Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

It is indeed a clash as Governor Rod Blagojevich and Republican candidate Judy Baar Topinka got into a heated debate of sorts, as both individuals compete for the Governor's mansion.

As the debate progressed, attacks got personal with Blagojevich accusing Topinka of being 'asleep at the switch'. Topinka did not back down though; she had a little of her own to say and show. She had college students outside of the radio station dress up like $1500 checks, alluding to a check that Blagojevich's daughter received as a an alleged birthday present from a friend following days after the friend's wife was given a job with the State of Illinois.

How low can y ou go in these debates? Just look at Blagojevich and Topinka!

A clash over conduct

Blagojevich, Topinka debate who deserves the public's trust
By Rick Pearson and John ChaseT
ribune staff reporters
Published October 3, 2006

DECATUR, Ill. -- Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka questioned each other's ethical credentials Monday night in a debate reflecting a campaign increasingly focused on the issue of who can gain voters' trust.Topinka contended candidates across the Nov. 7 ballot were facing public cynicism as a result of the actions of Blagojevich and his predecessor, disgraced former Republican Gov. George Ryan.

Blagojevich defended his administration's record on ethics by creating an investigative inspector general, and he labeled Topinka "Gov. Ryan's treasurer" for not standing up to her fellow Republican during his scandal-tarred tenure as governor.

Topinka again contended Blagojevich is the unnamed "Public Official A" cited in a plea agreement involving allegations of corruption related to the state's teacher retirement board, something the governor has denied.

"If she wants to talk about Public Official A, it's Treasurer Topinka. She was absent when George Ryan did all of those things, didn't say a word, never lifted a finger, was asleep at the switch," Blagojevich said.

"You have the most investigated administration in the history of the state of Illinois, bar none," Topinka responded. Noting Blagojevich's 4-year-old campaign promises to clean up government, she said, "I don't know that you've really done what you promised, and you did promise.

"Meeting face-to-face for nearly an hour in a statewide radio debate sponsored by the Illinois Radio Network and broadcast from Millikin University, Blagojevich and Topinka spent the first 10 minutes trying to link the other to Ryan, who was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison last month on federal corruption charges.

Blagojevich has sought to tie Topinka, the three-term state treasurer, to an old-guard Republican establishment that embraced Ryan's candidacy for governor eight years ago. Topinka has contended that myriad federal and state investigations into hiring, contracting and fundraising under Blagojevich threaten a repeat of Ryan's scandal-tarred tenure.

"You have to remember how bad things were four years ago--Gov. Ryan was our governor. It's pretty obvious all of the things that happened to him," Blagojevich said. "Four years later, I think we're a much better place, largely because we passed landmark ethics legislation at the end of my first year as governor."

But Topinka called Blagojevich's actions as governor "disgraceful" and said he has done little to fix corruption.

The two major candidates for governor also disagreed on issues ranging from the state's questionable fiscal health to how to improve education and health care.

In a rare moment of agreement, both Blagojevich and Topinka said they felt the General Assembly should have a special session to freeze a planned hike in electricity rates that's supposed to increase electric bills by more than 20 percent in Chicago and 50 percent Downstate.

Both made their statements on the same day Speaker Michael Madigan wrote a public letter to Blagojevich asking for his support in calling a special session.

A third candidate on the Nov. 7 ballot, Green Party contender Richard Whitney, was not invited to participate in the debate. The Carbondale attorney joined a few dozen supporters outside the debate site to protest his exclusion. "I have better ideas than they do," Whitney said prior to the debate.

But the focus was on Blagojevich and Topinka, who participated in what may be the only pre-election debate in a Downstate region where Blagojevich has faced heavy criticism for being too Chicago-centric.

Republicans seeking a local state House seat have attempted to seize on Blagojevich's apparent unpopularity. In a TV ad attacking local state Rep. Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion), a huge rubber stamp flies onto the screen and declares in bold red letters, "I'm with Rod.

"The stakes in the debate were vastly higher for Topinka than for the first-term Blagojevich. Trailing the incumbent in public opinion polls and in fundraising, Topinka needed the free publicity to mount attacks on Blagojevich and to demonstrate that she has the gravitas to be governor.

The debate marked a re-emergence of sorts for Blagojevich, who has sharply limited his public personal appearances in recent weeks following the Tribune's report that a longtime friend wrote one of his children a $1,500 check in the days after the friend's wife got a state job. The friend said it was a birthday check written in 2003 to then 7-year-old Amy Blagojevich. The FBI is investigating the circumstances surrounding the check.

Topinka's campaign recruited some local college students to dress in clown garb and stand outside the Shilling Hall auditorium. Toting mock-ups of $1,500 checks, the students shouted, "Hooray for birthdays." Topinka's campaign also debuted a TV ad Monday night showing Blagojevich stumbling in his response to a reporter's question about whether he had ever given a check that size to a child.

But in the debate, Topinka stumbled in her criticism of Blagojevich's explanation of the check, saying the amount was "$15,000" instead of $1,500. "All I ask is that you clear this up," she said.Blagojevich countered that despite Topinka's insistence that she has not granted no-bid contracts during her tenure as treasurer, his campaign's review of state records found that she issued more than 300 contracts not submitted for bids. Topinka, interrupted him, insisting, "That's not true."

Blagojevich has counted heavily upon a barrage of television advertising critical of Topinka to carry his message to voters--along with a regular sprinkling of news releases announcing the awarding of grants and new programs.

The advertising has taken its toll on Topinka. A Tribune/WGN-TV poll conducted last month showed more voters had an unfavorable view of the three-term Republican state treasurer than considered her favorably.

The poll, taken in the days after Ryan's sentencing on federal corruption charges, suggested that voters believe Blagojevich has not lived up to his promises to combat corruption and doubt that Topinka would do better.

A second debate between Blagojevich and Topinka is scheduled for Oct. 26, to be broadcast by WTTW-Ch. 11.


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