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Hot Senate Race: The Basketball Buddy, the Reformer and the Scarlet Letter

Don Rose 31 August 2009 7 Comments

The race for President Obama’s former senate seat suddenly got interesting.

Chris, the low-profile Kennedy, decided not to enter the Democratic primary. That made it look like a cinch for State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, whose only serious opposition would then be Cheryle Jackson, head of the Chicago Urban League, who—as former spokesperson for former governor Rod Blagojevich—wears the Scarlet B on her forehead.
All of a sudden, in jumps David Hoffman, Chicago’s inspector general, who spent the past four years shining lights on rats’ nests of corruption in city government—much to the chagrin of Richard M. Daley, who appointed him to the job but did not expect him to actually do it.

Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, had the further audacity to condemn Daley’s privatization of city parking meters, which causes endless headaches for drivers, the private company and the mayor himself. It’s one of the rare scandals to hit Daley hard and personally. Hoffman twisted the knife by pointing out that the mayor did not get the best possible price.

In one of those strange years when political reform will dominate Illinois electoral issues, Hoffman must be considered a powerful contender.

Before looking closer at the three contestants, please note there will be a game-changer if Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart gets in the race. He’s gone back and forth on the decision and currently is leaning away from running. But he’s the hottest political prospect in the state and would bounce to the top of the heap if he takes the leap.

For the moment, however, Giannoulias appears to be the frontrunner. He holds statewide office, acquitted himself well in his fundamentally obscure post and he’s rich enough to be a self-financer—with boundless fund-raising potential. He has lined up key endorsements, but has an important enemy lurking in the weeds.

He is also a basketball buddy and financial benefactor of Obama, which is what got him elected treasurer in the first place. The scion of a wealthy banking family—suspected of shady connections—Giannoulias used his financial resources to endlessly play a commercial of Obama endorsing him in the 2006 Democratic primary. That wiped out a conservative Downstate Democrat supported by House Speaker Mike Madigan—who does not forget.

It would be unseemly for a president to endorse someone in a primary, so Obama’s help will be somewhat limited, but word will certainly get around. That word however will be limited even more by the fact that Jackson is African American, so Obama must handle things even more gingerly. In any case, Jackson will get a substantial black vote, depriving Giannoulias of what would be a tremendous advantage.

But Jackson is likely to spend time explaining her brief tenure as a Blagojevich flack at every meeting and interview in the months to come. When you are explaining you are losing. Further, she has not shown herself to be a sparkling campaigner, coming up with clichéd responses on other issues, though she may improve a bit with time.

I doubt, however, that she can consolidate the African American vote and generate the massive turnout it takes to squeeze out a plurality against two strong white guys. Roland Burris’s runs for senator and governor failed in similar circumstances—and Jackson is unlikely to gain many white votes wearing that Scarlet B.

Hoffman, meanwhile, has nowhere to go but up. In addition to his detective work in Chicago, he was part of a statewide reform commission whose report may yet force the diddling legislature to enact serious campaign-funding limits and other political deodorizers. He also has legislative experience working as a staffer for former Oklahoma Senator David Boren, backing up his reformer credentials.

He won’t get Giannoulias-style dollars, but there is some reform money out there this year, which will be utilized well by the savvy AKPD Media firm, formerly run by Obama’s guru David Axelrod before going to the White House.

Any of the Democrats are certain to cast progressive votes in the senate. To get there, however, one must overcome a strong Republican challenge from Congressman Mark Kirk, the personable “moderate” from the suburban North Shore.
The way it looks now, Hoffman would have the best chance against Kirk, Giannoulias would have a harder time but likely get by.  Jackson, should she manage a primary upset, could easily lose the general election.

Where’s Daley in all this?  He might back Hoffman just to get him the hell out of Chicago.


Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Basketball court at the East Bank Club, meeting place for Illinois Politicians and occasionally athletes


  • Samuel Nichols said:

    Will Kirk have Republican support because of his vote for cap and trade? Who will run against him in the republican primary? Now that I live in Tennessee, I’m not up to date as much as I would like.

  • Tom Aquinas said:

    Pat Hughes gets high marks from many conservatives…the same conservatives who vote in the primaries.

  • Corey said:

    It’s important to remember that Tom Dart and Barack Obama consider each other friends too.

    Alexi Giannoulias bought his access to Barack Obama when he was the “It Guy” running for U.S. Senate and has exploits his friendship with Barack Obama to no end.

    Then State Rep. Tom Dart (60% of his constituents were Black) worked with Barack Obama outside of the spotlight in the 1990s to reform Illinois Child Services system and became friends through. Dart worked hard on that failed primary challenge to Bobby Rush. I like that Tom Dart runs on his own merits and you don’t see his website and campaign ad (the few he can afford) covered with Barack Obama.

