in becoming mayor.) The assessor also said that he and the other potential candidates—the latest to express interest is 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney—must be sensitive that this is a “tough time for Rich.”
Here, part two of the interview with the assessor—with updates from our phone conversation yesterday
CF: The last time we talked, there were rumors that Broadway Bank would be shut down by the feds. It happened on Friday. What impact does this have on the race?
JH: I did see a statement by [Republican Congressman and Giannoulias opponent Mark Kirk], the kind of statement which is indicative of the politics of negativism. He’s laying every possible blame at Alexi’s feet, which is overstated. The speculation is over now, so the question is who would be the better senator. I think Alexi will show… that he has a much better grasp of the issues facing Illinois.
CF: Kirk focused on employees who might lose their jobs because of the family’s “reckless” lending practices.
JH: I don’t think the lending practices were reckless. I think it was just political opportunism on [Kirk’s] part to dance on the grave of the bank. The reality is that the bank was very successful… because real estate was so strong. Alexi’s role at the bank, I think, maybe, was overstated in the treasurer’s race. The politically-charged aspects of who some of the loans were to has to be separated from the viability of the bank and the financial decisions. You make your loans based on performance and based on numbers, supporting assets. If the loan makes sense, then you make the loan. [NOTE: The Chicago Tribune reported that, at the time Alexi was Broadway’s chief loan officer, the bank extended $20 million in loans to two convicted felons, Michael Giorango and Demitri Stavropoulos, who were on their way to prison.]
CF: Unfortunately another of the loan recipients was Tony Rezko. That couldn’t have been more loaded.
JH: Well, it’s very loaded now, and a lot of people are Monday-morning quarterbacking. But Tony Rezko—until he became involved in the Blagojevich issue—was a hard-working, successful developer. I think there’s a lot of taking what they know now and projecting and saying you should have known back then. It’s unfair.
CF: Obama has kept his distance from Alexi. It looked like he was really hoping that Lisa Madigan would be the candidate.
JH: I think that was more the operatives, Rahm and David; I don’t think that was Obama. I think Rahm and David saw Lisa as somebody who would be more an automatic election: look at their chart of things to do; if Lisa was the candidate, check it off.
CF: Are Axelrod and Emanuel looking to slip Alexi out of the race and substitute a new candidate?
JH: I don’t think they’re looking for a new candidate.
CF: Will Alexi win this slugfest with Kirk?
JH: I think Alexi will win. When it comes to the fall election, it’s going to be about the economy, the track record. We have yet to see Kirk explain a lot of his reversals. I think Alexi brings an energy and a freshness to the office… a real charismatic presence. It may be that people see that and they don’t see a very thoughtful young man. It’s easy to be distracted [because] when Alexi walks in a room, the room lights up. He’s got the magic.
CF: What other gossip or info did you pick up in Washington this weekend?
JH: There’s a lot of concern about how the Illinois legislative session is going to impact the election [here] this fall. Illinois doesn’t seem able to deal with the deficit that is looming—not only at the state level, but also at the city level. And that conversation has overshadowed what I think is probably the most important issue for the future: the quality of education that should be provided for each of our kids.
[NOTE: Houlihan supported Dan Hynes against Pat Quinn in the gubernatorial primary. He told me that he now supports Quinn, adding that he and the governor used to play basketball together.
CF: How is Quinn doing as governor?
JH: I think he’s in a very difficult position. He has to articulate with some consistency his desire to address the serious problems, and he has to work with the legislature, and it doesn’t appear as if Speaker Madigan is willing to address the fundamental issue of the deficit.
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