Tensions Rise as Primary Elections Near
Audience members got a two-for-one special, breakfast and a show, last Wednesday, December 16 during the Democratic U.S. senatorial candidate forum held at the Chicago Union League Club. “He’s had only two jobs, and the one before [State Treasurer] was president of what is now one of the worst performing banks in the nation” argued David Hoffman, commenting on opponent Alexi Giannoulias’ poor management of the family owned Broadway bank. “Since the beginning of his campaign, he has been falsely attacking me and my family,” Giannoulias shot back. Giannoulias continued to criticize Hoffman for funding his campaign through investments in the Wall Street banks that received federal bailout money whilst calling for more oversight of such banks. The other two candidates, Cheryle Jackson, President of the Chicago Urban League and the only woman participant, and Jacob Meister, a Chicago attorney and the only openly gay candidate running in the election, stood idly by as Giannoulias and Hoffman seemed in a world of their own.
Following their opening statements, the candidates fielded a wide range of questions posed by the audience including the inherent corruption in Illinois and proposed transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Thomson maximum security prison, as well as, Health Care, Afghanistan, and peace in the Middle East.
Every candidate seemed in consensus on the issue of corruption in Illinois, arguing the need to deal with the issue from a state perspective rather than look to Congress or Senate for solutions. The four Democratic candidates agreed that transferring Guantanamo detainees to the mostly vacant federal prison in Thompson, IL would be profitable and create new jobs. However, favored Republican candidate Congressman Mark Kirk rejects the transfer of prisoners claiming that such a move would establish a radical Islamic breeding ground in Illinois and mark Chicago as a magnet for future terrorist attacks. No one, however, elaborated to discuss the controversial U.S. policies in Guantanamo Bay such as, suspension of habeas corpus, the absence of due process, holding inmates indefinitely without conviction, and the semantics of torture used for interrogation purposes.
As the Senate continues to deliberate over the Affordable Health Care for America Act recently passed by Congress, all of the candidates voiced their support for a public option to be included in the bill. President Obama’s recent speech strategizing U.S. military endeavors in Afghanistan and necessary troop escalation shed some light on how the candidates would react in tough foreign policy situations. While candidate’s Giannoulias and Meister supported Obama’s decision and noted Pakistan’s essential cooperation, the others disagreed. Hoffman commended the President for his speech, but disapproved with the troop surge emphasizing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s claim that a troop increase in Afghanistan is an expansion of U.S. focus beyond Al-Qaeda and terrorism. Jackson went as far as to demand a rapid troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Keeping the debate on the Middle East the candidates’ next dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. All of the candidates were in favor of a two state solution to the problem and advocated for increased U.S. leadership in the peace process. Jackson encouraged open communication between Israel and Palestine, whereas, Giannoulias called for isolation of Hamas, removal of the democratically elected authority from power, and instituting a more moderate regime in its stead. Giannoulias and Meister both made it a point to mention that Israel’s safety and security is U.S. priority for peace in the Middle East.
Polls show Giannoulias as the favored candidate in the Democratic Party, and Congressman Mark Kirk as the primary nominee in the Republican Party. With the primary elections fast approaching, scheduled for February 2, 2010, candidates will be fighting intensely to dominate public attention and garner support from the large group of undecided voters.