    Alexi Giannoulias’ campaign ad featuring Barack Obama didn’t make me feel better about him, they just made me feel worst about Barack Obama.

  • Anon said:

    Hoffman was a clerk for Chief Justice Rehnquist and Sen. Boren was pro-life. Once that info is circulated, Hoffman is going to have some explaining to do to the liberal lefties…

  • Chris said:


    A job is a job. When you need to work and wish to gain some experience, you will work. I think that the fact he worked for a Chief Justice shows his promise as a law student. Also, Boren was a Senator, an elite club of only 100 in the U.S. People love someone who achieves, no matter who they work for. Hoffman is the Stevenson in the race. He’s clean and has the scars to prove it.

  • Darryl said:

    Hoffman has basically been exposed as a self serving hypocrite.

    It now appears that his fight against what HE saw as corruption was not some sort of higher moral calling as the media (especially Carol Marin) that fawned over him would have the public believe, but rather as a platform for his own self-aggrandizement and positioning for a political office – hoping to use a prosecutorial position for a promotion to higher office in the tradition of former Governor Jim Thompson (from the US Attorney’s Office).

    It will be interesting on the political stump for him to answer several questions about his tenure as IG such as:

    – did he accept his regular pay from his City Job while on his 3 month tour on the State of Illinois “Reform” Commission ? or did he even get permission from his boss to take such a long time off ? Failure to do so would be violation of the City’s personnel rules (however arcane) that he was so strict on enforcing.

    – as a Senator he could be on a committee that would be convened on torture and interrogation techniques used against prisoners (like Gitmo). How did his former office of IG conduct its interrogations of City employees ? Were they read their rights ? Were they allowed to have counsel present ? Were they conducted in windowless rooms for hours at a time ? He is on thin ice on this one.

    No exaggeration, people accused of murder have more rights than people interrogated by Hoffman’s bullies; at least a person accused of murder has a right to an attorney present during
    interrogation. Not so with Hoffman—his staff keep city employees on their own and confined to interrogation rooms for hours, browbeating them and asking the same questions over and over—telling them they can’t leave or they’ll be punished for being uncooperative.

    THAT’S the great unreported story, even bigger than political corruption in City Hall, the County Building or Springfield.

    That’s the real man-bites-dog story of 2009.
    But no reporter in Chicago seems to have the courage to break the story open.

    – as a Senator he would have confirmation authority for nominations to positions such as Justice Department and the head of Civil Rights Division, responsible for Equal Employment and discrimination matters. As the City’s Inspector General, did his hiring reflect the diversity of the City of Chicago or, as according to his website, was the majority of his hires from zip codes along the lakeshore and Lincoln park and other North Side environs ? How many minorities had non-clerical jobs in his office besides his token First Deputy ? Being a clerk to an arch conservative Chief Justice and uber-conservative Senator has shaped his opinion in a non-positive way.

    – maybe on the stump he would explain how he could afford a $1,000,000 plus mansion in the City on a salary from all of his working life in the public sector?

    – while campaigning he would also be in a position to explain why in the first three years of his appointment there was very little activity in his office, yet in the last year he was doing a press conference every week ?

    – and maybe a brave soul from the media would ask about the allegations of the type of young, handsome men that his former employer Sen. Boren would hire in his time there.

    Having an honest, effective, independent Inspector General is extremely important to government at all levels, including and perhaps especially Chicago. But Chicago did not have that under Hoffman.

    Hoffman and his borderline brutish, unlawful methods are the great untold story. Along with his homogenous staff of mostly young white investigators.

    The other stories of corruption at all level of government (city, county, state, federal) are told—they are there for all to read, see and hear. And that’s great. They need to be exposed, they must be exposed, wherever and whoever they are.

    But for the press to refuse to have their investigative reporters scrutinize Hoffman (because frankly, news organizations can be just as lazy and/or corrupt as a political organization), is unacceptable—just as unacceptable as it would be if the press winked as political corruption went unchecked.

    Personally, I think David Hoffman is a self serving weasel. I believe as part of an administration, there is a responsibility to report investigative findings to the proper authorities. The news media is not the proper authority and leaking/giving releases to them on such things like the parking meters or the streets and sanitation issue before giving them to his boss are prime examples.

    I think he had his own agenda and knew that he would not be around after September. Or maybe it is in his “DNA” ?

    Aside from that, his file photo kind of reminds me of Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy.

    All of this is moot however because Mark Kirk will defeat whomever comes out of the Dem primary.

  • PFK said:

    Don’t forget to mention LeAlan Jones, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate

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