Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What about Alexi, Barack?

If ever the opportunity existed for the media to ask Barack Obama a tough question, today could be the day.

The Chicago Tribune acknowledged today in a scathing editorial, "Deposit some answers, please" that Obama's endorsement essentially nominated Alex Giannoulias in the Dem primary for Treasurer in Illinois.

Alexi Giannoulias won the Democratic primary for state treasurer. No more than a handful of voters had even heard of him a few months ago, but a lot of money bought a lot of TV ads featuring an endorsement from Sen. Barack Obama, and that carried Giannoulias to a victory over an underfunded opponent.

Obama said he was a fine young man, and that apparently was good enough for most primary voters. But we need to learn a whole lot more before November.

And the paper goes on to say Alexi has some serious questions to answer about the paper's revelations that his answers about giving out bank loans in the primary weren't exactly accurate.

Giannoulias has been nothing but puzzling when he has been questioned about his ties to Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter.

Giorango has received multiple loans from Broadway Bank, where Giannoulias is vice president and senior loan officer. The bank is owned by the Giannoulias family.

When he was questioned by the Tribune in March about loans made between 1994 and 2002, Giannoulias said the bank's decisions were made while he was still in law school, when he wasn't a full-time bank employee.

But the Tribune reported Sunday that newly discovered public records show Broadway Bank made nearly $12 million in additional mortgage loans to Giorango just last year–when Giannoulias was overseeing the bank's loans.

Giannoulias' newest response? Those 2005 loans were negotiated by his brother, Demetris, the bank's chief financial officer.

In March, Giannoulias said Broadway Bank "never financed any casinos. We never did anything like that." But newly obtained records show that the recent loans went partly toward a mortgage that Giorango and another convicted felon used to acquire a casino boat marina in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Let's get this straight. Voters are supposed to be impressed by Giannoulias' experience at the bank. Yet his defense here is that he was clueless as to what his bank was doing?

And he wants to take control of the entire state treasury?

Giannoulias was asked if it was acceptable for a state treasurer to lend money to crime figures. His response to Tribune reporter David Jackson: The treasurer should work to get "the best rate of return for taxpayers to create jobs."

What, no questions asked?

There's no suggestion that the loans were illegal. Giannoulias makes the point that they met standards set by federal regulators and passed audits. But, oh, there are a lot more questions to be answered.

Has the 30-year-old candidate for treasurer ever really been more than a junior officer at the family bank? If he had the authority his title implies, how can he claim he didn't know about this bank business?

How well does he know Giorango?

And why has Giannoulias failed his first tough test as a candidate?

Okay, back to Obama. He'll be conducting two town hall meetings today.

  • ELMHURST — 10:30 a.m. York High School, 355 W. St. Charles Road.

  • WESTCHESTER — 12:45 p.m. Westchester Intermediate School, 10900 Canterbury St.

Here a question for him:

Q. You are the Democratic point person on ethics in the Senate, yet back in your home state, the man you strongly endorsed for state Treasurer has been under fire from the Chicago Tribune for questionable loans and questionable answers about those loans. Do you still strongly endorse Alexi Giannoulias for state Treasurer and if so, why, in light of these serious allegations?

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